31 century museum around the world

Beyond Profession


Patama Roonrakwit
คุณปฐมา หรุ่นรักวิทย์

CASE Community Architects for Shelter and Environment

Language : ENGLISH : THAI

Beyond Profession 12

Two years ago, I read ‘Khwan Ruen’ Magazine when I was eating at a restaurant. There was an article about a slum architect (Patama Roonrakwit). I read a little and was very impressed by the story, but I didn’t finish the article before the meal was over, so I borrowed the magazine to photocopy it and continued the reading afterwards. This article has always been hanging above my desk since then. For almost two years now, I’ve been eagering to contact her for an interview, to get to know more about her work, but never had that chance.

18th August 2013, I have the opportunity to join a seminar with other Thai artists that are going to attend the Singapore Biennale, under the subject ‘If the World Change’, curated by Mr.Angkrit …. In this meeting, one of the artists was Patama, which I was delighted to finally meet in person. When the seminar was over, I expressed how I had admired her works for quite some time but never had the chance to meet her, that it was fortunate for me to meet her and that I would like to appoint an interview and visit the slum community she’s working in.

I feel that what she does is more than just community architecture; it is changing the conscience of the participating community, and portraying as an example for other communities that heard of or studying this to understand the problem’s structure in the society. It is a small part that reflects the relations of problems that are interconnected, from economy, politics, moral, law, art and culture, ect. We can understand all things and issues through what she is doing. I think if we could understand and examine profoundly of how she works and factors that occurred in this process (community architect), it would allow us to understand the true roots of society’s problem (slums), including a method to solve society’s problem sustainably and our true potential hidden within in creation.

Patama founded CASE (Community Architects for Shelter and Environment) in ….. to work with slums and poor communities.  The slum project in Meen Buri’s old market area is located near her house. Seven years ago, she started some activities with the children and locals of that area based on a belief that despite our differences in profession and social status, we share an equal value as humans. She started her work, believing that success lies in the community’s cooperation without setting the budget as main priority. She believed that through zero funding, a project could still achieve success. That is how it came of her name “Slum Architect”.

The next day, Angkrit and I went to meet her at her studio and visited the Meen Buri old market area. She told us that her first work with communities was with the Baan Rim Nam slum community at Songklha. I asked her what’s her impression or knowledge that she gained from her first work. She said, when she was planning the bridge design and where it should be located in the area, she did it through academic theories that abide with the community’s blueprint. But when she went into the community, most of the people protested about the location planned to construct. The reason was that the house owner living in that location is greedy and all knew that if a bridge was to be built there, they might not be allowed to pass or they would have to pay a fee for passing through. These things had taught her that in reality, it does not always depend on the academic theories she studied, but it depends on the community’s relationship in their way of life. The lesson she learned from this was to allow participation of the community in every step of the planning and designing process. This process will create a conscience of ownership and bonding through the experiences of working together in the community.

Another story that impresses me a lot was the slum project in Meen Buri old market area. She told us about the first time surveying the area; she and her colleagues were treated as strangers, which the community did not cooperate with. Part of the reason was that the community in that area was filed as intruded area by the officials and has a chronic conflict with the authorities. Therefore, no funds of budgets had ever been granted to the community by the officials. She then started out her work with the children that tagged along them whenever they went in. The team intended to build them a playground, but after asking the children what they actually wanted, most of their reply was a swimming pool. This surprised everyone for it was quite impossible according to the none-budget they have. But after some communicating with the children, they found that a description of a swimming pool between the adults (the survey team) and the children are different. A pool, according to the children, is about 3 x 5 meters, just as big as a size of a small pond. Afterwards, they started to make the swimming pool with labor from the children, the parents and volunteers from both Thai and foreign students. Patama said it was very fortunate that the entrance of the community was a small bridge crossing a canal where no cars could pass, so the people must carry everything across. What most people and I would find it to be a problem like not having cars as transportation, for Patama it is a good thing for this activity.

From a playground to a swimming pool, and later on a football field was built for the boys. The girls didn’t want to play football, instead they needed a library where they can read and do their homework in the evenings, and so the community library was built. After the library came the community tool shed and followed many others. The three months school holiday of every year, Patama and her students along with the children and people in the community would gather up and fix, build or develop something that the community needs. From this point, people in the community started to gather on their own, not waiting till school holidays to create public welfare activities, like building a new bridge or raising the road level with concrete to prevent floods etc,.

I feel very impressed to have visited Meen Buri community. I’ve gotten so much knowledge and understanding about community creative and development process, which is that the heart of it lies in building awareness for everyone to see their own value and potential, allowing the participation of thoughts and actions from everyone. These things create the conscience of co-ownership, which is the reason that leads to the society’s sustainable development. By having conscience of co-responsibility from the community and understanding sentiments of equality in human values.

I asked Patama what she gains from works like this. She said it is fun and nothing more. I further asked her is her work like Non-Government Organization’s. She confirmed that it is not; her work is architect, not social work. Her work is one that uses architecture as a medium to communicate, to create a learning process between her and the clients, which are the villagers and between other architects. However still, I think what she does is more than architecture and social work. It is a way to live that conforms with nature and is an example of creativity in every part of the process. This could not happen if love and compassion doesn’t appear in the heart of one who works.


Kamin Lertchaiprasert
20th August 2013


Share Published on Sep 10, 2013 at 4:18 am.
Filled under: 31 century museum around the world
No Comments

You must be logged in to post a comment.