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Old Posted Jul 27, 2007, 11:00 PM
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High-Rise Relics: Ghost Structures Haunt Bangkok

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High-Rise Relics: Ghost Structures Haunt Bangkok
Abandoned in 1997 Bust, Rusting Projects Loom; The SV Garden Tower Mess
By PATRICK BARTA
July 27, 2007; Page A1

BANGKOK -- One recent steamy afternoon, a shirtless man named Nop tossed out chunks of putrid meat for the dozen stray dogs that share his home, an open-air encampment inside the unfinished 47-story Sathorn Unique tower.

Ten years ago, Sathorn Unique was destined to be one of the city's glitziest addresses. Today, its Corinthian columns and four-story arches are nearly lost amid a tangle of trees and vines. Although workers completed the building's basic structure all the way to the top, its concrete shell starts to peter out about 20 stories up, leaving exposed metal and a half-finished dome on the roof. Steel bars jut out in all directions and mounds of refuse litter the grounds. Inside, two out-of-service escalators climb to nowhere and the smell of urine is overpowering.

But at least, Nop says, "the building won't collapse."

The building is one of a dozen or more major "ghost" structures that haunt Bangkok's skyline. Many of them were started in the mid-1990s when Thailand's economy was booming. Developers envisioned a city of gleaming office and residential skyscrapers symbolic of the nation's rapid development; not that long before, the tallest buildings in the city were Buddhist temples. Then Thailand sank into a swamp of reckless investments and unpaid debts that became known as the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

The country's economy contracted 10% in 1998, and many of the building projects came to a crashing halt. In the decade since, Thailand has more or less recovered. The economy is growing again, traffic gridlock has returned to the streets of the capital, and shiny new malls are sprouting up everywhere. But many of those who failed in the crisis either can't be bothered or can't afford to restart their building projects, leaving Bangkok with more modern ruins than probably any other big city in the world, according to architectural experts.

They include four steel skeletons of 35 stories or more rotting along a busy roadway by Bangkok's Chao Phraya River. Another 35-story high-rise in the middle of the central business district is covered in graffiti of octopuses and space aliens. An ugly pile of rust-covered steel beams and concrete pillars sits next to one of Bangkok's most fashionable hotels.

Then there's the unfinished elevated commuter train, whose hundreds of abandoned rail supports march through the city like giant dominoes. The so-called "Hopewell" rail project died in 1997, too.


Courts and government officials haven't been eager to force bankrupt owners to unload their properties or resolve continuing legal disputes, which could have paved the way for faster redevelopment. Many influential families were able to hang onto their dud assets after the crash even after it became clear they would never restart them. In Thailand's labyrinthine bureaucracy, it can be hard to trace the last owners of the projects, and government officials routinely refuse to disclose information about them.

Bangkok also has plenty of land, so it is easier for developers to sidestep the ruins of yesteryear instead of tearing them down. Thailand's mellow brand of Buddhism may even play a role, some say, because it leaves people somewhat complacent about the unfinished buildings despite the occasional chunks of metal and steel that rain down during storms.

"Maybe for us they're great eyesores, because Americans can't deal with things that are unresolved," says Paul Katz, a principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects in New York, who has spent time in Bangkok. "But Asian cultures understand the world isn't perfect...everything isn't always finished." Mr. Katz describes the buildings as "poetic," adding they're "not completely boring to look at, especially when things start growing out of them."

Most of the 300 or more high rises left unfinished when the 1997 crisis struck have been completed. Among them: the 68-story neoclassical State Tower, which sat empty and forlorn for years but now sports one of Asia's swankiest open-air restaurants on top.

But as many as one-fifth of the projects that were interrupted in central Bangkok are still not completed, and many may never be. Some don't really count as full-fledged urban ruins, since they were in the very early stages of development when work ceased. For the big ones, it's becoming increasingly difficult to restart work.

Engineers say many incomplete towers can't survive much longer than 10 years in Bangkok's blistering tropical heat and rain before suffering significant structural damage. The buildings won't necessarily fall down, but the cost of repairing or reinforcing their rusted-out beams becomes prohibitively high.

For many people here, the buildings have become just another part of the urban landscape. Thai students study them for school projects. Artists incorporate them into their work. In one 2005 gallery show, called "Ghosttransmissions," a group of local and foreign artists -- including a Thai who calls himself "Duck Unit" -- featured video and sound recordings from the vacant buildings. Architecture fans track the buildings' progress, or lack of it, on a number of Web sites.

Some people are living in the buildings or in their shadows. Damri Tungsirimitra, a 57-year-old contract laborer, lives in a house about 20 feet from the perimeter of the Sathorn Unique tower. On a recent day, Mr. Damri was drying fish stomach in a basket while his family hung laundry on the chain-link fence around the building.

Mr. Damri pointed to a jagged piece of wood with rusted nails hanging from the tower overhead. Sooner or later, a wind storm will set that relic free, he says. A piece of metal from the building already crashed through the roof of a nearby parking lot and smashed into a car below.

At SV Garden, a city-within-a-city along Bangkok's Chao Phraya River, Sasamon Julasophonsri, a 46-year-old food vendor, lives just under the hulking ruins behind a white picket fence. On the ground floor of the vast unfinished development, flakes of rusted steel break off from support beams. Impenetrable messes of green weeds encroach from all sides. Stray dogs wander around. At night, thieves steal up by boat and carve out chunks of the exposed metal that protrude from concrete walls.


At more than 40 stories high, Sathorn Unique towers over its surroundings in a largely residential neighborhood in central Bangkok.
"I fear if they cut any more, it will collapse and fall on my house," Ms. Sasamon says.

Launched by a Thai conglomerate called SV Group and a Hong Kong architect named Eric Lai, SV Garden was supposed to help transform the area into Bangkok's new financial center. The developers were so confident that they decided to build multiple towers -- some more than 35 stories high -- all at the same time.

They blanketed the city in advertising and pre-sold a large percentage of the condominium units. But in early 1997, one of the project's 11 lenders failed, triggering a freeze on funding, Mr. Lai recalls in an interview. The developers eventually stopped construction, leaving the shells of four major towers partly clad in concrete. Condo buyers were furious. Mr. Lai and others had to scramble to sort out the mess.

Eventually, the case moved into the hands of a Thai bankruptcy court, which appointed an independent administrator to manage a reorganization. At about the same time, new investors considered redeveloping the project, people familiar with the matter say, but some of the creditors held out for a better deal and now some condominium owners refuse to consider anything less than a full return on their investment. No serious new investor has emerged.

SV Group, which is linked to a powerful Thai family, continues to run a large steel company. It didn't respond to requests for comment.

As he picked at a tuna sandwich in a Bangkok hotel café, Mr. Lai said he lost "a lot" of money in the project but declined to be specific. He says he's no longer involved in SV Garden but still hopes it will flourish -- someday. "Over time it gets more difficult," he admits. "But I hope it happens." In the meantime, he is developing projects in Malaysia and Pattaya, a busy beach resort southeast of Bangkok.


Years ago -- before the development boom -- Bangkok was a leafy town of canals and large residential estates. Buddhist temples were often the tallest structures. Today, Bangkok is a bustling megalopolis of more than seven million people, better known for its busy streets.


The unfinished towers of SV Garden loom over what was to become the new financial center of Bangkok.


At more than 40 stories, Sathorn Unique towers over its surroundings in a largely residential neighborhood in central Bangkok.

The building is among the major construction projects started when Thailand's economy was booming in the 1990s. Developers envisaged a city of gleaming office and residential skyscrapers that were testament to the nation's rapid development.

Then Thailand sank into a swamp of reckless investments and unpaid debts that became known as the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The country's economy contracted 10% in 1998 and many of the building projects came to a crashing halt.



Bangkok's abandoned buildings often feature unusual or implausible items, such as these forgotten statues. They were recently discovered on the grounds of a 35-story concrete shell in the middle of Bangkok's central business district.


The building's walls are covered with highly-accomplished examples of graffiti, like this octopus and his friends.


While abandoned buildings crumble across the city, a new generation of high-rises is going up, including this one. It was launched a couple of years ago and is located within walking distance of another 35-story abandoned condominium project, visible in the bottom left corner of the photo.


Not all of Bangkok's skyline is taken up by ugly architectural eyesores. In some parts of the city there are a number of attractive high-rises that got finished over the years, including these near Lumphini Park, Bangkok's version of New York's Central Park.


The Hopewell elevated rail project was supposed to help relieve Bangkok's notorious traffic. But it was abandoned in 1997 amid funding problems. Now, hundreds of concrete rail supports march through the city like forgotten dominoes.

Although there are periodic plans to restart the Hopewell project, the pillars still go nowhere. Thais refer to the project as "Hopeless" and compare the rotting pillars to the great monuments of Stonehenge.



As Hopewell's pillars age, local residents have learned to accept the likelihood that they aren't going anywhere. Now, they're just another part of the urban landscape, and many Thais just ignore them.

--Wilawan Watcharasakwet contributed to this article.

Write to Patrick Barta at patrick.barta@wsj.com
Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1185...ys_us_page_one
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  #2  
Old Posted Jul 27, 2007, 11:56 PM
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Looks like a great film location for a post-apocalyptic movie. Kinda cool to look at, probably not very nice to live around though.
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Old Posted Jul 28, 2007, 9:21 AM
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There are also alot of abandoned half-built mansions in the surrounding area, there is also an abandoned half-built golf resort that is just massive with a half-built Las Vegas style condos/hotel designed by the same team that designed The Mirage and Treasure Island.

I saw some pictures taken there last summer and it looked unreal as the jungle was taking it back. Like you might have expected a Hobbit to jump out.
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Old Posted Jul 28, 2007, 2:11 PM
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Why is it so easy to envision a problem such as this in Dubai
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  #5  
Old Posted Jul 28, 2007, 3:20 PM
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Man, I would love to do some exploring there. I remember seeing several of these, including the one with the columns, when I was there for a day in 2001.
KL had a bunch of empties, but looks like the finished those, except one or two of them. KL's biggest eyesore is the still abandoned supertall site Plaza Rykyat.
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Old Posted Jul 28, 2007, 6:23 PM
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Fascinating.

--don
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  #7  
Old Posted Jul 29, 2007, 12:32 AM
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wow tough times for the kok.... Bummer, yeah the Asian financial crises sucked balls. Oh well, they will be ok. Things are looking up. What a cool place to meditate, up on the top floor of an empty scraper! Ooooommmmmmmm lol... Buddha does not like unfished scraper!
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Old Posted Jul 29, 2007, 11:17 PM
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A new place to put on my list of locations to photograph. Thanks for the article, but not for the future expense of plane tickets.
I'm betting you can just sneak on in.
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Old Posted Jul 30, 2007, 2:11 AM
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Those pictures are eerie as well as shocking, and so many factors have contributed to a problem that seems to have no solution. Amazingly developers would rather hold on to their property rather than cut their losses. And as the article states it is difficult to figure out the present owner of many structures. I have never heard of buildings being abandoned on a scale of this proportion. But it reminds me of the Intel building that was to be built in DT Austin and was aborted when the the tech bubble burst before 9/11. For 5 plus yrs it sat as a skeleton of 6 floors (10 floors was planned) Someone came up with a plan to transform it into the new federal courthouse and later a condo all plans fell through. Finally it was demolished on Feb. 26th to much fanfare.

I found a site that was selling debris in small plastic containers, people will buy and sell the most ridiculous stuff.
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Old Posted Jul 30, 2007, 3:02 PM
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Very Interesting.
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Old Posted Jul 30, 2007, 6:27 PM
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Fascinating. I did not realize that there were still relics from that economic meltdown. Sad that the damage to some prevents resuming construction.

An interesting comparison with Detroit, which at least got 50 years of use out of several of its tall buildings before they were abandoned. Some of these were empty for 20-30 years before being restored and reused. Currently almost all high-rises are occupied.
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Old Posted Jul 31, 2007, 4:47 PM
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Very interesting story.
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Old Posted Aug 4, 2007, 2:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arriviste View Post
A new place to put on my list of locations to photograph. Thanks for the article, but not for the future expense of plane tickets.
I'm betting you can just sneak on in.
hell yeah. i wanna go.

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Old Posted Aug 4, 2007, 3:46 AM
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interesting pics! does anybody know how long that elevated train was supposed to be?
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Old Posted Jul 8, 2008, 4:46 AM
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Fascinating indeed.
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Old Posted Jul 8, 2008, 6:57 AM
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Old Posted Jul 8, 2008, 9:16 PM
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Those land owners are probably just waiting until the next big real estate boom to capitalize on those prime locations again.
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Old Posted Jul 9, 2008, 12:15 AM
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If it didn't have so many other implications, I'd wish we had one. That would be awesome to explore.
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Old Posted Jul 9, 2008, 5:32 AM
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interesting pics! does anybody know how long that elevated train was supposed to be?
There are several lines in Bangkok in operation and under construction as we speak. I don't know why the article make it seem like "the whole project was abandoned".
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Old Posted Mar 1, 2018, 9:53 PM
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awesome my friend! i love Bangkok thanks,
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