Designs On Asia: Samsen STREET Hotel Transforms a Bangkok Love Motel Into a Social Theatre

By and large, the architecture that dominates any city skyline is by and for an elite. The sleek skyscrapers humming with offices, the chic hotels closed off from the world like plush cocoons, the gleaming megamalls – these are the buildings we’re used to looking up to in urban design.

But there is another kind of architecture in Bangkok too, barely recognized as such. Cobbled together by and for the working class, these makeshift structures sprout up and pull apart just as swiftly. Shantytowns and construction workers’ housing, hawker carts and market pop-ups, love motels – the lively street architecture of the city’s castoffs. Chatpong ‘Chat’ Chuenrudeemol, director of local design studio Chat Architects, dubs them ‘Bangkok Bastards’, and these improvised structures are the beating heart of Bangkok for him – far more than the Architecture of the state or the well-heeled.

Samsen STREET Hotel is his latest project that draws inspiration from Bangkok’s street culture. The building in question had a former life as a love motel – the kind of ‘curtain sex motel’ that’s one of Bangkok’s quirks, with curtained parking spots attached to rooms for couples to sneak in anonymously. Pulling back the curtains on this shady space, his team has brought the buzzy best of Bangkok’s street life right into the hotel.

Once a shrouded sanctuary for trysts, the auto court has been transformed into its complete opposite: a social theatre. Inspired by their research on construction workers’ houses – which often feature rough balconies and common spaces fashioned from scaffolding – the architects added veranda-like balconies to each room and along each stair landing overlooking the courtyard.

Stretching around the whole court, this pastel green scaffolding offers front-row views of your neighbours all round. Lounge back on floor cushions, let your legs dangle through the railings, and catch a communal film on the giant screen suspended outdoors – it’s a far cry from the isolated bubbles that hotel rooms tend to be. The courtyard itself now frames an outdoor pool complete with loungers, perfect for a spot of Netflix and splash.

Playing up its industrial vibes, the hotel’s façade has been refinished in polished grey cement plaster, before being wrapped in more mint-green scaffolding – a colour inspired by nearby shophouses in Samsen Road. By night, the LED strip lights come on, drawing in passers-by to the party like fireflies.

And what a street party it is. Spacious sidewalks have been carved out in the hotel’s shadows, opening up space for food carts and street performers to spring up. At a pinch, mobile chairs and tables can be brought out from the hotel, welcoming both passers-by and guests to linger and mingle. Given the Thai government’s attempts to ban Bangkok’s ubiquitous street vendors, the hotel offers a safe, sustainable haven for the city’s delicious street food. Where most hotels are designed as an escape from everyday chaos, this one doesn’t just embrace Bangkok’s vibrant street life – it takes it up a notch.

Even the interior of the hotel is an extension of the streets. Borrowing from the visual language of street furniture, thin steel pipes and bars are a recurring element – echoing the simple, bare-bones lines of public structures like benches, kiosks, and window meshwork.

Case in point: the lobby. Eschewing the usual glitz for concrete grey walls and an industrial-style steel tray for a ceiling, it’s finished in the same nostalgic mint-green. The reception desks are accented with gratings of flat steel bars, reminiscent of the security grilles often seen in Bangkok’s windows. A frame of arched motifs sweep upward like plumage to the double-height ceiling, with exposed light bulbs dangling on either side. While waiting to check in, you can plonk on benches fitted with heavy wheels that look plucked straight off a street cart. 

From the lobby, dotted lines chart out roads to other parts of the hotel. The in-house restaurant features a heavily framed cashier counter that riffs off Bangkok pawnshop counters, and tiles decked in retro floral motifs. Look up and you’ll see a stunner of a latticework ceiling that’s all steel curves and curls.

Samsen STREET Hotel is located at Samsen Rd, Ban Phan Thom, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand, p. +66 2 126 7606.

All photos courtesy of W Workspace

Lifestyle Writer

Jolene has a major sweet tooth and would happily eat pastries for all meals. When she’s not dreaming of cheesecake, she can be found in the dance studio, working on craft projects, or curled up with a good book.