Chulalongkorn University Erects the Futuristic Geodesic Dome to House FAAMAI Digital Arts Hub

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A new kind of building has risen right next to Chulalongkorn University’s Centenary Park. It’s a futuristic geodesic dome, designed to house the FAAMAI Digital Arts Hub, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.

FAAMAI Director Janat Thiengsurin of the Department of Creative Arts in the university’s Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts (FAA) explains that the project started as a humble research request to design and construct a ‘smart’ classroom. Upon review, it was suggested that the research project should be expanded with the support of Chulalongkorn’s Second Century Fund. He says that the new project acronym, FAAMAI stands for ‘Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts Multi-disciplinary Art Innovation.’

To create the new Digital Arts Hub, Dean of the Faculty, Prof Dr Bussakorn Binson sought the support of Property Management of Chulalongkorn University (PMCU) for a plot of land and the professional expertise of stock market listed PR company, Pico (Thailand) PLC. A memorandum of understanding was signed between FAA, PMCU, and Pico on 23 January 2020.

Berlin-based architect Carsten Fulland of Zen Vision GmbH, one of the world’s leading geodesic dome manufacturers, supervised the assembly of the 35m diameter dome, which was fabricated in Germany and then shipped to Thailand. “The dome can easily hold about 1,200 people and we have used similar ones for football clubs, World Press Photo and Volvo Ocean Race events. Our Zen domes have a ‘futuristic’ look, which always ‘fits’ with whatever product or event is being promoted.”

He says that Pico (Thailand) had already used a Zen dome for car promotions. “And the space in the dome is special. You can add a screen and project at 360 degrees – remember there are no pillars – so it is like a white canvas you can paint on.”

Dean Binson says that the Faculty has already shown the potential for digital arts with digital position mapping of university buildings at night. “We’re developing this idea to create a platform for digital arts at FAA, so that any faculty member can use the facility,” she says. “We have three broad aims: to provide a digital arts platform for young people; to support the creation and dissemination of digital arts knowledge, and to create a center for digital entertainment.”

Director Thiengsurin agrees that the visual possibilities for digital art are endless and the acoustics are spectacular in the dome. He says that the faculty plans short- and long-term exhibitions, sharing the space with Pico and PMCU. “Pico can hold short-term events and business promotions and we can showcase the faculty’s work.”

PMCU Vice President for Property and Innovation Management Associate Professor Dr Wisanu Subsompon says that PMCU has managed the university’s property portfolio (approximately 62 hectares or 152 acres in central Bangkok) for 40 years. “One of our goals is to support the educational income of Chulalongkorn University in a sustainable way,” he says.

He says that the Digital Arts Hub is a collaboration because “We can’t do something like this by ourselves – we need professional partners. I think that this mixed-use project is useful because it is close to people and is in the center of Bangkok”. Pico’s staff also say that with the Queen Sirikit Convention Center currently undergoing renovation, there are not many large spaces available in central Bangkok for events and product launches; FAAMAI plugs that gap.

PMCU’s Subsompon says that FAAMAI is a transitional project, part of a comprehensive 20-year plan to redevelop the whole area. “We’re building a dormitory next to the Centenary Park for students and accommodation for staff – mixed-use is the key here”, he says. “You should start to see new facilities and buildings along Rama 4 road and more hip venues like coffee shops and galleries.”

FAAMAI Director Thiengsurin notes that now stage one, assembly and construction of the dome, has been completed, multi-disciplinary and mixed media artists are now working on new artworks for the facility. “We expanded the concept and scope of the project to include all the various arts practiced in the faculty and to be multi-disciplinary. And from that came the idea of a digital hub that could represent the whole faculty.”

Lecturers in the department are working on light and sound installations, and Thiengsurin is also working on collaborations between FAAMAI faculty members and multi-disciplinary artists from overseas, in the hope of creating exciting light and sound displays that complement the geodesic dome’s form and sonic possibilities. He cites artists like Japan’s teamlab and projection artist Paul Bourke as inspirations for the work he seeks to showcase at FAAMAI.

Dean Binson is excited about the projects lined up for FAAMAI. Through the National Deans Council for Art and Design, of which she is President, universities in Thailand will exhibit their own light sculptures in the grounds of FAAMAI. She adds that by inviting digital artists from overseas as Artists in Residence, FAAMAI will develop green events that will be linked to off-site participants enabled via Bluetooth technology. “This exciting development will create a prototype for green entertainment. Certainly, a first for the region.”

The project also dovetails with the ambitious ongoing Chula Art Town project, which involves artworks available live or via virtual reality software throughout the area surrounding the university. “The Chula Art Town is available during the day, at night FAAMAI will be the focus but linked with artworks in the area,” added Dean Binson.

In addition to supporting the development of the digital arts, FAAMAI will also be used to support therapy and well-being for local residents and special needs citizens. The FAAMAI facility is perfect for therapeutic sound and light programs, thus providing a supportive space for those in need. Creative Art and Music therapists at the university will be able to use the space for post-graduate studies and as a therapeutic venue.

The Digital Arts Hub sees the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts lead the university into the 21st century. But the bottom line, adds Dean Binson, is that “We hope that our efforts will enable a change in mindset by introducing art through technology”.