Thais win Gold Award for green bird sanctuary and another prize for saving canals

Shock and delight were the words that best described a Thai team's emotions when it was announced they had won first prize at the prestigious Holcim Awards for Green Architecture.

The Gold award worth Bt3.2 million (S$126,000) was handed to Jariyawadee Lekawatana, Dr Singh Intrachooto and Chak Cherdsatirkul for their Protective Wing Bird Sanctuary project in Chiang Mai.

"We were completely stunned," said Dr Singh in an interview at the weekend. "The results were kept a tight secret until the gala event."

The Asia Pacific contest drew about 1,000 entries. It is ranked among the world's most reputable "green" selection of high quality master-plans.

Another Thai architecture team took home an Acknowledgement Prize worth about Bt500,000 for a plan to restore old canals in the Kingdom.

"This has been a great night for Thailand," said Jariyawadee. He and Dr Singh are regarded as leading green designers.

Three years ago, the duo won another Holcim award for a blueprint to convert an abandoned riverfront warehouse into an indoor farm.

"One of our teammates was so thrilled he screamed," said Singh, who lectures at Kasetsart University.

The second Thai team headed by architects Santi Sombatwihaton and Pongporn Sudbanthad impressed judges with a plan to restore canals and link them to mass commuter stations.

"It is an ambitious effort to reduce carbon emissions and make Bangkok a more liveable metropolis," Pongporn said.

"We are working with 25 communities who are critical to its success. The current Khlong Bang Sue phase will be our showcase canal as we link it to Khlong Lat Phrao and eventually to Khlong Saen Saeb and the Sathorn section.

"The victory has been a humbling experience. We didn't think we would win anything."

The judges praised the two Thai groups for their beautiful presentations and making their projects relevant to the difficulties people face everyday.

In the case of the 70-rai (26.5 acres) bird sanctuary, the judges said it was constructive in addressing tough issues such as a law enforcement situation that failed to protect animals it saved.

As prosecuting poachers takes a long time, thousands of birds die each year as there is no facility to house and feed them after they are seized from illegal traders, the judges said, adding that trials could take five years and by that time the bird would have perished.

"Architects have social responsibilities too," said Pongporn. "Not everything we do has to be commercial in value."

The Silver Holcim Award went to Hillary Sample for Children's Ziggurat, an orphanage and library project in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The Bronze award went to the Post-War Collective project by Milinda Pathiraja of Sri Lanka. The community building plan calls for veterans of the conflict in that country to rebuild a community, enabling them to return to society.

Four other Acknowledgement Prizes went to winners from Japan, India, Indonesia and Kiribati.

The Japanese project headed by Benoit Jacques and Manuel Tardis will result in the construction of a research centre in Kyoto using traditional woodwork.

India's Madhusudhan Rao Chalansani from Hyderabad is behind a plan for a medical centre and school that is financed by a mining company as part of its corporate social responsibility programme.

The Situ Network by British architect Maj Plemenitas seeks to save Tarawa Atoll from submerging by using palm leaves that can prevent erosion while allowing silt to build up.

The Indonesian project Mega City Skeleton was conceived by Tomohiko Amemiya and involves upgrading informal settlements in Jakarta by using durable structures to improve hygiene and living spaces for slum dwellers.

In the Next Generation category for young architects, Zhe Peng of China won first prize for his Panda Watching project, which involved the reconstruction of a historic village in Sichuan where pandas are a tourist attraction.