This is the MahaNakhon Glass Tray, a glass-bottomed deck that’s perched atop the new King Power MahaNakhon tower in Bangkok. Thrill seekers can stand more than 1,000 feet above the city, separated only by glass–the latest example of a budding form of architectural tourism.
The 1,030-foot-tall skyscraper, which opened last month, looks to have been teleported from the future. In fact, its pixelated structure suggests that the teleportation was only partially successful. That’s by design, according to architect Ole Scheeren, who was a disciple of Rem Koolhaas and left OMA in 2010 to found his own office. Scheeren says over email that the building was designed to give the impression of being “in a permanent state of being unfinished and in that sense a building that reflects the idea of process.” The building, he says, is a reflection of Bangkok itself, “a city in a permanent state of flux,” where parallel forces both traditional and futuristic are at play, thus reshaping the urban fabric. For Scheeren, the incredible tension in the city, this energy, is translated into the fundamental idea of the building.
The tower’s design is based on the idea of opening up a traditional skyscraper to Bangkok itself, by wrapping the facade with a series of irregular, open spaces. “The idea behind the building was to take the conventional tower typology–a mute, hermetic shaft–and to carve it open,” Scheeren says. That carving reveals “a three-dimensional, pixelated ribbon that coils around the full height of the tower, so that suddenly you reveal the scale of human inhabitation inside the building, projecting the image of human activity and life back to the surrounding city.”
The Glass Tray, at the very top of the building, is where that “ribbon” ends. It’s part of the MahaNakhon SkyWalk, an experience that starts on the first floor of the tower for anyone who wants to spend about $85 for a ticket.
Visitors take an elevator straight up to the 74th floor in just 50 seconds in the country’s fastest elevator. There they will find an indoor observation deck with 360-degree panoramic views, and augmented reality screens that point out Bangkok’s landmarks. On the next floor, a glass elevator boarding area leads to the 78th floor, where they’re met by the “Glass Tray” and Thailand’s highest rooftop bar, which offers signature drinks and cocktails (they may need a few, before stepping foot on the deck).
The Skywalk wasn’t part of the project brief. In fact, the zoning laws and the previous definition of the site didn’t allow for it. Neither did it allow for the building’s current height. But Scheeren’s team managed to reconfigure the site in such a way that the building could reach 1,030 feet, making it the tallest structure in Thailand. That led to the idea of creating a space that the public could visit (at a price), so “anyone could experience the city at this spectacular height,” Scheeren says. The result was the Skywalk, a glass plaza of sorts where visitors can walk, sit, and marvel at Bangkok–as well as have a drink.
“MahaNakhon is a building that is strongly embedded in the city and the public realm,” Scheeren says. “The idea of giving space back to the city is intrinsic to the project.”
The Skywalk may be the most sensational feature of the design, but it’s part and parcel of Scheeren’s bigger vision for the tower, including the “ribbon” that wraps around the facade to reveal cascading terraces, and a public plaza at street level.
“What is particular about MahaNakhon is that through this pixelated ribbon that coils along the shaft, we created highly diversified conditions in the interior of the building, and the tower actually features 200 apartments of which no two are alike,” Scheeren says. “This enabled us to play with different variations and create living spaces with completely unique conditions, and to generate a sense of individuality that is very rare in high-rise structures.”