Thai eco-lifestyle destination Ecotopia is like a walk-through tutorial on how to achieve a sustainable lifestyle. This very well conceived and immaculately executed concept occupies 2,000sqm on the third level of Siam Discovery, a seven-level shopping centre in downtown Bangkok. It shares the floor with two highly complementary concepts: a 700sqm space called Iconcraft that offers Thai craft products across a range of categories, and a 600sqm ODS (Objects of Desire) shop that showcases exceptio
nal home decoration products. There’s another retailer there, too, a unit of the coffee chain Amazon Café, which fits well with the floor’s overall lifestyle theme. And there are no barriers between them, so you can walk from one to another without realising you’re now in a different retail shop. While the attention of retailers is focused primarily on what’s going on inside their four walls, the shopping centre operator needs to see the big picture – how the whole thing gels together. Get it wrong and you’ve got what visitors look at and say ‘yuck’. Get it right and you’ve got something everyone looks at and says ‘wow’. Siam Piwat, the owner of Siam Discovery, got it right. The company is both a property owner/developer and a retailer, so it can implement both angles. It is also heavily influenced by Japanese design and part of its DNA is to connect with its customer base on hot-button cultural issues. It doesn’t mind eliminating walls altogether, and actually prefers things that way. All of these characteristics are evident in Siam Discovery. So how do the different components work together? Ecotopia Ecotopia is so nicely put together that you can go in without a clue and come out 30 minutes later with a dozen new ideas you want to try in your own home. Even if sustainability isn’t really your thing when you enter Ecotopia, the display is compelling enough that you’ll be seriously questioning your own habits by the time you leave. That doesn’t mean Ecotopia will change everyone, but surely it will engage some minds sufficiently to alter their behaviour at the margins. Siam Piwat said Ecotopia was the work of 12 co-creators who were true believers in sustainable living. The products are immaculately presented and some – such as garden plants, seed mixes, and soil nutrients you’ve never heard of, like earthworm enzyme – are not things you ordinarily find in a downtown super-regional shopping mall. Other product installations include household cleaning supplies, skincare, and clothing. Here’s another nice thing though: they haven’t just lobbed the products out there on a wing and a prayer and hoped you’ll understand how to use them. They hold your hand all the way through, with simple tutorials on attractive posters that remind you more of a museum than a retail store. You learn, for example, about upcycling, which, if you don’t know, is not the same as recycling. The latter is extracting the useful materials out of waste products and making them into something new. Upcycling, on the other hand, is taking an item that may have served its initial purpose and using it for something else. The visitor is reminded of how long it takes for materials to degrade if you just throw them away (for example, six weeks for newspaper and 50 years for leather). Meanwhile, at the Hug skincare station, you can purchase empty refill bottles (or use your own) and refill with your choice of seven body lotions. At another installation, you are exhorted to purchase a filtering water bottle to use in place of countless new plastic bottles (a big issue in developing Asia, where the tap water is often not drinkable). At still another installation, you are instructed how to run a waste-free kitchen. If there is one criticism of Ecotopia, it is that it tends to get a bit preachy. But the important thing is that it genuinely engages the visitor, it has useful and attractively designed products, and it’s a feast for the eyes. Iconcraft and ODS Iconcraft integrates so seamlessly with the adjacent Ecotopia that it doesn’t feel like you’ve moved on to a new concept. However, unlike Ecotopia, which focuses on the environment, Iconcraft is a distribution channel for hundreds of Thai crafts and designers. Products include jewellery, home décor, bags, coffee, tea, and ceramics. This installation is an edited version of a much larger, 2,500sqm shop across the city at another Siam Piwat centre, IconSiam. ODS, on the same open-plan floor at Siam Discovery, integrates well with both Ecotopia and Iconcraft. Like Iconcraft, ODS is an outlet for Thai crafts. However, the products for display and sale are selected collaboratively by Siam Piwat and the Thai government Ministry of Commerce, and some have already won design awards. The offering encompasses about 130 brands and focuses on home décor. The three concepts together, along with the leafy, peaceful Amazon Café, where customers can sit and sip coffee while imbibing the ambience, take up almost all of the third floor of Siam Discovery. It is what retailers and shopping centre operators mean when they talk about ‘engaging customers’, ‘immersive experiences’ and all that other marketing jargon. It is also consistent with Siam Piwat’s branding of the centre when it opened in its current form in 2016. Keen to avoid calling it a shopping centre – a term that fell out of favour after e-commerce took hold – the company dubbed Siam Discovery the “Exploratorium”. This wasn’t the first time Siam Piwat had dabbled in alternative shopping centre branding. Right next door to Discovery is another of Siam Piwat’s projects, awkwardly called Siam Center The Ideaopolis. A changing installation at ODS features a ‘designer of the month’. This month it’s Ground Room, which is a kit for using natural products such as flowers, leaves and even dirt to make colours. On an explanatory poster, it styles itself as “a mindful activity that allows you to spend quality time with yourself and someone you love while also relieving you of the stress of modern life”. That is also an apt way to describe a visit to the Ecotopia, Iconcraft, and ODS at Siam Discovery.