The bank's whimsical shape was inspired by a child’s toy.
In the late-1970s, the Thai architect Sumet Jumsai was approached by the Bank of Asia. The bank was looking for a design for its new headquarters in Bangkok, something that would reflect the computerization of banking. For a long while, Sumet struggled to come up with a suitable design. But then his son walked into his study carrying a toy robot, and inspiration struck.
Banking and fun don’t generally mix. In Thailand, however, fun has been elevated to a way of life, a revered ethos known as sanuk. Perhaps for this reason the Bank of Asia was so delighted by Sumet’s proposal, and eagerly began construction of the Robot Building.
Completed in 1987 at a cost of US$10 million, the 20-story building was initially the tallest building in the major commercial district of Sathorn. And while it no longer dominates the skyline, it remains one of the most recognizable towers in the city.
The floors of the building decrease in area at regular intervals, creating the “body” of the robot. Two round windows on the top section (the head) resemble lidded eyeballs, giving the robot a cartoon-like—and slightly sleepy—appearance. To complete the effect, Sumet added antennas on the roof, which serve as both communication masts and lightning rods, while the sides of the building are adorned with large metallic-looking nuts, the largest measuring 12.5 feet in diameter (You can see a 3D model of the structure here).
The building was later selected by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles as one of the 50 seminal buildings of the century. It has its detractors, of course, but then who doesn’t? And for many people, especially those not overcome by cynicism, the idea of having a giant toy robot standing in the middle of a city is just plain fun. Even if it does contain a whole bunch of bankers.
Know Before You Go
The Robot Building is located at 191 South Sathorn Road in the Sathorn District of Bangkok. It is currently occupied by the United Overseas Bank (which acquired Bank of Asia in 2005) and serves as their Bangkok headquarters. You can get there by taking the BTS Skytain to Chong Nonsi, which is a short walk from the building. You can also see it while traveling on the Skytrain. You’ll see it on your left just after leaving Chong Nonsi station if you’re on the Silom Line heading to Saphan Taksin, or on your right after leaving Surasak station from Saphan Taksin heading towards Siam or National Stadium.
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