“The desire to feel fulfilled, to be happy in what I do, is what keeps me motivated,” says Natapa Sriyuksiri. Defined by her work and inspired by her collaborators, the 31-year-old architect describes herself as a doer. “I like to get things done,” she says matter-of-factly. An art lover with a flair for the creative side, pursuing a path in architecture was a natural move. “The charm of designing lies in the creation aspect—that process of having your idea drawn on paper, discussed with the team, adjusted until its perfect and then seeing it created in real life. For me, getting something built is not just one of the best feelings, but incomparable to any feeling.”
Thailand-born but UK-bred since the age of 10, the middle child of Tayuth and Natini Sriyuksiri only moved back to Bangkok about a year and half ago. Following boarding school, the high achiever acquired a bachelor’s degree at the prestigious Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, also commonly referred to as the AA. The very first design practice she worked at during her year out was Future Systems, which is now called Amanda Levete Architects. “I was working on Central Embassy shopping mall while based in London,” she shares. Despite being the youngest person in the studio, she was designated the main point of contact for Bangkok during the research and development phase as she was the only Thai speaker on the team. “Another project I worked on was with my boss on her own home, which was incredibly insightful for me at the age of 20,” she tells us.
After pursuing two more post-grad courses at AA, Natapa worked in London for another five years. At Caruso St John Architects, she got the chance to experience some once-in-a- lifetime type projects, such as the renovation of London’s Tate Britain art gallery. “It is probably one of my proudest achievements as I got to work with really amazing people. The responsibilities I got to carry out also paved the way for what I do now,” she shares.
The fact she has an architecture license, great prospects as well as UK residency begs a question: what brought her back to Bangkok in late 2015? “I wanted to be with my family,” she explains. She had also landed an instructor’s position at Chulalongkorn University’s architecture programme. “I actually started teaching [design studio] on the second day after my arrival,” she laughs. How does she describe herself as a teacher? “Architecture is very subjective. As an instructor, I try to bring out the best in my students, to gauge what they are good at and help them channel what they can do.” While teaching, Natapa also started her own company, Unreal Estate. “It took me some time to adjust to teaching methods here,” she admits. “And I really enjoy that aspect of my work and life, but I’m also keen on practising and getting things built.”
The first project she worked on here was for Tribe, an indoor cycling studio she co-founded with her friends Ploy Bhinsaeng and Pasu Liptapanlop. While architecture is one of Unreal Estate’s specialities, she now finds herself working on more interior-based projects as well as creative direction. “Architecture is not just a standalone thing, it’s about making a place and not just a space. So the totality of the design, whether it be the branding, interior or more emotional aspects of a project, is what I want to focus on more as well,” she shares.
Working in London, where there are more listed buildings, has given Natapa an interest in what architects call adaptive reuse: the renovation of old buildings for a new purpose. “There’s quite a few abandoned constructions in Bangkok that can be reappropriated,” she says. What is important to her is to always consider the specific context of each building and use locally sourced materials that match the fabric of the site. “What I also feel makes Asia unique when compared to London is how you’re able to fabricate things quite inexpensively. Designing bespoke furniture for the interiors, for instance, is much more feasible here.”
Natapa recently tied the knot with the Dusit Group heir Siradej Donavanik, with wedding celebrations joined by familiar faces at Dusit Thani Bangkok and Hua Hin. “We’ve been friends for over 20 years and have been the best of friends for the past 10 years,” she smiles. They’re quite a private pair, and the change of topic seems to make her a little bashful. When we ask her to define her ideal kind of love, she lets out a good laugh before answering. “There is probably no ideal relationship, as there is no such thing as perfect. But I do believe that love is a lot about listening and understanding while at the same time being patient and compromising.”
Despite her network of friends, Natapa is not a regular at Bangkok’s glamorous events, or someone you will find in glossy magazines posing in designer threads month after month. On her days off, she enjoys spending time with her loved ones. “A lot of times we host dinner parties at home or go out to the movies. And whenever I get the chance, I’ll be taking trips outside of Bangkok, which is such a novelty because when I was in London I hardly went out of the city. Here, the luxury is to be able to travel to off-the-beaten-track locations within just a few hours.” With good food as one of her guilty pleasures, she also enjoys exploring new eateries. However, cooking is not on the list. “My sister [Navanath] and mother are such great cooks, it leaves no room for my bad pasta,” she laughs.
(Also see: Standing Strong With Natapa Sriyuksiri)
What are the top three things she values in life? “Time spent with friends and family, as well as with yourself. I see it as a blessing to be back here with my loved ones and to see them more,” she answers. “Then it is the experiences that I’ve had in the past, the good and the bad, that made me who I am today or led me to the things I do,” she adds. And the last is health, something she only realised the importance of during her mid-20s. When she was younger she avoided exercise. As a child, she was often the slowest runner and the last person to be picked on the team. “But I now understand that exercising is really about becoming better for yourself, and that being able to maintain a healthy lifestyle is important.”
Natapa’s great aspiration in life is to become content as a person and to continue doing the things that she loves. Nothing if not goal-driven, she admits that she has very high expectations of herself. “I never want to stop working. It is something that I really strive for and I feel has become a part of who I am,” she says. “If you ask me what kind of woman I want to become, I would say a strong one. And I think it takes a lot work on yourself and a lot of self-reflection to achieve that.”
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