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Sonthaya Sihachakr

An architect on the move


Architecture is not only putting a roof over our head. It's also a way to express a culture. Sonthaya Sihachakr, cofounder of the firm Architectes en Seine, is proud of his dual French and Laotian origin.


An architect of racial mixing

What is more ironic, for an architect, to have its office on a houseboat called "Playtime", like Jacques Tati's movie, when he mocked modern architecture? What's more paradoxical for a builder of solid buildings than working on a floating barge?

"I am attracted by the unexpected, the fun, the bold", said Sonthaya Sihachakr to begin with. "I prefer the naive to the academic, the accident to projects that are too strict: a crooked wall can structure an empty space and give it a soul." At 32 years old, Sonthaya doesn't intend to slow down on his boathouse.

Before he could moor in this dock of the 13th district in Paris, the story of Sonthaya Sihachakr began in Laos, where he lived up to 15 year old. In the 90's, the country was recovering from the long Indochina war. "At the time, the country was still tightly closed and highly marked by communism. At the time, I was dreaming of becoming a comic books illustrator or to direct films. In this country, where television had only one channel, I felt the need to create my own stories and invent other universes. "

Architecture became a clear choice when he passed his baccalauréat. "It's a perfect compromise between drawing and staging", says Sonthaya. "Architecture would give me the means to create real atmospheres." 

Sonthaya studied in the École nationale supérieure de Paris-Val de Seine, on the banks of the same river where he would set up his office years later. After he passed his degree, he began working with a big name of the trade, Christian de Portzamparc, before he partnered with two former classmates in 2011: Marine Lugassy and Jonathan Walter. Together, they created the firm Architectes en Seine. "We started the firm on this very boathouse, but at the time it was moored in Ivry-sur-Seine." 

While the firm was growing a reputation, the uncommon office went to Paris. "I was on board and I saw my work space change to go from the suburbs to this very spot. There was something magical in this move that would remind us what our trade and our objective are meant to be: make people dream".

A threesome job

The trademark of Architectes en Seine is based on the challenge of ideas. The same process is followed for every project. The ethnic mixing of Sonthaya is in every detail. "I was marked by the pagodas and the feeling that oozes from them, whether it's on the level of exterior architecture or interior light, which is ideal for reflection. It's something that inspires me when I create a project." 

It's an architecture with multiple layers that appeals to all senses in its play of lights, contrasts of materials and volumes. To stage his ideas, Sonthaya likes to draw inspiration from the cinema. "I am sensitive to the atmospheres in "Blade Runner" and "In the mood for love". As such, I can use coarse and cold materials like concrete, but worked in a very light way. I rely heavily on contrasts to create emotions." 

The Seine brings council

Sonthaya hopes that the wind that is now blowing in his sails would push him back to Laos, where he is trying to start an architectural renaissance. "Laotians are highly attracted by Western and global architecture. But I have a bolder objective: to synthesize the soul of Laos in a modern architecture, such as what Tadao Ando did in Japan! "

In his boat moored in the Austerlitz dock, Sonthaya Sihachakr has his eyes set on the land, an endless source of inspiration in Eastern district of Paris. On the quay, the Cité de la mode et du design and its chlorophyll green "plug-over" shakes the stylistic conventions of the capital. Downward, the Ministry of Finance is a bulky building that marked the first architectural operations of President Mitterand era. In the opposite side, the railway station of Austerlitz had its curves from the Second Napoleonian Empire renewed by Jean Nouvel. So, in order to become the best in the Paris architectural scene, Sonthaya doesn't only go with the flow.

"Sometimes, we are asked why we put a real size gorilla on the boat stern. I think this mascot arrived when we were becoming too serious. This fun part must be our signature."