Dozens of bottles left over from a party, teak scrap wood found on a housing estate, broken water jars scavenged from an abandoned building and used boxes from an architect's fair have been adapted into innovative furniture at this abandoned shophouse turned eco-friendly library.
The ceiling chandelier is made of soda bottles, the bookshelves are fashioned from old boxes, while the beautiful teak planks cover old and dirty concrete walls. A broken toilet has been converted into a plant pot for a corner of the reading room and light streams in through strips of transparent roofing tiles. The shophouse's garden and the canal on to which it backs have been cleaned up and, with seasonal flooding in mind, the ground floor has been raised and strewn with seats for those wishing to bury themselves in a book.
The mezzanine has been turned into a chill-out zone with floor mattresses - a quiet place for contemplation and meditation.
The 50-square-metre-library is the culmination of the latest recycling architectural project by the Community Architect for Shelter and Environment (Case) group and its local partners.
Case is famed for the renovation of the popular Samchuk Living market/Living Museum in Suphan Buri, Bangkok's Talad Bang Kaen community living along the old Praem Prachakorn canal dug during King Rama V's reign to connect Bangkok and Ayutthaya, and Ten, a housing project in Min Buri that rethinks the relationship between community and individuality.
"Financial limitations inspired us to make full use of recycled items," says architect Patama Roonrakwit, Case's co-founder.
Sharing resources has long been Patama's pet strategy. Last year, invited by art4d magazine to exhibit at Architect's 08 Expo, she borrowed from tod kathin, a Buddhist form of merit making, and set up seven zones where people could donate used construction equipment along with books, toys, stationary, plants, houseware and stuff for pets.
"It was very successful. We came back with a lot of stuff that could be used both for this project and for future projects," she says.
Case spent just Bt70,000 renovating the library. Patama says that a commercial project would have cost at least Bt250,000.
To show how the community and its environment can be improved through simple and sustainable measures, Case started by transforming a dirt play area into a concrete playground surrounded by plants back in 2007. While converting the rundown shophouse into a lively library may have been completed in three weeks, Patama points out that the real renovation work, including research and encouraging community participation, has taken more than three years.
"A century ago, the Chinese merchant community living along San Sap Klong was very wealthy. The Chinese-style, half-concrete-half-wooden buildings are now in bad condition and local industry has died out," says architect Kasama Yamtree, who teamed with Norwegian architecture students TYIN for the project.
After the wealthy Chinese moved out, the property was in the hands of the Crown Property Bureau before being handed over to the Religious Department. Residents rent the land at a cheap price. Currently, more than 400 families live on the 44-rai plot.
"We no longer own this land and we don't know about our future so no one wants to invest in renovations," explains Chanajit Ampansaeng, 50, a third-generation member of the community.
Although some shophouses have been abandoned, their design is still eye-catching. A popular TV soap about a Chinese family was recently filmed in the area.
The new library has helped bring about a new sense of community spirit.
Jutalak Fukfang, Chuleeporn Daengluk and Kwanjai Sareesuth often head to the library after school. They usualy make for the greenery-rich courtyard at the rear to bag their favourite spot near the three solar-cell lamps that provide power for the premises.
"We love this place," say the kids with big smiles.
They were among the children who joined TYIN's painting workshop. The Norwegians cut wooden plates into small pieces for the youngsters to create their artworks then combined the paintings jigsaw-style into one large picture that now hangs on the wall.
"I'm proud of myself every time I see my painting," says Jutalak pointing to her creation.
Chattha Nutklue, a seafood merchant, is also a regular member.
"I come here every day to read motor magazine or books on Thai cooking," he says. "Some days, I go up to the mezzanine for a nap."
On weekends, kids enjoy playing the Millionaire game while teens sign up for guitar workshops or painting classes. Today, the one-month-old-library is the meeting place of the Old Min Buri Market community.
"The community members take it in turns to take care of their library. Every time we visit, we find new plants, new paintings on the wall and the library's rules placed in full view," says Kasama, adding that Chot, who owns the grocery shop next door, waters the plants and cleans the library every morning.
In the near future, Patama and Kasama plan to host a photo exhibition, inviting professional photographers as well as community members to capture the old market. They also dream of bringing back the old charm of life along the klong by encouraging the community to clean the canal and use boat transportation again.
And the eco-friendly library is inspiring some community members to make plans of their own.
"My wife wants our house to be like the library," Chattha says. "We're thinking of constructing a mezzanine for our children."