War, Trade and Desire: Urban Design and the Counter Public Spheres of Bangkok


  • Brian McGrath




This paper analyses an emergent public sphere in Bangkok in order to reveal the gap between ideals of public space as representation of power, nationhood, and modernity, versus its social production in everyday political struggles. The setting for political demonstrations recently shifted from royalist-nationalist Ratchadamnoen Avenue to the Ratchaprasong intersection, the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district. Ratchadamnoen, formerly a stage-set for royalist and nationalist pomp, has been continuously occupied for political uprisings.

In contrast, as the political base of protest in Thailand widened, the glittering shopping malls at Ratchaprasong became a new site of protest, fuelled by urban and rural working poor who sensed they could not afford to partake in Bangkok’s phantasmagorical splendours. The paper argues that in following Bangkok’s historical cycles of blood and massacre in the street lies the possibility of finding new forms of urban design and a public sphere not yet imagined in the West.

Author Biography

Brian McGrath

Brian McGrath (MArch, Princeton University) is Associate Professor of Urban Design at Parsons The New School for Design and the founder and principal of Urban-Interface, LLC, an urban design practice that fuses architecture, ecology, and media. The firm combines new research in urban ecosystems and digital technologies to provide urban design models that engage local participants in flexible, innovative approaches to urban design. Current projects include partnerships with governmental agencies, private developers, and cultural institutions. McGrath is also a Co-Principal Investigator in the National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research study in Baltimore, Maryland, where he leads the Urban Design Working Group.