An iconic, vintage Bangkok cinema has been transformed into a contemporary, multi-purpose creative space for the whole community.
Many tears were shed when Bangkok’s much-loved Lido Theatre finally closed its doors in May last year, after 50 years in operation. It was destined, like much of the rest of Siam Square real estate, to be turned into yet another shopping complex. Or so it was commonly assumed.
But Chulalongkorn University, which owns the land, had less predictable ambitions. The property management department of Thailand’s prestigious and oldest university teamed up with a hip record label, LOVEiS Entertainment, with plans to redevelop the Lido building as a place for learning, sharing, art, culture and innovation; where the emphasis would be more on community and sustainability than consumerism.
The result is Lido Connect, a multiplatform arts hub which officially opened in August. Inspired in part by Tokyo’s vibrant youth culture precinct, Harajuku, Lido Connect is a mix of performance and exhibition spaces and, well, potentially anything that anyone with a fresh creative idea wants it to be.
The open area on the ground floor, known as Lido Playground, will be available as free space for buskers and street performers to show off their talents, entertain the public, and possibly be discovered. It’s a key element of the project. “We are not selling space for performance,” says Sirindra Mongkolnavin, Lido Connect’s managing director. “We are providing art platforms to connect communities.” Thai pop star and LOVEiS recording artist Nop Ponchamni would likely approve – as a young hopeful he was banned from busking in Siam Square.
Inside, at street level, there’s a café, and a Flex 102.5 radio studio where young people will have opportunities to learn broadcast and production skills. There are retails stores lining the perimeter but you won’t find any big name chain brands here. It’s reserved for young up-and-coming Thai entrepreneurs in fashion and design; and the welcome return of the popular Lido DVD store to its original location. There’s also room for university students to display and sell their creative work.
The Lido Theatre was gutted by fire in 1993 but reopened as a three-screen movie house. These spaces on the upper level remain but have undergone a radical makeover. Lido 1 will still function mainly as a cinema and, in keeping with the philosophy to support and encourage non-mainstream artists, films screened will likely be more indie/art house than blockbuster. Lido 2 and 3 have been converted into versatile performance, exhibition and event spaces, the latter a Black Box theatre that allows for flexible staging, lighting and audience interaction.
The redesign, including neon signage and plush red cinema seating, pays tribute to the building’s past. The Lido Theatre began life on 27 June 1968, opening with the Anthony Quinn western, Guns For San Sebastian. Along with the Siam Theatre which opened in 1966 and the Scala Theatre (1969), the original 1,000-seat standalone Lido was a key part of the transition of Siam Square from a poor area to the glittering commercial precinct and lively youth hangout it is today.
Lido thrived for two decades but began to struggle in the 1990s in the face of competition from a multitude of multiplex cinemas that began to appear as a feature of sleek shopping mall developments. But it survived, offering an innovative mix of blockbusters and less mainstream films.
Its architecture was somewhat more garish than its nearby sibling, the Scala, which features striking ‘Art Deco’ chandeliers and a sweeping staircase and which continues to operate as a standalone cinema, at least for the time being. But Lido is fondly remembered as a people place. Long-serving ushers in yellow jackets checked tickets; and when you called to ask about films and session times you not only spoke to a real person rather than a recording, but the same person. Former DJ Sarot Sookproa answered the phone for two decades, and was known for his friendly banter and personal recommendations of films.
In keeping with that spirit, Lido Connect aims to be a physical space which brings everyone, and particularly young people, together in a world where digital technologies contribute to increasing social isolation. Approachable, accessible, and affordable are key concept themes and there’s a strong sense of wanting to give something back to the community rather than profit-making. Retail store operators need to demonstrate they have a corporate social responsibility project in place, or an activity that helps address a social issue in a sustainable way.
The vision for Lido Connect, says Mongkolnavin, is for it to be “not just a place, but the story of every creator’s creativity and memorable moments of all visitors.” Certainly, it’s an ambitious and imaginative beginning of a new chapter in the story of one of Bangkok’s most cherished landmarks.