Women Run Design: Landscape architect Pui Phornprapha on nature and human’s interconnectedness
For P Landscape's Pui Pornprapha, being a woman in a man’s world is like being a man in a woman’s world—it’s equal and rooted in nature’s interconnectedness
March 30, 2020
Written by Denny Mata
Photos courtesy of P Landscape
BluPrint never met P Landscape’s founder and managing director Pui Phornprapha, at least personally. Previous exchanges of emails were done mostly through her team, but seeing and studying her works as a landscape architect, as well as reading her answers paint a picture of a woman deeply rooted in her craft, design philosophy, and humanity.
“As a Thai, I have grown up in a country that is full of cultural sensitivity. It has shaped me and my design philosophy to be appreciated and embraced in the diversity of culture around the world,” Phornprapha tells BluPrint when asked about the influence of her education on her design philosophy. “Along with the experience of studying and working abroad, it has taught me to see all things as a connected body of knowledge, and human interpersonal skill is the key for us to better understand each other.”
Phornprapha recognizes the law of nature where “all things are interdependent in the world.” In her practice, she emphasizes that everywhere in the world needs equality, not only for the workplace. She insists on collaboration and a multi-disciplinary approach to landscape design amid the development of fast-paced technologies and globalization that transformed the designers’ work to be more competitive and complex. “As things change, we should be resilient, adaptive and collaborative. At the same time, as a landscape architect, we should keep and enhance the identity of each country that we work in.”
The first seeds of interest
Pui Phornprapha graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. It was in the late 1980s to the early 1990s, a time when landscape architecture was thought by most people, including Phornprapha’s parents, to be merely a form of gardening.
Also in 1980, Mexican modernist architect Luis Barragán was conferred to be a Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate. His acceptance speech left sowed seeds of interest in Phornprapha to pursue landscape architecture. “He states that the partnership between nature and man means accepting the mutability and ever-changing face of landscape architecture. The beauty of the landscape lies in its ephemerality that transcends things,” recalls the landscape architect. “From this point, I was inspired to take up a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design, and started our company, P Landscape (PLA).”
Educated in two different systems, Pui Phornprapha observed that Thai architecture education focused on teaching special skill sets, while the international program emphasized critical and multi-disciplinary thinking. When asked about changing or improving the local education system, the landscape architect responds, “If I have a chance to contribute to the betterment of the system, reforming design communication would be the first integral thing to do. Nowadays, with the technology and tools all in hand, translating ideas to others should be faster. I also wish that all education systems would become more multi-disciplinary, more adaptive and collaborative in this fast-paced world.”
Running and growing the firm
Establishing a landscape architecture firm in 1997, during the Asian financial crisis (locally known as the Tom Yum Goong Crisis in Thailand), was an uphill struggle, especially when landscape architecture was a relatively new profession in the country at that time. However, with three employees with her, Pui Phornprapha said they managed to overcome it. “Every cloud has a silver lining. We seek opportunities to develop our firm and finally can overcome it,” she says. “I’m happy to see the growth and evolution of PLA. The previous generations became a platform for younger generations to expand their skills and potentials.”
Now, PLA has 123 employees, with a ratio of 47 male to 76 female designers. From a boutique studio doing commissions for private residences and high-end hotels and resorts, they have also been doing public parks and a hospice which was shortlisted in the 2019 World Architecture Festival.
Gender equality coming to fruition
While Phornprapha’s firm is female-dominated and led, she asserts that P Landscape respects gender equality. “We cannot distinguish which gender over another is indispensable as it depends on individuality. Despite the physical differences, I view performance as a priority,” she says. She also goes back to mutuality and interconnection: “All in all, a combination of both genders is needed in order to build any firm.”
Pui Phornprapha sees big changes from the beginning to today in the way landscape architecture in Thailand has regarded gender. “Look at the world now; there are more and more women leaders in many organizations. For me, there should be no limit for women to work in any profession,” she says.
“Everyone should have the freedom to speak, be heard, and have the right to create a positive impact on society,” Phornprapha adds, regarding all genders in any industry. When finally asked about how it is like being a woman in a male-dominated industry, she says, “I do believe that being a woman in a man’s world is equal to being a man in a woman’s world.”