Elephants have played a central role in Thai society for many centuries. So when someone decided to build a high-rise in the shape of an elephant in Bangkok’s business district, well, it seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
Bangkok is home to more than 80 completed skyscrapers, a record surpassed by only a few other cities in the world. So for a high-rise building to get noticed, it has to be a little special. And in Thailand, few things are considered more special than elephants.
Such was the thinking of engineer and real estate mogul Arun Chaisaree and architect Ong-ard Satrabhandhu when they decided to collaborate on a new building in the Chatuchak District of the Thai capital. Chaisaree, in particular, was well versed in all things elephant, having previously opened his own museum to exhibit his collection of more than 2,000 elephant-shaped art objects.
The Elephant Building, also known as the Chang Building, was completed in 1997. It consists of three towers (A, B, and C) joined across the top by a horizontal band of residential suites. Two of the towers form the legs of the “elephant,” while the third represents its trunk. The towers contain 32 floors, reaching a total height of 335 feet.
Further details add to the overall elephant effect. The tusks on either side of the trunk contain the offices of the building’s management company. Its eyes are two huge circular windows. Its ears are multistory balconies, and its tail, which runs down the “rear” of the building, is formed by 20 stories of smoked-glass enclosed rooms.
Reaction to the Elephant Building has been mixed, especially internationally. CNN soon added it to its list of the world’s 25 great skyscrapers, arguing that “at the time of its completion it was cutting edge, offering high-tech offices, a shopping plaza and a floor of luxury residential suites.”
Architectural Digest, meanwhile, has since listed it among the “31 Ugliest Skyscrapers in the World,” noting that “While playful in design, the structure does little to push the integrity of Thai architecture.”
Still, it’s hard to hold a grudge against a blocky beast of a building. Especially when it’s a record holder, in this case the largest elephant-shaped structure in the world. This record was once held by Lucy the Elephant, a six-story elephant built in 1882 in Margate City, New Jersey. And while the Elephant Building is nowhere near as realistic as Lucy, it’s certainly much, much bigger.