Building Conversation between Architecture and Nature in the South East Asia Context
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Published: October 20, 2017

Evelyn Katarina | Article | 20 October, 2017

    Echoing the Spirit of Serpentine Pavillion 2017

    This year’s Serpentine Pavillion in London brought us a different message compared to its forerunner. Despite being a prestigious idea showcase platform for the commissioned Architect, the honesty and simplicity delivered by Francis Kere highlights a unique relation between Architecture, Nature, and Culture. Bring the message back to South East Asia, this article attempt to highlight its relevance in our context. The reality of living in a big city like Singapore, Jakarta, or Kuala Lumpur, challenges architects and designer to answer the mother nature’s call through their work. Nowadays, it is common to see Architecture as commodities of trade. To build a good conversation between Architecture and Nature became a great challenge.

    Image © Marc Tey Photography

    Image © Marc Tey Photography

    The last decades of Architecture can be described as the age of xenophobic Architecture. The parametric technologies expand the possibilities of shaping any impossible form became possible. Contemplating this situation brings me back to Samuel Mockbee and his book The Rural Studio. There he states “Architecture can learn something from an architecture of honesty. It is about stepping into the open and expressing the simple and the actual rather than the grand and the ostentatious.” I found this quote is a nice reminder to all practitioners. But how actually a designer and architect could practice Honesty in their work?

    Again refer to Mockbee, “Honesty” is demonstrated in his projects by showing that innovative and imaginative work does not have to be technologically advanced like many modern projects. The material choices result in studio projects that are inexpensive, as well as sustainable. He chooses unconventional local materials such as windshields, tires, old railroad tires, and hay bales for studio projects, which range from playgrounds to chapels. This aspect is also well demonstrated by Francis Kere in his work specially Serpentine Pavillion, which also accentuates and defines a new relation between Architecture and Nature.

    Image © Doan Thanh Ha & Nguyen Tien Thanh.

    Image © Doan Thanh Ha & Nguyen Tien Thanh.

    In fact, from the sciences to politics to the arts, nature is being re-addressed and reviewed. The environmental design reflects that reappraisal by enacting subtler ways of making and operating. In part, the success of the new environmental contract, if there is to be any success in the face of ever more invasive instrumentalities, depends on bottom-up pressure forcing top-down change. Therefore, this highlights that the expression of a new co-operative contract between architecture and nature is as important as its enactment.

    However, despite the tendency draws in this article lean towards Environmental Architecture, we have to accept that environmentalism is an ideology among competing ideologies, a view of the world with priorities that are not universally shared, and which is interpreted in very different ways by those who do share it. Therefore, in this article, I am limiting myself to focus only on the material honesty in the architecture.

    Mockbee also speaks of a humanist style of Architecture and discusses that people and place matter. “Architecture, more than any other art form, is a social art and must rest on the social and cultural base of its time and place.” Architecture is a profession, but should also involve more civic engagement. An architect must have passion and energy for the place in order to produce an honest work. This will be the second aspect that I look through the selected projects.

    Considering both aspect, materiality as well as the humanity side of Architecture, we have selected 2 projects in South East Asia that deliver the spirit. The two projects are The Bamboo Play House, KL by Eleena Jamil Architects and Be Friendly Space, Dong Trieu by H&P Architects.

    The Bamboo Play House, KL – Eleena Jamil Architects

    Image © Marc Tey Photography.

    Image © Marc Tey Photography.

    Bamboo Playhouse is a public pavilion located in the middle of the capital city’s oldest and most picturesque park – the Perdana Botanical Gardens. The site itself is situated on a small island in a large lake that stretches through the centre of the park. Positioned along the edge of the lake, the playhouse is an open structure with raised square platforms set at multiple levels. It offers a series of indeterminate spaces, offering various opportunities of use and occupation. In our observation, the playhouse has so far been used by visitors as shaded resting place, children’s play space and meeting place. Events, exhibitions and performances has also been organized at the playhouse.

    Image © Marc Tey Photography.

    Image © Marc Tey Photography.

    The main material used for this pavilion is Bamboo. It is very rare for big cities like Kuala Lumpur to have a structure purely made of Bamboo. Therefore, this project gives a bold statement to the surrounding and strongly proclaims an importance to explore sustainable material further, especially in the urban context. From the centre of each deck, a tree-like column rises up to support the roof. ‘Tree-houses’, in the form of bamboo baskets hung off the columns add another dimension to the experience of the playhouse. The Tree houses philosophy also instigates a contemplation between human and nature relation through Architecture.

    Image © Marc Tey Photography.

    Image © Marc Tey Photography.

     

    Image © Marc Tey Photography.

    Image © Marc Tey Photography.

    The inspiration for the playhouse stems from traditional vernacular structures called the ‘wakaf’ which are originally found in villages or ‘kampungs’. These structures are essentially freestanding shelters that can be used freely by anyone in the community as a place to rest. Here, the playhouse can be described as a series of ‘wakafs’ grouped together to form an animated and playful bamboo structure that blends harmoniously with the beautiful greenery of the botanical garden. Bringing back the spirit of ‘Wakaf’, where people are closer to nature as well as to the neighbours, this project demonstrates a courage towards a better civic engagement for cities.

    Be Friendly Space, Dong Trieu – H&P Architects

    Image © Doan Thanh Ha & Nguyen Tien Thanh.

    Image © Doan Thanh Ha & Nguyen Tien Thanh.

    Departing from the busy environment of Mao Khe town in Vietnam, this project came as a reminder to the people who lives in the city about the surrounding. This pavilion is one of the series of projects about creating “a friendly space in suffocating urban areas”. This space presents an open space for the community, with importance being attached to aspects of culture and art (exchanges, exhibitions, cuisines, etc). The space inside this pavilion is crafted through a continuous line of wall that is distorted to allows dynamic flow of space. The alternate open and enclosed space gives a balance between green area and functional area as well as enhancing the relation between human and nature within a space.

    Image © Doan Thanh Ha & Nguyen Tien Thanh.

    Image © Doan Thanh Ha & Nguyen Tien Thanh.

    In terms of materiality, the project mainly used local material and the material selected here is Bamboo and Earth, which abreviation’s made up the title of the project, BE. The earth material is mainly used in the zig zag the wall, which thickness is 40 cm. Above the used space is a double alternate layer of bamboo- made roof to regulate light and air as well as to blur the boundary between the interior and exterior, architecture and landscape. Both of the material is then presented honestly without any further finishes as well as any excessive effort to make it looks well manicured.

    Image © Doan Thanh Ha & Nguyen Tien Thanh.

    Image © Doan Thanh Ha & Nguyen Tien Thanh.

     

    Plan

    Plan

     

    In attempt to be a friendly space, H&P Architect specifically outline the objective of BE friendly space as to help raise social awareness of the need for friendly spaces for community in the context of urbanization and concretization which is gradually suffocating Mao Khe – one of the most populous towns in Vietnam, thereby making contributions to shaping actions of community in the process of creating sustainable spaces for the future immediately from today’s friendliness. Therefore, this project has bravely take a challenge to improve the current relationship between Human and Nature through Architecture. It’s environmental engagement has been clearly outlined by selecting locally available friendly materials, choosing simple building operations and participating with the local builders.

     

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