Design in Nature

24 Feb 2012

Marra + Yeh Architects create autonomous eco-village as symbol of stewardship for sustainable forestry company

As architects we can be perceptive at only at the microscale and risk becoming provincial. Or we can be perceptive only at the macroscale and risk abstraction and miss the nuances. To bridge between abstraction and provincialism Marra + Yeh Architects consider both scales simultaneously, striving for the appropriateness of response that lies somewhere in between. Marra + Yeh Architects is a considered approach - of potential and constraints. Their architecture straddles between the general and the particular, technology and the hand-made, aspirations and appropriateness.

Shelters @ Rainforest exemplifies this approach. They were commissioned by a private forestry company to masterplan and design an autonomous village including housing, offices and communal facilities for 200 staff, from senior managers to field workers, all permanently stationed in the forest. The company controls 100,000 hectares of forest for a period of 99-years under a system of sustainable reforestation; obligations include planting an average of 30 wildings for each tree harvested.

Constrained by the limited availability of skilled labour and a remote location with difficult access and logistics, yet informed by vernacular buildings, local industrial capabilities and the material properties of tropical timbers, Marra + Yeh Architects response was to create a framework, both in the physical and metaphorical senses.

Marra + Yeh Architects designed a system - in a paradoxical move, in order to address the constraints of the project - the building system is a constraint of its own - a disciplined, modular approach, based on the unrelenting geometry of a plywood sheet, only two timber sections of small dimensions (50x50mm and 100x50mm) and years of research into vernacular and climate-adaptive architectures of Asia-Pacific. The framework creates freedom and flexibility allowing for variety in the building types and adaptability for specific site conditions.

Each building is autonomous, with solar electricity, biogas units and rainwater collection. Design strategies alone ensure a ventilated indoor environment of 26C despite the tropical latitude where the outdoor temperature is regularly 34C.

The architecture combines local materials and labour with a high degree of structural engineering knowledge and modern jointing techniques. This frugal construction system is a symbol of environmental stewardship for the company. And a symbol of architecture that acknowledges the particulars and gives substance to abstraction.

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