Shelter @ Rainforest
The Shelter by Marra +Yeh Architects is a structure built in a rain forest in Malaysia that is designed to house visitors for a reforestation project. The project includes replanting trees at a 13:1 ratio to encourage new growth in an area impacted by logging. The design avoids bulky wood and thick walls, instead attempting a more subtle approach to creating an environmentally-friendly space for its environmentally-friendly guests.
Shelter is located in the state of Sabah, in a remote inland location five hours drive from Kota Kinabalu. The project was commissioned by a private forestry company that controls 100,000 hectares of forest for a period of 99-years under a system of sustainable reforestation; obligations include replanting on a ratio of 30:1. Shelter provides accommodation for the Company’s manager and his family and for a string of visitors. The house is thus laid out as two mirrored halves joined by an entry ‘dog run’ and a long verandah overlooking the wildscape.
The design has been influenced by the vernacular longhouses of the area with their frugal timber constructions and also by Thoreau’s Walden Pond with its message of simple living and self sufficiency. These considerations were prosaic as much as they were poetic – the house is low cost, autonomous (with solar electricity, biogas units and rainwater collection) and passively environmental – Despite the tropical latitude the indoor temperature peaks at 26C at high noon, a full 8-10 degrees lower than the outdoor environment.
Locally harvested and milled timber is the main building material, constrained to just two small section sizes, 100×50 and 50×50, addressing the present reality of scarce resources, increasing the yield of usable timber per tree as well as logistical matters such as manual handling of all building materials. Locally made plywood is used as diaphragm for walls and floors, serving also as the module standard. As part of the project the architects planted one hundred wildings of endemic tropical hardwood species.
Shelter is on one level the house of a family and its guests, living side by side and sharing the long verandah, where conversation is the only form of entertainment. On another level it is a symbol of craft, care and environmental stewardship.
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.
Marra + Yeh Architects:
Zero-energy house in the deep jungle of Borneo, providing accommodation for the manager and guests of the forestry company that has stewardship over this land. A collaboration between architecture, forestry, botany and anthropology. The design is based on a modular system, using local materials and small timber sections, overcoming the difficulties of a remote location, lack of infrastructure and few skilled builders.
Project name: Shelter @ Rainforest
Location: Sabah, Malaysia
- Type By Characteristic: Green & Sustainable House, Tropical House, Low Cost House
- Type By Site: Forest House
- Type By Size: Medium House – (201 sqm – 450 sqm)
- Type By Materials: Wooden House
Project Area: approx 320 sqm
Project Year: 2011
Completion Year: 2011
Client / Owner / Developer: Private
Architects: Marra + Yeh Architects – 136B Shepherd St, Darlington NSW 2008, Sydney, Australia
Structural Engineer: Professor Max Irvine
Exterior protection: Dulux Solarscreen
Hardware: PC Henderson
Roof: BlueScope Lysaght
Text Description: © Courtesy of Marra + Yeh Architects, WAN, AR House
Images: © Brett Boardman