AIbert Einstein once said that "any fool can make things longer, more complex and more violent but t takes a touch o f genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction". A touch of genius and gentleness has indeed turned a logged and illegally cultivated land on a hilly rainforest into a peaceful, sustainable community development, complete with award-winning buildings and structures made from recycled timber and stones. The area, known as Tanarimba, was awarded `Honorary Mention' in the Planning & Master Plan category in the Malaysia Institute of Architects (PAM) Awards in 2004.
Tanarimba blends man-made and natural elements to develop a sustainable and ecologically sensitive community development, offering a viable alternative living opportunity. The project spans an area of 7,299 acres in a tropical rainforest in Janda Baik, Pahang (about 27km from Kuala Lumpur). Tanarimba is located on a mountainside of dramatic peaks and valleys ranging from 1,500 to 4,500 feet above sea-level, enjoying a cool climate with temperatures between 23-28°C during daytime and below 22°C during night time. The project, owned by Sitrac Corporation Sdn Bhd, is designed mainly to ensure a development that respects and complements nature and enhances the ecological assets of the area.
The project is built on a 566-hectare land where 60 hectares of land were planted with Honduran Pine trees by the Forestry Department more than 30 years ago. The plantation was an experiment to find alternatives to cater to the local pulp and paper industry but due to some project revaluation, the plantation was left unutilised. However, the trees continue to grow well and beautiful.
"Pine trees felled for road and infrastructure works were recycled for building," said Mr. Patrick Ngan, cofounder of Tanarimba. "My partner, Dato' Syed Mustaffa and myself saw the potential to develop the area and make use of the timbers. But of course, there were people who were skeptical about our ideas. Anyway, both of us decided to go ahead with the project in 1993," said Mr. Ngan, who is also the senior partner of CWN Architects, the architect firm involved in this project.
After obtaining the approval from the Pahang state government to develop the land, the company began to study the area and the trees with some help from the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) and the Forestry Department. "We were only allowed to develop 1,400 acres of the land out of 7,299 acres. After we did the survey and EIA study, we came up with the plan to develop only the previously logged areas:' said Mr. Ngan. He elaborated that under the Tanarimba sustainable development concept, 80% of the forest remains untouched, while the remaining 20% is developed based on strict criteria in order to accommodate the existing slopes and rainforest setting. Only low density development (one acre per unit of development) with a single dwelling per lot is allowed in Tanarimba. Roads are designed to follow the natural terrain or the contours of the land and trees are cut down only to accommodate infrastructure and buildings. The buildings and the three types of residential premises, namely homesteads, cluster homes and resort homes, are also designed to blend with the natural environment and utilise local materials as much as possible.
The Visitors' Centre & The Enderong House
The Visitors' Centre and the Enderong House in Tanarimba illustrate how natural stones and timbers can be recycled to make award-winning structures inspired by nature. Designed by Mr. Ngan, who is an architect and environmentalist, both the centre and the house are constructed mainly from recycled Pine timber (from trees felled on site for road and infrastructure needs) and stones collected during earthworks.
"Most of the materials we use to build the buildings and structures in Tanarimba are sourced in-situ. In other words, we try to make the best from whatever is available and at the same time, we try to protect the natural surroundings," said Mr. Ngan. "Here, all the roads are designed to follow the contours and also avoid all the matured trees. We do not cut down trees unnecessarily as it is not difficult to find a site to build a home here without sacrificing those trees. All it needs is careful planning and sensitivity to the natural environment," said Mr. Ngan, adding that it is also illegal to take rocks out of the site. "So, we use those rocks for walls and pillars".
The Visitors' Centre was awarded first prize in the Public & Building Category and the Jury's Special Award in PAM 2002 Awards in recognition of design excellence. The centre is the signature building in Tanarimba and it houses Sitrac's administrative office. It is also used as a venue for various events such as conferences, cultural events, product launchings as well as private receptions. The open structure of the centre reflects its unique simplicity and harmony with its surrounding and portrays an excellent workmanship of local carpenters and builders. The centre incorporates 40-ft. ceilings supported by Pine trunks used as columns, large overhang and exposed timber rafters. The pillars are made of treated solid Pine tree trunks while the beams are asymmetrically aligned, giving a beautiful perspective in the interior.
In 2004, the Enderong House was mentioned in PAM's award for Single Residential Buildings. Standing amidst lush forest surroundings, Pine logs were used extensively for building the house. "I didn't think of any particular concept to design this house. In my early years of being an architect, my ideas were very much confined to certain rules and principles. However, over the years, I prefer to design more freely. I like my designs to turn out something like this house. Comfortable, very practical and not pretentious," said Mr. Ngan, adding that he designed the house with as many openings as possible to facilitate cross ventilation.
The Enderong House (which can be rented by the public) has floor-to-ceiling glass windows with thick wooden frames, opening out to a breathtaking view of the forests. The flooring is made of 100% Pine, while the doors are made of Resak and the roof trusses are made of mixed hardwoods. Most of the furniture in the house are also made of Pine. There is an open bath with pebble-lined flooring (pebbles were purchased, not picked from the nearby streams) on the upper level of the house.
The most interesting feature of the house is the wide verandah, or 'serambi' on the upper level." The 'kampung' (village)-style ‘serambi’ captures the spirit of the whole house. It is meant to be the heart of the house, as the focal point for everyone to unwind and interact with each other amidst the casual setting. Most importantly, it allows everyone to interact with nature:' said Mr. Ngan. From the verandah, one can really enjoy the fresh air, the greenery and the sounds of nature. A contoured swimming pool fed by the mountain streams can also be seen from the verandah.
Timber, according to Mr. Ngan, is not just "another building material" suitable for "temporary structures" as perceived by some people. "Tanarimba has inspired me to use timber in the best possible way. Timber has high aesthetics and environmental value. The Pine timber for example, is rich in golden colour and has fine grain as well as well-spaced knots. However, not many local people find these features, especially the knots, interesting. They see the knots as defects:' he said. According to Mr. Ngan, some of the local people including sawmillers, architects, specifiers, builders, engineers and interior designers tend to overlook the natural beauty of timber just because they do not have enough information on the various species of timbers and their applications. "Some of the locals are 'spoilt'. Even though we have so many timber species in our forest, they tend to shy-away from experimenting with other non-commercial or 'unfamiliar' species. However, in other countries where there are little or zero timber resources, the people are more creative and do know how to appreciate timber," he noted.
Mr. Ngan suggested that there should be more efforts to educate the local public on timber. PAM, in this respect, has been proactive in organising bi-weekly talks on such subjects. But more needs to be done. "The negative perception about timber must be changed. More R&D must be done to upgrade the technology in utilising timber to the utmost. Most importantly, the locals must be creative in using all the resources and materials at hand, and not to waste them".
Mr. Ngan's passion for sustainable development eventually develops with his involvement in the Tanarimba project. "My business thinking, especially on the environment, has changed. The project has made me realise that there are so many ways to do things sustainably". But, does the sustainable development concept really work, profitably? "Yes, such concept is economically viable in the long run. Tanarimba, for instance, broke-even in 1999 and is now making profits, although it relies mainly on word-of-mouth advertising". "After all these years, I can now prove to the skeptics that a project such as this is possible as long as you have the passion and courage to execute it", said Mr. Ngan enthusiastically.