Dialogue with the Sea

The issue of global sea pollution has to be addressed within the local context.

In Georgetown, Penang, for example, despite being part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, most conservation efforts have been focused on the inner city, resulting in the waterfront being neglected.

To address this issue, Lam Tuck Lone, a master’s student in architecture from Universiti Putra Malaysia, designed an ‘archipuncture’ project—art used as ‘acupuncture’ or urban intervention for the built environment—called Dialogue with the Sea.

The two-storey waterfront project comprises an aquarium that serves as a platform for social awareness on the importance of conserving the aquatic environments, as well as to alert the community to the critical issues on the outer areas of Georgetown. It also creates the opportunity for the community to be involved in efforts to protect the sea from pollution.

The proposed public building sits between the inner city of Georgetown and the sea, a strategic location for the communities from both sides to dialogue through the visual and physical movement transitions that pass through the aquarium itself. It also aims to enhance the role of public buildings in a public realm within the urban settings, promoting preservation efforts within the vision of Georgetown as a contemporary, progressive city.

Dialogue with the Sea is inspired by Mies Van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Illinois, United States, an iconic property with a glass pavilion that showcases the relationship between the house and nature.

“If you view nature through the glass walls of the Farnsworth House, it gains a more profound significance than if viewed from outside,” Van der Rohe said, when explaining the home’s design. “That way, more is said about nature—it becomes a part of a larger whole.”

Similarly, the aquarium seeks to foster the community’s bonds to the sea through two-way physical and visual communication. The main emphasis of the design is not on creating the perfect architectural form, but on generating the soul of the place.

The building has been planned so that the public’s attention will be drawn from the inner city to the open spaces on the north and south sides, which lead to the main function areas, such as the exhibition gallery.

The existing urban fabric and the setting of the project in the Georgetown World Heritage Site pose their share of constraints. The existing adjacent streetscape mainly comprises shop houses not higher than two storeys. Hence, the proposed public building cannot be higher than them, to preserve the visual from and to the sea.The design solution is to elevate the aquarium.

However, the project site’s orientation has its elongated sides facing east-west. Thus, the elevated aquarium is vulnerable to heat gain, which makes it unsuitable for the aquatic habitants. Hence, big overhang roofs with folding profiles, representing the water element in rigid form, are introduced to shield the aquarium from direct contact with the sunlight.

The horizontal aluminium shading devices and creeper plants also help reduce sunlight penetration, while the channelling of cool sea water into chiller pipes, sealed in the waterproof concrete floor slab, further lowers the temperature of the aquarium. Solar panels attached on the top surfaces generate sufficient electricity for lights on the streetscape and the fish farming pond.

There is also a sea water filtration platform, which provides a visual experience of the water filtration system. Sea water flows into an inlet, flooding the whole filtration platform, creating an opportunity for the public to be in contact with the sea. The filtered sea water will be used to irrigate the native sea plants and the sea water transition tank.

The building’s amenities and facilities include exhibition galleries, a café and a retail area, all designed to promote its internal functions, whereas the linear park and open plaza with performance stages are designed for external community use. In addition, the research lab, meeting rooms, auditorium hall and the office are meant for community functions, research and development.

And as the major occupants of this public building are its aquatic habitants, there are also support spaces for transition and hatchery tanks.

Designed as a dialogue between the land and the sea, this project illustrates how efforts to preserve the heritage of the land have to be carried out through the conservation of the sea.

Student Name: Lam Tuck Lone
School: Universiti Putra Malaysia
Programme: Master’s in Architecture
Studio Coordinator: Associate Professor Ar Meor Fared Meor Razali
Supervising Lecturers: Ar Wan Sofiah Wan Ishak; Dr Yazah Raschid; Dr Marek Kozlowski
Project Name: Dialogue with the Sea
Location: Georgetown Heritage Site, Penang
Site Area: 12,224.20 square metres
Gross Floor Area: 4,766.70 square metres
Building Height: 23 metres
Images: Lam Tuck Lone

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