Borneo Cultures Museum

The landscape architect designed a museum campus that embodies the museum mission to highlight multi-cultural experience and human engagement, and bridging nature and historical background.

Steep terrain were remodeled to become accessible for all users, blurring the line between intervention and conservation.

Sustainable design elements including rainwater recapture, permeable surfaces, and native plantings resulted in a landscape that mimics and restores the natural conditions of the environments and of the site.

CONTEXT OF PROJECT

The project is the campus of the Borneo Cultures Museum and its Annex Building. This is a project of the Department of Museum under the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Arts.

The site is on high ground, some seven (7) meters above the road level with the building’s rear elevation overlooking a heritage city green  located in the middle of a large vehicular road roundabout. In 1963, this green was ‘ground zero’ of Sarawak’s independence from the Colonial British rulers. And since, it was preserved as a heritage site and named ‘Padang Merdeka’, which means Independence Square (hereafter, the Merdeka Square)

Road access to the project site is at the other end of the site away from Merdeka Square. This access road leads to the museum building’s front entrance. The architect has located a car park right in front of the building.

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS’ INITIAL REVIEW OF MUSEUM PROJECT

Our firm was invited onto the project when the building had reached its ground floor construction. Our role was to address all architect’s left over land pockets on the ground level of the building site; a courtyard in between the museum building and the annex building on level 1 and a level 3 staff courtyard in the annex building.

In our initial review of the project, we found that the rear of the building facing Merdeka Square which was assigned as utility and servicing access in fact carried much more weightage in environmental and landscape values over the grounds at the front of the building. We decided that, to treat only the left over pockets of ground was just ‘not enough’ for a site given such high environmental potentials from its surroundings outside the site boundary.

Boldly, we came up with a design solution by applying an extended borrowed landscape effects from the site’s surroundings, bringing and making these external open green sites feel as if they were a part of, or an extension of the project site. We proposed the following:

  • – to connect the museum grounds at the rear of the building with the Merdeka Square and the city fabric located at road level some 7 meters below;
  • – to remodel the steep slopes at the site boundary facing the city fabric, which was  in part within the museum site  boundary and in other part, outside the boundary abutting at the road edge to create a city fronting arrival plaza for the museum at road level; and
  • – to redesign the road verges’ pedestrian sidewalks  outside the site boundary rendering these public spaces as an integral part of the project site and
  • – to refurbish an existing desolated underpass enabling crossing form Merdeka Square  to the museum below the road .

All the aforesaid were to integrate the urban city scape with the museum grounds.  Our aim were 3 folds:

  • • the heritage Merdeka Square with its 100 years old majestic cotton trees and the urban city fabric shall serve as an  invaluable extended ‘borrowed’ landscape elements  to the architects’ rear museum elevation;
  • • to improve connectivity of the Museum ground with the City both visually and physically;
  • • to create a fresh vantage point for the rear of the Museum from the most important civic space in the City.

These above intentions had then dictated our design approach to the grounds within the museum ground.  The areas implemented are described in detail below.

  1. I. A NEW MUSEUM CITY FRONTAGE OVER LOOKING THE MEDEKA SQUARE

To the rear of the building site, we provided a city frontage for the museum which has the heritage Merdeka Square as the museum extended green.

We provided 3 accesses to the museum building from the road level and the Merdeka Square. One is via the underpass (refurbished as part of the landscape project) crossing below the roundabout road which connects to the building platform with flight of steps up the hill slope. The other 2 accesses (steps and ramp) are via a new Outdoor Exhibition Garden located on mid-level.  The ramp access gave a gentle climb all the way up to the museum building platform level, 7 meters above road level. This outdoor exhibition garden was located on a green field site which was not applied by the architect.

With this enhanced frontage, urban prominence from the city was accorded to the new museum.

  1. II. MAKE OVER OF AN EXISTING DESOLATED PEDESTRIAN UNDERPASS

This pedestrian underpass has water seepage problem. There was drainage issue as the invert level of its drain was much below the road side discharge drains.  It was vandalized and poorly lit. These issues were all addressed and rectified.

Anti-vandalism claddings were applied to the inside of the underpass.  CCTV for security and lightings enhanced the ambience.

  1. III. LANDSCAPE STATEMENT ABOVE UNDERPASS

To emphasize the presence of the otherwise obscured underpass, we introduced an open landscape structure of light steel lattice fabrication, in twin set, sitting over and above the steps leading down to the underpass on both sides of the road.

The twin set of landscape structure was intentionally designed not as solid structure, so as to maintain free flowing space; unimpeded landscape view through it for visual connectivity with the hill slopes and the surrounding areas to maintain spaciousness. At the same time, important vehicular sight lines rounding the curvature of the vehicular roundabout is not impeded. The geometry of this lattice structure compliments the architecture of the museum building. They are lit with ground embedded lightings.

  1. IV. STAIRCASE ON GRASS SLOPE LEADING FROM UNDERPASS TO HILL TOP

The original building platform level at +8.6 meters became elevated to +11.0 meters to accommodate the architect’s earlier intention for a proposed pedestrian connector measuring 60 meters in length above and over the green hill slopes and the road below for vehicle height clearance of 5.5 meters (since aborted).

Coming out from the underpass, we provided an external staircase to ascend the hill.  This external staircase is interspersed with landings which doubles as photo vantage points capturing the landscape scene of the Merdeka Square and its surroundings. The slopes at 1 in 1.5 was solid turfed.

  1. V. WIDENING OF ROAD SIDE BUFFER ZONE FROM EXISTING 3m to 9m

The existing road verge was only 3 meters wide and it had a sidewalk with steep hill slope on one side. This is a very narrow and uncomfortable space.  We re-modelled the steep earth bank of the hill protruding outside the museum project site boundary which involved the cutting back the slope all the way back from the road edge to the museum site boundary. This gained an additional 6 meters wide level ground at the road verge (3m to 9m wide). This provision now accommodates a comfortable and safer sidewalk for pedestrians from the very busy traffic in the roundabout.

The remodelled slope has a slope gradient of 1:1. In the tropical climate with heavy torrential rainfalls, the standard engineer’s treatment to protect the slope would have it treated with sprayed gunite concrete finish. However, in the context of this site which has clay soil and coupled with the stabilization provision from extensive root systems of the established trees atop, we kept the steep slope green and there was no slope failure thus far. This steep slope was planted with fine grass solid turfing of Zoysia matrella which has a slower growth rate.

When the slope was cut back, the roots systems of the mature trees 30 meters tall sitting on the mid-hill level had to be heavily root pruned (on road side). These trees had not suffered and roots regeneration bounced back quickly, aided by a specified blended top soil mix.

The top of the slopes which has 3 mature 15-meters tall Angsana trees is a serene tranquil oasis commanding a spectacular view across the Merdeka Square and the City beyond. This oasis is planted with fine grass lawn and is well patronized.

  1. VI. DESIGNED AN OUTDOOR EXHIBITION GARDEN AT MIDLEVEL

Following from the remodeled hill slopes and the widen pedestrian side walk, we introduced 2 new pedestrian access points (one via ramp, another via staircase) leading up to the Outdoor Exhibition Garden located on a green at mid hill some 2 meters above the road level. This extended ground had not been considered before because the steep slope had butted to the edge of the road verge and there was no access.

The Outdoor Exhibition Garden was consciously designed with gentle slopes to accommodate the changes in levels and to blend in with the hill slopes where the massive museum building and its annex building sit.

This garden is popular for the handicapped on wheel chairs and the visually disadvantaged and it is linked by a gentle ramp to the museum building on the hilltop.

Tropical indigenous plantings were introduced in accordance with museum’s requirement. There are medicinal tree types, the dye garden houses plants which produce dyes, the herbs and spice gardens. These plant materials relate to the exhibition materials in the museum, telling a story (e.g. trees whose leaves and bark were harvested to produce dyes for the dyed exhibitory material shown in the museum).

  1. VII. MAXIMIZING GREEN, LUSH PLANTINGS & PRESERVATION OF MATURE TREES

Building by Law requires vehicular accesses for fire-fighting vehicles surrounding 3 sides of the building at the building platform level. This requirement erodes all available external grounds on the building platform for soft landscape works. Conventionally, these roads would have received tarmac finishes.

To maximize green on the building platform, this project applied solid turf grassing planted on Grasscel system which takes the loading of the fire engines. At all other time, these ‘green roads’ are invaluable green lawn to the property, which ‘softens’ the building.  Grasscel lawn system was also added to parts of the ground level car park located in front of the building.

All existing large trees were retained but selectively prunned. Much care was taken to minimize additional hard landscape elements on the building platform as it was already ‘overburden’ by built elements such as car parks, roads, staircases and external drains.

Slow growing and lean forms of Podocarpus polystachys were planted at the site boundary discharging the need for fencing. Murraya paniculata hedge were introduced as safety restraints over steep slopes of 1 in 2.

Foliage shrubs of gold and yellow hues (Codiaeum varieties and the like), whose colours resonates with the golden leaf colour of the building façade and its roof, were planted in the vehicular access entry and car park fronting the museum building. Planting materials were chosen for tropical lushness and interests and which require little maintenance.

All cut slopes were solid turf with Axonopus compresses ‘Compressus’ a versatile grass.  Fine grass Zoysia matrella were planted at the outdoor exhibition garden and its slopes for material textural contrasts.

  1. VIII. PUBLIC COURTYARD BETWEEN MUSUEM BUILDING & ANNEX BUILDING

We turned the otherwise architect’s ‘dry’ hard paved court into a lushly planted courtyard which doubles as the building’s external exhibition space.   This was very much welcomed by the museum. This space has an inviting ambience with the sounds of running water from the water feature and it is lushly planted with both tropical ornamentals and indigenous plants. Seating on top of the planters were provided for those who wish to enjoy the garden ambience and it proves to be hugely popular. This courtyard is an asset for the museum building.

  1. IX. A OUTDOODR HOLDING GROUND FOR GROUP VISITORS

Towards the very late stage of construction, the museum asked for  additional ground to be carved out from the museum car park area (but without omitting parking lots) to provide for an  intermediate holding ground to receive visitors arriving from tour coaches and those waiting to be picked up. The only available space which we could accommodate this new requirement was over a steep slope linking with the Islamic Museum some four (4) meters below. We designed a lightweight reconstituted timber decking system over the slope with openings in the deck which allows shade trees to grow through. Seats are provided on the new decking platform.

  1. X. OTHER GROUND LEVEL LANDSCAPE TREATMENTS

The car parks and other left over spaces are all handled sensitively to complement function in a tight space.

  1. XI. COURTYARD IN THE ANNEX BUILDING IN LEVEL 3

This courtyard was provided for the employees of the museum. It is in the centre of a very deep building with offices surrounding it four sides. In consideration of the building drainage discharge points, the courtyard was fitted with RC planters and raised timber deck platforms.

SUMMARY

The landscape architect in this project had provided an ‘outside the box’ solution for this museum site to improve physical and visual connectivity with the city urban fabric and the heritage Merdeka Square.

These considerations turn the rear of the museum into an important frontage and gave much prominence and ease to pedestrian access.

These considerations also rendered the landscape treatment of an otherwise ‘introverted’ site of disinteresting left over spaces on the museum building platform to become opened to, and to be extended to a greater landscape prospect externally. This exposure brings into the Museum campus borrowed landscape views and connections to landscape spaces outside the site which lends added interests, extends landscape sight lines and creates spaciousness to an otherwise small site.

By so doing, the boundaries of the museum site, the urban fabric, the public grounds, the roadside walks are gently removed. They were blended into an integrated landscape space.

Issues such as access from city to the museum; pedestrian link to the heritage Merdeka square; additional museum city frontage; borrowed landscape from views to surrounding areas from the site on higher grounds, all determined the landscape design approach on the grounds within the site boundary.

This is therefore a project where the landscape architects had created new extended grounds and new extended visual connections for its site. The end result was effective as the museum site became ‘expanded’ with these linkages.

In a project involving prominent public spaces, several design briefing sessions were made to numerous government agencies and the final approval came from the highest level of the government.

The project has largely profited from the application of new products like Grasscel grassing on the fire engine routes surrounding the building which enables it to co-function as a lawn, maximizing green.

The design solution had respected the existing slope terrain while bold selective slope re-modelling exercise. While all mature trees were preserved.

Although the landscape component was only a small fraction of the entire project cost, the end result was pleasing giving much added values to the museum property.

On the larger urban context, the heritage Merdeka Square was preserved and the congested urban fabric was not further burdened.

Name of the project: BORNEO CULTURES MUSEUM

Project category: CAMPUSES & CORPORATE LANDSCAPES

Role of the entrant in the project: LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS

Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape (if any): –

Architecture offices involved in the design (if any): –

Project Location: JALAN TUN ABANG HAJI OPENG, 93400 KUCHING, SARAWAK

Design year: 2018

Year Built: 2020

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