Humble yet complex in design, Eleena Jamil’s “Bamboo Playhouse” derives its inspiration from the ‘wakaf’ or resting huts in the kampong
Words by Isabelle Pinto | Photography by Eleena Jamil Architect
Sitting on the edge of a small lake island amongst the vast greenery of Kuala Lumpur’s oldest public park, the Perdana Botanical Gardens is a humble yet complex-looking bamboo structure which earned a spot at the World Architecture Festival (WAF) 2015. Designed as a small pavilion, the structure was shortlisted under the ‘Small Projects’ category and was therefore granted the opportunity to be presented at the festival in Singapore last year.
Designed by Malaysian architect Eleena Jamil, the pavilion stands out due to its uniquely intricate design. Inspired by the country’s rural village – also known as ‘kampong’- architecture, the design takes after traditional structures called ‘wakaf’ or ‘pondok rehat’ which are originally found in the villages. These freestanding structures are essentially gazebos – roofed structures with raised square platforms that offer an open view of the surrounding area. They are usually utilised as resting spaces by residents of the villages.
Eleena’s design, however, takes the ‘wakaf’ concept onto a whole new level by cleverly combining 31 of the freestanding structures together at multiple levels, forming a uniquely complex design which further enhances the public space within the park. As the architect says, “The structure can be described as a series of ‘wakafs’ grouped together to form an animated and playful bamboo structure that blends harmoniously with the beautiful greenery of the botanical gardens.”
Named ‘Bamboo Playhouse’, the design of the structure also somewhat resembles a cluster of trees. Rising from the centre of each platform of the 31 ‘wakafs’ are tree-like columns which support the roof. Besides that, ‘tree houses’, in the form of bamboo baskets, are hung off the columns. “These add another playful element to the pavilion,” explains the architect. Each platform is also surrounded by a fence for enclosure.
Another interesting feature of the pavilion is that it is located right at the edge of the lake island where the site slopes towards the lake. Therefore, platforms closest to the water jut out slightly over the lake, appearing like balconies overlooking the lake. This provides for an excellent deck to view and admire the surrounding lake as well as the extensive, picturesque parkland. Although the structure has been named a ‘playhouse’, it does not only attract children who would definitely find it exciting to use as a play area, but it can also pass as an interesting hangout area for adults. In fact, the pavilion can also be used for events, exhibitions and performances.
‘Strong as steel’
The idea for a bamboo pavilion came from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall which commissioned the project. “We were approached by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall to come up with a pavilion design using bamboo based on our previous experiences working with the material,” says Eleena. One of the architect’s previous projects which used bamboo includes the ‘Millenium School’, a small prototype of a modular classroom built on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
Despite the fact that bamboo is a very traditional building material which is rarely used for modern buildings in Malaysia, Eleena, a strong proponent of design sustainability believes that it is an important material to consider for modern constructions. “It is lightweight, easy to handle and sustainable,” she comments. “There are some who worry about the material’s durability but bamboo, if treated properly, can last a very long time and will remain as strong as steel,” she adds. In fact, the use of bamboo as a construction material is popular in Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand.