Penang Tropical City

By Ole Scheeren © OMA

How to realize huge quantities of program on a site captured between land and sea, potentially urban, and full of untamed nature?
Competition 2004
Penang, Malaysia
Large-scale site of former turf club, in proximity to Georgetown
1,670,000 m2
Housing Units 455,250 m2, Residential Apartments 520,257 m2, Offices 232,258 m2, Hotels 139,355 m2, Service Apartments 92,903 m2, Retail 227,612 m2, Medical Centre 9,290 m2, Concert Hall 5,574 m2, Convention Centre 37,161 m2, Mosque 1,394 m2, Education 9,290 m2, Utilities 16,894 m2

The project proposes to recognize and exploit the qualities of the tropical city and envisions the implementation of concentrated built substance within a connective tissue filled with lush landscape and social activities. It reformulates existing conditions instead of overwriting them: not an imported vision of foreign planning, but a symbiotic living texture that strengthens its own potentials. How to realize huge quantities of program on a site captured between land and sea, potentially urban, and full of untamed nature? How does one generate a justifiable scheme for its inhabitants and the environment, in what is essentially a brand new tropical (Asian) city?

Floating within a connective tissue of activities and landscape, the building cores accommodate mono-functions and specific identities – housing, working, hotels – that are not self-sufficient, but rely on their connections to surrounding functions – pluralistic urbanism. The energy of the connective landscape allows for the dynamic mutation of the city over time without impeding on the more regulated environments of the building cores. It provides a rich social fabric, a natural coexistence, and is an amalgam of landscape and public, a post-urban condition.

The vast site of the former turf club is full of contrasts, energy, and activities: concrete and green; intense heat and sudden downpours; small and large-scale exist side by side in unpredictable rhythms; towers, tents, parking garages, food stalls, vegetal, and human. The ability to occupy space far exceeds any western definition: every interstitial moment is exploited and occupied…a momentary glimpse of abandoned terrain is overtaken by a coalition of ad-hoc shelters, motorcycles, and ever-present vegetation. Activities appear and disappear in a perpetual process of reclamation.

Major public and cultural functions are placed in strategic locations, to provide focal points and catalyze activities. These magnets attract other particles of a communal nature: food stalls, markets, events… destinations to provide contents for the public. Permeable boundaries allow migration and encourage convergence and sharing. The duality (plurality) of the project recognizes its actual content and context as a major quality. It proposes to grow the tropical city with a reconfiguration of its contents and allow its innate tendencies towards occupation, mixing, and vibrant growth, social and natural, to claim its territory in a new breed of metropolitan life.

COLLABORATING ARCHITECT: Ang Chee Cheong, Kuala Lumpur
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