A community on the brink of losing its ethnic identity is rejuvenated by a self-sustaining cultural centre and live museum in Phuket dedicated to the preservation of its age-old traditions.
While most tourists visiting Thailand are, in varying measures, acquainted with the country’s fringe community of sea gypsies, many have little idea of the dire predicament faced by these nomadic tribes, as an ethnic group whose water-bound way of life and thousand year-old traditions are on the verge of rapidly deteriorating. The Urak Lawoi Cultural Centre, a self-sustaining facility and live museum in Phuket formally devoted to the conservation of these fragile habitats and their inner workings, was launched earlier this year and is deemed by many as a critical step in alleviating this plight.
Phuket-based Able Architects’ award-winning energy-efficient design of the centre, which won the BCI Asia Green Leadership Award in 2011, drew heavily from the intricate construction of the handmade fish traps used by the tribe for which the facility is named. Spanning a sweeping site area of 4,000 sqm, the project encompasses an exhibition area and an activities building as well as a lake and an adjoining car park. This expansive setting gives rise to a multipurpose area where villagers may opt to hold community events, engage in traditional rituals or forge their living through the sale of traditional handicraft items.
Endowed with a deliberately conspicuous presence, the design of the centre is marked by a dramatically curved roof and reinforced by a wood and hemp framework. The structure harnesses renewable energy from the sun via photovoltaic strips of microcrystalline film, enabling the centre to thrive on consistent solar power. Adhering to the objective of minimising the building’s environmental impact, the design is laden with customised features that give way to natural light as well as ventilation, eschewing the need for air-conditioning. A well-coordinated balance of both organic and technological materials, the centre comes as a stunning example of two contrasting forces working together to achieve a green-friendly synergy while preserving the heritage and livelihood of its tribal namesake.