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Award-Winning Tg Aru Project Design Inspired by Waterfront Cities

The award-winning Tanjung Aru Eco Development (TAED) landscape architecture design was inspired by great waterfront cities like Vancouver and Sydney that bring nature into the city and create a quality of life for the city’s residents. 

“We think Kota Kinabalu is a great waterfront city that can be among the best. We are proud of the work we did and the award is an acknowledgement of this,” said Ed Baker, Main Board Director of Broadway Malyan, creator of the design that struck Gold Award at the Singapore Landscape Architecture Awards (SLAA) 2019. 

The TAED landscape design work was undertaken approximately over a 12-month period, he said, adding that at the same time all the other studies were completed, including the public consultation and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). 

“We were inspired by great waterfront cities like Vancouver and Sydney that bring nature into the city and create a quality of life for the city’s residents,” he said in an email interview. 

Ed, who is also the project leader, said the team had worked closely with the Sabah Forestry Department to create a unique vision for the award-winning scheme.

“There is growing awareness within society of the necessity to live in closer harmony with our natural environment and there are fewer places on earth with as rich an ecological heritage as the island of Borneo. 

“Our work was based on a simple client brief – ‘we want a rainforest’ and ‘be inspired by the natural beauty of the island’.

Kota Kinabalu is the gateway to Sabah, an increasingly popular tourist destination, and there is a growing responsibility to ensure that any future development is sensitive to the island’s indigenous rainforest character. We hope our approach will set a new global benchmark in sustainable planning,” he said.

The proposed scheme will see the development of a range of leisure, live and work areas. 

These include a waterfront destination plaza and entertainment hub, a world-class 12ha public city park, a beach park and a network of public cycle and pedestrian paths, all set within the lush and rich fabric of the existing and reinstated Borneo rainforest.

As part of the tree strategy devised in partnership with the Forestry Department, landmark native trees are being retained while others are being transplanted across the scheme and from nurseries as appropriate. 

Those that cannot be transplanted will be removed with three more of the same variety planted as a replacement. One recent development for the planting strategy currently explored is the option to retain and re-plant at Tanjung Aru some of the trees that will be removed for the Pan-Borneo Highway.

The planting will include a full range of indigenous trees, including different varieties of shorea, tualang and kempas trees in the upper canopy, a continuous layer of dome-crowned trees in the main forest canopy to attract birds and densely packed saplings and palms in the lower canopy to support various vines, ferns and orchids. The selection of species also needs to be appropriate to its coastal location.  

“As part of our work with the Sabah Forestry and to aid our research, we conducted a series of workshops. The client organised visits for the team to the Sabah Forestry Headquarters in Sandakan and Danum valley to visit the research centres and tree nurseries and experience the flora and fauna of the rainforest first hand – a truly amazing experience!” said Ed.

The new Prince Philip Park is proposed on the site of an existing park but will be twice the size and will include a range of facilities, including a nature park, evolution garden and a natural amphitheatre with a central lake. 

The park will be created within an area of rainforest, providing the opportunity for heritage and educational trails with a tree top canopy walk highlighting the conserved and transplanted trees that are native to the Sabah region. 

The park is designed to be universally accessible and encourage use for a wide range of users during the day and evening. There will be a wider range of play for children of all ages within the park as well as a network of fitness trails and equipment to encourage health and wellness.

The Tanjung Aru Beach Park will include an improved waterfront promenade that links the southern end of the beach with the Prince Philip Park and a beachside rainforest park lined with Aru trees that provide the historic character of the area and give the area its name. One of the most important design features across the whole scheme was also to maximise the views towards the stunning Kota Kinabalu sunsets.

The SILA Awards were in its 12th edition this year and is a biennial celebration of Singapore’s landscape architecture profession. The awards showcase exemplary projects both locally and across the Asia Pacific region. 

The 76 project submissions for 2019 represented a wide spectrum of project typologies, ranging from large-scale analysis and master planning of nature conservation and residential projects. 

With the wide range and scope of landscape architecture, the awards have six general categories which differ in scale - Residential Landscape, Commercial & Industrial Landscape, Hotel & Resort Landscape, Civic & Institutional Landscape, Parks & Public Landscape and Analysis and Planning. 

An international panel of judges was assembled with the process of award selection being done through a two-stage judging procedure. The first was through an online jury panel selecting the Merit Award entries and identifying a shortlist for a second stage final judging for the top awards, including the Gold and Silver Award winners.

Ed said the SLAA Awards are well recognised by the profession and clients in the public and private sector and are judged by an expert panel. The awards were handed out by Singapore’s chief planner. 

“For designers, this is a welcome external confirmation by our professional peers of the quality of our work and an acknowledgement of the hard work that goes into planning a large project like this. Biodiversity and climate change are big topics in landscape architecture at the moment with projects like Tanjung Aru demonstrating the skills and role that our profession can play in not just mitigating the problems but creating a net positive environment,” he said.

Broadway Malyan is a global practice with four studios across Asia, including a new operation in Jakarta, with the Tanjung Aru project being led out of its Singapore studio. 

However, Ed believed that engaging and working alongside as wide a group of consultants and stakeholders as possible is the key to the project’s success. 

“It’s important to note that this project is not simply the work of one landscape architect and urban planner - we worked with a professional wider team, including international engineering and environmental experts as well as gathering important local knowledge from the Sabah Forestry team, local landscape architects and planners. It is this local/international, multi-disciplinary approach, which is the key to success in projects like this.

“This is the first but hopefully not the last award for the Tanjung Aru Eco Development. This is an award for planning and research – the next stage is implementation, putting the ideas into practice and delivering the rainforest vision for this project,” he said.

The multi-billion-ringgit TAED project that is opposed by activists was affected by the change of state government in May last year. However, the new State Government is reviewing the project, including the possibility of carrying it out on a smaller scale.

Judges of the 12th edition SLAA, organised by the Singapore Institute of Landscape Architects (SILA), noted that the scheme creates a well-developed new development with many attractions and was a sensible master plan with a thoughtful framework of different scale-ability.

The TAED masterplan sees the creation of a new leisure resort in Borneo that would rival those in the region. The vision for Aru Waterfront was to create something appealing to residents and visitors alike. The masterplan for the 348.14ha beachfront side seeks to celebrate eco-tourism in Kota Kinabalu and its strategic positioning as a gateway for travellers visiting Sabah and Borneo. 

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