The Bario Cultural Village Project was the Semester Two students’ design project for the School of Architecture, Building and Design. It was undertaken by the Master’s students under the direction of Dr Veronica Ng and Dr Nikhil Joshi and took place in the Culture and Community Design Studio on the campus of Taylor's University. In order to awaken a curiosity and sensitivity to the importance of cultural tradition, the course was designed to take the students into a remote village community in Sarawak and design structures that were in keeping with the needs and interests of that community.
Working through Skype conversations with local residents and village leaders, the students first gained an understanding of what structures were needed in the village. Then under direction of their professors, the students developed designs in keeping with architectural principles combining beauty and purpose. Once these preliminary drawings were made, it was time for some face to face interaction with the villagers. Raising transportation money through donations, a flight was arranged to Bario in the remote Kelabit Highland of Sarawak, and the four students and Dr. Veronica set out to see if their designs met with the approval of those for those for whom the buildings were designed.
The principal aim of this Design Studio was to understand the various requirements and aspirations of Malaysian village residents and to develop a master plan for a Cultural Village within the community. The village of Bario, Sarawak was chosen as a partner locale that fit the cultural parameters of remote location with internet access that would allow for communication between the university and the community. Though physically remote, the Kelabit are an educated people who are committed to developing the Bario village while maintaining their respect for tradition. The Design Studio emphasis was on the need for a community participatory approach that shapes ways of living for the entire community of Bario.
The trip was an eye-opener for the students and greatly enlarged their understanding of village life far from the urban jungle of Kuala Lumpur. They were impressed by the genuine warmth of the hospitality of the villagers, and their deep desire to protect and preserve their cultural traditions, while recognizing their need for modern innovations in communications and education. The students participate in many sessions with the village elders, many of whom had advance post-secondary education and following their successful careers had returned to Bario to retire. One of these elders, Lian Tarawe, had held several important positions with Shell Oil at Miri, in Sarawak, and was able to guide the discussions in a fruitful direction that led to many improvements in the students’ designs
The role of the students involved in this project was not that of an expert delivering designs, but rather as facilitators to initiate community participation throughout the entire Design Studio programme. This participatory approach was engaged to provide the community of Bario with a master plan that would be cost-effective, unique to the community’s identity, easily constructed using local techniques and building materials. The proposed master plan at the end of the programme is a synthesis between traditional and modern architecture; a design that respects the Kelabit culture and the corporate aspirations of the Bario community. This project was inspired by the Lembaga Arkitek Malaysia’s (LAM) appeal to architecture professionals for pro bono services for the benefit of economically underdeveloped sections of Malaysian society.
The results of their labours can be found in a recent publication available through Dr. Veronica Ng at FoongPeng.Ng@taylors.edu.my or Nikhil Joshi at Nikhil.Joshi@taylors.edu.my or by visiting the SABD office on the Lakeside Campus of Taylor’s University.