Monday 27 February 2012

Sungai Perak rest service area

During my tour of vernacular Malay architecture, I made a point of stopping off at Sungai Perak's Rest and Service Area. The highway rest stop, under licence from Petronas, is located on the North-South Expressway (NSE) Northern Route (E1) – a 772 kilometre stretch linking Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok and the longest expressway in Malaysia.

Sungai Perak literally means "silver river" and its name probably derives from the glistening shoal of white and silver tropical fish that once frequented the river's tributary.

This Rest and Recreation (R&R) service stop also known as a Rest Service Area (RSA) is managed by the main Malaysian Expressway's operator PLUS Expressways Berhad and was upgraded  in 2010 at a cost of £1.89m (RM9 million) thanks to a highway privatisation package endorsed by the Malaysian government.

By UK standards, this is an affordable green project that goes a long way to achieve a Green Building Index rating (GBI) the Malaysian equivalent of BREEAM whose six criteria include: energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, sustainable site and management, materials and resources, water efficiency and innovation.

What I liked the most about this green design is the rainwater harvesting system. Rainwater harvesting systems and their implementation in Malaysia are increasingly important in safeguarding the country from future water crises.

Sungai Perak's rainwater harvesting system

Inside the service station are air-conditioned restaurants and independent retail outlets where small stallholders can trade local produce. Retail space is made affordable to encourage local businesses rather than to suit global franchise operators. Amenities include: a toilet complex that uses natural ventilation, an eco-friendly launderette, prayer rooms (Surau) that take advantage of natural light, rest shelters (wakaf), telephone and wifi facilities, and also a recycling centre.

The high ceiling above the restaurant area has been designed to allow for the stack effect. The installation of a 'deck on stilts and columns' allows for the natural contour of the area to be maintained as well as to avoid land erosion.

The building is also soundproofed to absorb environmental noise from passing traffic. The lengths to which the RSA goes in adopting sustainable solutions is impressive.

Whereas MOL and BP make an overt design statement to create a sense of environmental concern, PLUS uses local design vernacular. Affordable green architecture like this is unpretentious but still has the potential to entertain, especially when there is a tropical downpour!

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