PROCESS # MATERIAL :: kevin low ‘s compost wall for Sibu Pavillon (2006)

“… the pavilion’s deeper narrative sat at its entrance in a steel mesh wall marking the main entry – with leaves and detritus for fill, it formalized a trash can of organic waste and composting, and a template of utility, convenience and grace for a park toilet facility” (kevin low

kevin low sibu pavillon compost wall 3

“For the Malaysian Garden Festival held at the Lake Gardens in Kuala Lumpur in 2006 the Sibu Municipality of Sarawak in East Malaysia requested a local landscape architect for a design that was to be their pavilion. For all their lack of exposure as a somewhat marginalised logging town, the enlightened clients made request for a public toilet facility as a garden pavilion. Through his many years of work acquaintance with smallprojects and affinity for its completed work, the landscape architect took the opportunity to recommission a working concept and design for the project.

kevin low compost wall 2

The problem first lay in the fact that most, if not all, public toilets simply look like public toilets all over the world – commonly expressed as three blank walls with high level windows for privacy and the last remaining wall with a door for access. Unless one was to get perverse, or hide the facility behind in some manner, it was simply impossible to escape the aesthetic ubiquity of a public toilet. And so they got the original global toilet, a bush.

The site for the Sibu pavilion was in the precinct of the Lake Gardens, a green enclave and city park presided over by a single large water body – the namesake for the park. Located at the foot of an old-growth Tembusu tree, the site was endowed with panoramic views across the lake to heavily verdant surrounds; a gentle slope of well-tended lawn from the access pathway to the revetment wall of the lake’s edge. The north end of the pavilion became a lounge for a sofa and armchairs under the shade of a grand old Tembusu tree, with views of the lake, while the other end became a tearoom. Nestled between the two was the ‘bush,’ a grove of a hundred and twenty apple green Eugenia aromaticum trees sourced from a nursery in southern Malaysia. A narrow maze ran through the tightly packed trees to a squatting pan commode at the heart of the grove, guarded by the trunk of a gnarly, Indian coral tree selected from the same nursery. A compost wall of steel mesh and dead leaves, with basin niches cut into the mesh to facilitate the washing of hands, gave privacy to the entrance. Fashioned after the Archie Bunker chair from a lawn furniture competition years back, the wall was to function as a recycled leaf repository for the local council as they swept the grounds of the Lake Gardens; the dead leaves would be disposed of efficiently, with the added value of replenishing the privacy required of the toilet entrance. The temporary pavilion may have been novel, but its significance went beyond its conceptual overtones of a pun – in built form, it served as a practical template for the screening and dignity of a functional garden and park toilet facility.

kevin low compost wall 1

Evenly textured and neatly packed to the limit of its confines, the idea of the compost wall was not merely one of privacy for the bush bathroom it concealed and simultaneously announced; it was intended as a dump for park leaves and detritus, reducing the need for botanic waste transfer to a dumping ground elsewhere. The leaves and green garbage, piled on and compacted over time, begin their humid journey to decay and decomposition, to be removed at the end of the natural cycle for use as garden food; a functional and symbolic processing of park ecology. In its working form, the compost wall would have been designed with hinged lower mesh doors, from which the composted layers would be taken as a convenient source of fertilizer within the precinct of the park.”

Interview: Kevin Low, smallprojects

Posted on March 26, 2013 by Pallavi

Kevin Mark Low, an architect based in Malaysia whose work has gained global recognition, left his corporate architecture job to reclaim and pursue old dreams and established his practice, smallprojects in 2002, which he runs singlehandedly. He has since lectured internationally and conducted workshops and design critiques at various universities. Recently, Kevin was in India as a speaker for 361 Degrees conference where WAN’s Mumbai correspondent Pallavi Shrivastava had an opportuniy to speak to him. Edited excerpts from the interview:

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