‘BiodiverCity’ Paves Sustainable Future for Penang Island

BIG, Hijjas and Ramboll have been selected as winners of Penang State Government’s competition to design Penang South Islands' masterplan.


BIG, Hijjas and Ramboll have proposed a vision for a new sustainable destination where cultural, ecological and economic growth is secured and where people and nature co-exist in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet at the southern shore of Penang Island: ‘BiodiverCity’.

Penang State Government initiated an international design competition in January 2020 to transform Penang South Islands into a sustainable, global destination, providing Penangites with approximately 4.6km of public beaches, 600 acres of parks and a 25km waterfront. BIG, Hijjas and Ramboll’s masterplan proposal – BiodiverCity – supports the ‘Penang2030’ vision with a clear focus on livability, on stimulating a socially and economically inclusive development, and on environmental sustainability for future generations.

Penang’s vast biodiversity spans various topographies and protected environments which, in recent years, have seen its coastal zones and natural habitats disrupted by urban developments. In contrast, BiodiverCity is conceived as an Urban Mosaic of three diverse islands, and a set of urban design guidelines for mixing programmes, addressing pedestrian and mobility networks, building sustainably and harvesting resources. The three islands bring together mixed-use districts of 15,000 to 18,000 residents across 50 to 500 acres, and a continuous 50 to 100m buffer around each district, establishing habitat connectivity and supporting edge ecologies in reserves, parks, corridors and urban plazas.

The ‘Channels’, BiodiverCity’s first island, is constructed in three complementary phases. Phase one, ‘Active Destinations’, includes a wave pool and technology park; in phase two, the ‘Civic Heart’ establishes governance and research institutions in the area; and in phase three, the ‘Cultural Coast’ builds upon the heritage and vibrant creative energy of Penang’s George Town to create a regional and international draw. As the heart of the district, the 500-acre digital park includes spaces for research, development and local business opportunities. Malaysia’s newest public destination will be the future home for conferences, education centres and a family-oriented park where locals and guests can explore the world of technology, robotics and virtual reality.

The Mangroves, BiodiverCity’s second and central island dedicated to businesses, is organised around a network of sheltered urban wetlands, creating suitable environments for its namesake Mangrove forests – an important natural infrastructure that doubles as effective powerhouses for sequestering more than four times as much carbon as a typical forest.

At the centre of the Mangroves, the Bamboo Beacon hosts meetings, conferences and major events – broadcasting the knowledge developed in BiodiverCity out to the world. In addition, civic amenities are distributed throughout the city to promote inclusive growth and participation in urban life.

The buildings in BiodiverCity will be designed to perform efficiently and will, to a large extent, be constructed by low-carbon materials such as bamboo and Malaysian timber in combination with green concrete, a sustainable alternative comprised of industrial waste and recycled materials. By encouraging green roofs, facades, public and private open spaces, the islands can form a nearly continuous habitat mosaic feeding back into the forests, beaches, riparian zones and estuaries at the island’s edges.

Ecological living

The Laguna, BiodiverCity’s westernmost island, is an oasis for ecological living, organised around a central marina. Eight smaller islands form a miniature archipelago, where floating, stilted and terraced housing takes advantage of the natural setting of Tanjung Gertak Sanggul, and where fisherman landing points can easily access the open waters by navigating each of the island’s waterways. Meanwhile, newly-established marine habitats support biodiversity under water by providing spawning grounds for native species, and recreational points and hatcheries support the local communities along Penang’s southern coast.

A web of ecological corridors connects forest reserves to coastal beaches while supporting habitats and communities across the islands. Within human-populated areas, animals are given safe passage through the continuous canopy and waterways, and within natural habitats, people can safely access elevated boardwalks.

BiodiverCity supports a water-, air- and land-based autonomous public transportation network, aiming for a car-free environment where streets serve as a safe and welcoming thoroughfare for bikers and pedestrians. Districts are efficiently connected below platforms to increase the efficiency of goods, services and regional mobility while maximising pedestrian safety throughout the public realm.

BiodiverCity is BIG’s latest masterplan unveiling following Toyota Woven City at the CES conference earlier this year. Last year, BIG presented Oceanix City at the United Nations high-level roundtable on Sustainable Floating Cities, bringing together innovators, explorers, marine engineers and scientists at the UN headquarters to share ideas and solutions to the threat faced by coastal cities and countries due to rising sea levels.

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