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Activity and Learning Centre by 24H, Koh Kood Island, Thailand

24H explore the principles of bioclimatic design with a giant bamboo manta ray

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a giant bamboo manta ray on an island in the Gulf of Thailand. Bamboo - tough, economical and green - is bountifully indigenous across South-East Asia and this project for a children’s activity centre inventively exploits its structural and aesthetic properties. Though the swooping, organically inspired structure looks as though it has sprung from the cutting edge of digital modelling, it is equally, perhaps, a response to the inherently malleable qualities of bamboo, which can be bent and shaped into striking forms.

Young Dutch architecture practice 24H collaborated with Colombia-based bamboo specialist Jörg Stamm on the project. Stamm, who originally trained as a cabinetmaker, became interested in the structural applications of bamboo and set up a company to develop standard elements for use in the construction and furniture industries. He has also designed and built a series of bridges and small-scale structures, and has become something of a bamboo evangelist. 24H operates out of Rotterdam and was founded by Boris Zeisser and Maartje Lammers, who between them have worked for Mecanoo, Erick van Egeraat and OMA. Judging from this project, a potent whiff of Dutch modern baroque has clearly rubbed off, but their approach is also informed by a curiosity about how buildings can be more ecologically responsive, and Thailand proved a perfect testing ground.

Perched on a wooded hillside overlooking the sea, the building uses local bamboo and actively explores the principles of bioclimatic design in tempering the hot, humid climate.

Cantilevering up to 8m, the roof acts like a huge umbrella, providing shade and protection from the heavy rain. The structure is permeable, with a high roof and setback floors to encourage the flow of air and passage of light, thus minimising energy requirements. Under the sheltering sweep of the roof, space is loosely partitioned into pod-like enclaves allotted to different functions.

The activity centre is intended to entertain and distract children at the upscale Soneva Kiri eco-tourist resort on the island of Koh Kood. ‘The aim was to find an organic shape that could function as an enclosed children’s play area and also be an exciting sculpture in itself,’ says Zeisser. Even the most recalcitrant child could not fail to be entranced by what is essentially a giant tree house containing a library, chill-out balcony, art pod, music pod and fashion pod, all grouped around a sunken auditorium used for showing films and plays. You can also exit the building in style, gliding down a gently inclined slide on to the hillside below.

Next to the centre is a sleeping pod for toddlers, together with a cooking cave and vegetable garden, so that the children can learn a bit about where food comes from and prepare their own lunches with the help of an on-site cook. The interior is constructed from River Red Gum wood (a type of eucalyptus) sourced from a local plantation, and rattan is used to fabricate the individual pods.

Rustic, colourful and slightly over the top, it’s a bit like being on a Lord of the Rings film set. You half expect to encounter hobbits pottering around. But in its use of materials and energy, it has a serious agenda - and beats Butlins any day.

Architect 24H, Rotterdam
Associate architect Habita Architects, Bangkok
Project team Boris Zeisser, Maartje Lammers, Olav Bruin, Anne-Laure Nolan
Bamboo consultant Jörg Stamm

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