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MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

by Adrian Ho on Apr 22, 2013 in Architecture
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Situated deep in the woods near Sungai Penuh in Sumatra, the Cassia Co-op Training Centre is deceptively ordinary architecture with a social dimension

With scenic views of the Lake Kerinci to the front and lush cinnamon forests at the back, the 600 sq-m Cassia Co-op training facility is centred around a pair of mighty durian trees, which were left untouched – and protected throughout construction. The scale of the project, combined with a short timeframe, challenged the team in terms of design and logistics. In response, a basic design was proposed by Norwegian practice Tyin Tegnestue Architects, comprising simple details and making it possible to realise the project with an untrained local workforce – using the services of eight water buffalo and an on-site sawmill.

Featuring classrooms, offices, a laboratory and a kitchen, the centre is a light-filled wooden construction set on a base of heavy, locally-crafted brick and concrete. The mass-produced Y-pillars, each bolted down into a concrete foot, secure the tightness and rigidity of the building. From the main construction to the interiors, all wood in the project came from the trunks of cinnamon trees – the by-product of cinnamon production – despite its curiously low status among the locals.

Under the massive roof of the building, a naturally ventilated climate is created through the use of thermal mass, reduction of sunrays and maximised eaves. “It is the perfect environment to train the farmers,” says Patrick Barthelemy, founder of Cassia Co-op.

The training centre – Tyin’s largest project to date – only took a month to build, costing just under US$40,000. Despite its simple design and low cost, the architecture has already proven to be rock-solid – situated in an active seismic region, the training centre has survived several earthquakes already. “But we haven’t experienced any major earthquakes since the construction; so far so good! No damage to report,” Barthelemy says. “Of course, because of the open structure of the centre, the dust is our major enemy.”

Although Tyin has completed the project, its legacy continues – inspired by the training centre, Cassia Co-op has constructed another building nearby for research and development. “We used the same workers who work on the initial project and were trained by Tyin,” says Barthelemy. “(The new building) was constructed in the same spirit.”

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