In January 2020, the Penang State Government launched an international design competition centered on reinventing the Penang South Islands and transforming them into a sustainable destination. The goal was to create a livable community, both indoors and outdoors, that encompasses cultural, ecological and economic growth. The winner of the competition is Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), with a comprehensive plan it calls BiodiverCity.

Continue reading below
Our Featured Videos
rendering of pod-like water vehicles and small cars in a futuristic city

The group of architects, designers and builders worked in conjunction with a host of other professional teams, including Hijjas (local architects and planners) and Ramboll (project manager and engineer). As the project name implies, the BiodiverCity masterplan proposal is heavily focused on biodiversity and instills a necessary balance, considering the three islands contain a mix of  topographies and protected environments. In recent years, urban development has threatened these areas of beach, parks and waterfront. 

Related: BIG plans unveiled for pedestrian paradise in Downtown Brooklyn

rendering of city with pod-like vehicles on water, small cars on a street, and streets for cyclists and pedestrians
rendering of building with steeply pitched green roof

The islands house 15,000 to 18,000 residents over a land area of 50 to 500 acres. It was important to developers that the plan include a buffer around each district to allow for natural habitats to flourish.

rendering of drone flying over plant-covered bridge in a city
rendering of water vehicles with tall green buildings in the distance

Bjarke Ingels, founder and creative director of BIG, explained, “We are literally embarking on a journey to create more of Malaysia for future generations. We have decided to set the bar as high as humanly possible by imagining a new archipelago that aims to be both more culturally and biologically diverse than previous developments.”

rendering of people crossing a small bridge over water
rendering of bike path near water

With that end goal, BiodiverCity will sustain localized water resources, renewable energy and waste management. Instead of focusing on environmentally damaging, vehicle-centered infrastructure, the BiodiverCity is designed around waterways, railways, air travel and land use that invites walking and biking.

rendering of boats on canal near buildings with steeply pitched roofs
rendering of fountains and pathways in a city square at night

Of course, that focus on sustainable practices doesn’t mean the Penang South Islands will be an isolated society — quite the opposite actually. The first island, the Channels, is set to be an international destination for conferences. The space is to be used for educational centers and an example of advanced technological systems. It will have a wave pool and technology park, research institutes and space for professionals and families alike to explore robotics and virtual reality. The second island, the Mangroves, protects and highlights the namesake trees, which are capable of absorbing more than four times as much carbon as a typical forest. The third island, Laguna, will be centered around the marina, and the island vibe will focus on ecological living.

aerial rendering of large water plaza at night
aerial rendering of green islands

Buildings across the islands will be constructed using low-carbon materials like bamboo, Malaysian timber and green concrete, a material made from industrial waste and recycled materials.

+ Bjarke Ingels Group

Images via Bjarke Ingels Group