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Sarawak an exciting case study for Curtin Perth students

Miri – 15 February 2017 – Over 90 students accompanied by academics from two departments of the School of Built Environment, Faculty of Humanities at Curtin University’s Perth Campus have chosen Sarawak as the destination for the international field trip component of their respective studies in architecture and eco-tourism.

The choice was largely due to the many interesting facets of Sarawak and the opportunities for impactful study it offers, as well as an ongoing collaboration in student mobility between the Perth Campus and Curtin Malaysia, Curtin University’s largest international campus here.

A group of 83 comprising 77 students and graduate architects, as well as industry experts Dr Emil Jonescu, Triet Le and Alejandro Gil, Project Facilitator Chris Leong and senior academics Head of Discipline of Architecture Dr Boon Lay Ong and Fellow of the Curtin Academy Associate Professor Khoa Do arrived on 30 January for a 19-day ‘Global Design Studio (GDS) Malaysia LiveABILITY Project’ study tour.

This was followed by the arrival of another group of 18 students and academics from the School of Built Environment on 1 February for a 2-week interdisciplinary fieldwork study of ‘Ecotourism and the Built Form’ at the Gunung Mulu National Park, the UNESCO World Heritage Site 25 minutes by air from Miri.

According to Professor Jim Mienczakowski, pro vice-chancellor, president and chief executive of Curtin Malaysia, these study tours are the first of several planned and are part of Curtin University’s aim to further internationalise its courses through study tours, student internships and exchange, collaborations and partnerships.

Led by GDS co-founder and director Associate Professor Khoa Do, the GDS Malaysia LiveABILITY Project will be conducted in three stages, beginning with a think-tank stage ‘CURTIN SARAWAKEN’ where students will undertake a scoping-study of Sarawak and discover value insights to learning and teaching at Curtin Malaysia.

This will include aspects like campus activation and learning environments, design and creative thinking pedagogy, influence of community and cultures, and the impact of Sarawak’s tourism and economic development strategies.

The outcomes will be translated into a ‘Sarawak Futures’ exhibition the students will set up at Curtin Malaysia featuring a collection of physical artefacts and an interactive experience that captures the local narratives, illustrate the ‘intellectual footprint’ of the Malaysian campus, captivate imagination through creative works, and communicate Sarawak’s potential futures (the evolving identity of the place).

The aim of the second stage (studies/projects) will be to advance findings from the first stage into projects that will support dialogue and engagement with the wider community and highlight the importance of Curtin Malaysia’s intellectual footprint. The final stage will see the findings of the intellectual footprint being positioned globally through the hosting of an international symposium.

Associate Professor Khoa said that it is hoped that from the three-stage programme in 2017 an exciting annual event will be created to bring the best and brightest students to Curtin Malaysia to engage in impactful projects.

He remarked there is a great need to connect the Curtin campuses and conduct activities that support knowledge sharing, collaborative research and exchanges focused on the internationalisation of curriculum and industry-relevant and interdisciplinary engagement.

He added that such activities in the past have added an enriching learning and teaching experience for staff and students of the School of Built Environment, as well as the communities involved.

Curtin Malaysia Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Beena Giridharan, meanwhile, said the project offers Curtin architecture students a great opportunity to engage in learning beyond the classroom in Sarawak, enhance their cultural awareness and understanding, engage in real-world studies and develop a greater sense of self through highly collaborative learning experiences.

The ecotourism group led by lecturer Jake Schapper and school business manager Dennis Ham, meanwhile, is studying the relation between ecotourism and the built form at Gunung Mulu National Park. The project is aimed at facilitating and enhancing Mulu’s eco-tourism potential with due consideration to the sustainable development of the area.

The students from various disciplines such as urban and regional planning, architecture and construction management will conceptualise a multidisciplinary context-responsive approach to designing a project plan set within the national park. This will include engaging with the local community and stakeholders and designing a facility within the national park that will boost eco-tourism in a sustainable way. The students are also expected to gain an intercultural understanding of the potential role eco-tourism can play in the socio-economic development of local communities and regional development.

In addition to Gunung Mulu National Park, the group will also visit Lambir Hills National Park and Brunei and engage with academics at Curtin Malaysia and Universiti Brunei Darussalam through meetings, lectures and workshops to gain further insights into the opportunities and challenges of eco and sustainable tourism in the area.

Both groups presented their findings to members of the Curtin Malaysia Council, including Curtin Malaysia Pro-Chancellor Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr George Chan and Curtin Malaysia Chairman Datu Ose Murang, at a project presentation at the Curtin Malaysia campus last week. Also present were Professor Mienczakowski, Professor Beena Giridharan and Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Alan Dench of the Faculty of Humanities at Curtin Perth.

For more information on Curtin Malaysia, visit its website (, its Facebook page (CurtinMalaysia), Twitter profile (curtinmalaysia), Google+ page (Curtin Malaysia) or Instagram (curtinmalaysia).

Associate Professor Khoa (facing camera) discussing the setting up of the CURTIN SARAWAKEN exhibition with students.

Members of the GDS group discuss space activation at Curtin Malaysia.

Some of the GDS group in discussion.

Students and academics take in the sights atop Miri's scenic Canada Hill.

Associate Professor Khoa (2nd left) discusses 3D model of space at Curtin Malaysia with students.  

Students working on designs.

Some of the students during the project presentation.

GDS students present their project.

Jake Schapper and students talk about project at Mulu.

Alan Dench (4th left), Khoa Do, Boon Lay Ong, Jim Mienczakowski, George Chan and Ose Murang (6th - 10th left) and others with scale model made by students.

The group studying ecotourism and the built form at Gunung Mulu National Park.