The Green Connection

by | November 21st, 2008 | Building Reviews | 3 Comments

The Green Connection, Kota Kinabalu

A mini Eden Project is nearing completion in Kota Kinabalu and it’s putting some green into aquarium design. Having being originally conceived as Aquatica KK, The Green Connection as it is now known is due to open early 2009.

Green Connection’s founder Prof. Steve Oakley is a bit of a hippie at heart and in true hippie style has decided to DIY (Do It Yourself!) a top class aquarium using ‘green’ building principles.

“Green Connection is now much more than an aquarium” Steve elaborated on the change of name, “we have lots of snakes, lots of amphibians, otters (two species) plus the science discovery centre”.

Steve’s concept is Rainforest to Reef and the visitor experience follows a walk that starts in a ‘bat cave’ before meandering through lowland rainforest and coastal mangroves to a marine ecosystem.

Prof. Steve Oakley

Beyond that the experience is a little more free form – represented by twin geodesic domes housing a science discovery centre and providing access to the shark auditorium.

The geodesic dome has been a favourite amongst greenies since Buckminster Fuller first switched us on to this economical and futuristic structure. Steve’s domes are built from standard timber sections and faced with fibre-cement board – making them a cost effective way to enclose a lot of space. The internal mezzanines are framed in steel.

Large openings at the apex of the domes provide a viewpoint on the green surroundings and a convenient chimney stack for naturally venting hot air from the building. The only air conditioned space in the building is the small office.

Roof opening of the geodesic dome

Timber structure of the geodesic dome

Ng Wai Pak takes on the fireman's pole

The science discovery centre is packed with simple interactive games such as finding the 1 blue polystyrene ball amongst 1 million white ones, the drop zone – where we can have fun with helicopter dipterocarp seeds and home made parachutes.

Plus of course everyone will want to return by fireman’s pole having finished playing with parabolic listening devices up on the roof.

Another way that the Green Connection has reduced its material costs (and therefore its embodied energy) is by constructing all the display tanks from ferro-cement.

Ferro-cement is formed by building a steel armature from steel rod, reinforcement mesh and chicken wire. High strength sand:cement plaster is then pushed by hand onto the mesh using leather gloves. The finished tanks become a light and strong monocoque with much lower mass than traditional insitu concrete. Wall thickness is typically 50-75mm – even for the 4m deep shark tank!

Steel mesh prepared for the ferro-cement shark tank

Steel mesh prepared for the ferro-cement shark tank

The only significant volume of concrete is in the foundation which includes built in storage capacity for 75,000 liters of rainwater.

“I can collect 50 tonnes of water (i.e. 50,000 literes) in one good half hour tropical deluge” claims Steve proudly, “that is enough to see us through a 9 day’s drought”.

Green Connection is designed to be off-grid for all except its drinking water supply.

Greywater from the freshwater fish tanks, septic tanks and washing areas is all treated on-site in reed beds before being recycled. These beds rely on an aquatic plant of the genus Cryptocoryne. This magic plant is super easy to grow and forms a deep root mass that will hungrily take up extra nutrients and convert it into biomas that can be later used as compost.

Cryptocoryne, the heart of a good reed bed

Sewage treatment, The Green Connection way

Acrylic window waiting for the sharks

For salt water treatment Steve has designed a simple and robust pumping and filtering system which uses energy efficiently and intelligently. Pumps are also used to spray water onto pitched roof surfaces such as the reception and toilet area to cool them on hot days.

Pumps are an essential part of any aquarium and also demand large amounts of power. Green Connection has mitigated this energy consumption by specifying pumps according to their exact head and volume requirements.

For example; surface water from the shark tank is drained through a series of filters by gravity and returned to the tank via a propeller pump through a 9” diameter pipe but with a mere 2m of head.

Conversely, water from deeper in the tanks is circulated through filters by a high pressure low volume pump. As dirt tends to settle deeper in the tanks this pump does not have to move as much water to remove the same amount of dirt as the propeller pump.

Of all the green features however, the most visible are the plants and trees. Green Connection is festooned with botanical delights, pathways are textured with mossy red recycled brick and walls crammed with epiphytes. With so much stimulus it’ll keep all the kids happy and engaged, especially this one

Wall stuffed with epiphytes

Recycled brick paving at The Green Connection, Kota Kinabalu

Related posts

3 Comments for The Green Connection

Prof Steve Oakley

The site has grown since this article was published. The building and site are still green but the fish, snakes sharks and rays are now swimming happily. Lots of breeding going on – baby snakes, terrapins and sharks. Lots of conservation based activities come for a visit or check us out on facebook – the green connection


Ian Hall

Thanks for the update Steve. I heard that you’ve been getting lots of visitors since you opened and feedback has been good.

Looking forward to make a follow up visit myself when I’m in KK in July.




We had a great time at the Green Connection. Even after more than 2 hours, my girls didn’t want to leave. You can see what some of the exhibits here, the Green Connection. Well worth the visit!


Wanna say something?