Architecture ASIA Issue 4 / December 2004 - February 2005 Idea House by Ar. Lee Chor Wah
Perched atop a hill in a suburb of Shah Alam, the Wooi Residence's sweeping umbrella roof of zinc-titanium stands out from its neighbourhood of nondescript bungalows. At night it glows like a lantern, almost like a beacon beckoning the world to a new direction in tropical Malaysian architecture. All along, Wooi Architect, has been designing exclusive bungalows for a growing wait-list of clients. With this house for himself, he has taken the big leap into designing his own house. The effort has certainly paid off as the house was awarded a Honorary Mention in the Single Residential Building category in the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) 2004 Awards for Excellence in Architecture - the highest award for the category in that year.
The house has three levels plus a loft. The entrance to the house is at the mid-level without the ubiquitous double car porch typical of most bungalows in Malaysia. Instead, the cars are parked under the shelter of the protruding study on the first floor, Brick piers and diagonal timber struts lead one in a rhythmic fashion around the curve to arrive at the entrance into the ground floor where the living room, dining room, kitchen, and a guest room are located. A curved flight of frighteningly light timber stairs precariously supported seemingly by only 2"x1" timber strips, lead to the first floor which contains a family room, master bedroom, the children's rooms, and a common study. Here the best spaces of the house are be found. They all have different heights, different ceiling treatments, and most interestingly, different structural expressions of the roof support.
The basement is accessed via a more solid curved timber stair. It follows the extruded shape of the floor plan above and contains three distinctively shaped rooms - used as a home office - with one large central meeting room. Another room is tucked under the driveway. Access to the courtyard and the pool is through sets of oversized louvred doors. In the courtyard, a giant timber column soars towards the sky supporting the umbrella-like conical roof and at the same time metaphorically anchoring the house firmly into the ground. The supporting timber struts are reminiscent of the traditional wax-paper umbrella, alluding to the possibility of folding the umbrella roof way on a good day. The kidney-shaped floor plan with a tear drop shaped tower at the western end frees up the middle section of the open car park while the north-western part forms part of the lap pool. The plan focuses on the courtyard and the vistas beyond towards a neighbouring condominium development. Junctions where two complex geometries meet are cleverly exploited as viewing apertures both for glimpses to the outside as well as for keeping an eye on the children from various vantage points.
This seemingly simple and well-crafted house opens one's mind to new possibilities in spatial experiences. Gone are the familiar rectilinear walls at right angles to each other. They are replaced with fluidity of curved walls that allow the sequence of spatial experiences to seamlessly flow from one space to another. Wooi intended the house to be 100% naturally ventilated, whereby the natural elements such as the sun, rain and wind could be fully appreciated. There is plenty of cross ventilation to keep the house cool most of the time. However, the downside is that with natural ventilation comes dust and mosquitos. Therefore, for the comfort of some of his family members, split-unit air conditioners have since been installed in some rooms. If not for this and hence the resultant exposed air conditioning piping, the whole house would have been free of exposed services pipes and conduits as most of the electrical wiring and water pipes have been painstakingly coordinated to be concealed.