After Persatuan Arkitek Malaysia declined to recognise any project with a gold medal or Building of the Year award last year, CY Chan Architect breaks the stalemate with Twinkle Villa in Tanarimba, Janda Baik
The green enclave that is Tanarimba in Janda Baik has become something of a Hamptons type weekend getaway for well-heeled city dwellers. Just a half an hour’s drive from KL (on a good day) and it’s goodbye stifling heat and frenetic city life; hello cooler temperatures and fresh hill breezes. The architecture of these private homesteads range from the unapologetically modern to Balinese timber fantasies, more representative of the owners’ tastes rather than a response to the majestic pine trees and old tropical hardwood forests surrounding them. However, Twinkle Villa, located on the highest point of Tanarimba, won this year’s best building and a gold from the Persatuan Arkitek Malaysia Awards for “conversing eloquently with the idyllic forest and responding climatically to the setting.” The Awards jury went on to say: “Hard on the external appearance, it transforms and opens up dramatically towards the woodlands while unravelling the charming and delightful ambience of a retreat within.” The homeowner had approached CY Chan Architect to design a retirement home which was close to nature and a retreat from the hectic city life. From the very first meeting, his main request was keeping the site as intact as possible. “The client’s design brief was to preserve the original surroundings so construction work had to be kept at a minimum. This aligned with our thoughts from our first site visit back in 2014, when we got stung by bees while exploring the topography of the site, which inspired us to design a house that would blend with nature without chasing it out,” reminisces Lim Kee Yen, lead architect on Twinkle Villa. As a result, the ultimate design is a response to the client’s brief as well as the context. “We chose the flattest land within the site boundary to avoid cutting too much of the earth and felling big trees. All trees that are more than 1.6m diameters in width were identified
and out of these 115 trees, only two were sacrificed for the building’s final setting-out. This determined the elongated rectangular shape which became the building’s footprint,” explains Lim. Hidden from the street, the angular lines and edges of the house reveal themselves as one approaches through the tree-lined pathway. A striated, gravity-defying C-shaped construction perched lightly on top of a natural slope – the building has something of a split personality depending on the way you view it; on one side, it’s a solid, raw concrete wall rising dramatically above, while on the other side, it’s a meticulously assembled palette of finishes emphasising materials and modularity, a mixture of fair-faced concrete, glass, clay brick walls and bamboo railings. “The fair-faced concrete was cast on site and used for the main building components, like facade walls, concrete roofing, columns and beams, while the clay bricks were used as a divider for the internal spaces. Both, however, were used without plastering nor paint. This was one way to minimise environmental damage and in the long run, it also requires minimum maintenance,” enthuses Lim. “Moreover, the natural appearance of the materials suit the original forest palette, like the bamboo we found on site which was used for the railing and now enhances the building’s appearance.” Within the space, the initial idea was to house all the homeowner’s needs (living and dining room, kitchen plus five bedrooms) in an enclosure within the rectangular form. As such, a double volume Living Platform was created as the focal point of the house. Circulation spaces were tucked in one corner, thus allowing all of the functional spaces to have a view of the environment. However, during construction, the owner changed his mind and decided that he only needs a small area comprising a room, a library and a bathroom for his private usage. All of the other rooms would function as guest rooms. As such, the architects decided to open up the rectangular enclosure and opened the Living Platform to embrace the external surroundings. “The entrance exists without a physical door – we created an entrance statement rather than an entrance per se. By opening up the enclosure, the layering of spaces is enhanced. Through spatial layering, we created a variation of spaces and you can clearly see the layering of solid and void spaces from one end to the other end,” opines Lim.
Apart from preserving the natural environment surrounding the house, several passive design strategies were implemented. For starters, having an open plan concept from the entrance to the Living Platform takes advantage of the lower temperatures at this altitude, not to mention maximising cross ventilation by virtue of having an entrance without a physical door or barrier. Cross ventilation is further optimised by isolating the circulation space from the main functional space and confining it to the fair-faced concrete wall. The concrete wall also acts as a thermal mass to absorb, store, and later release the heat. All spaces benefit from being double-shaded (a manmade concrete roof plus the natural shade from trees) which effectively creates a very low solar transmission to the internal spaces while the balconies also function as ‘shading devices’ for privacy as well as reduces the penetration of sunlight. A natural habitat was created via the fishpond adjacent to the entrance by channelling natural mountain water. Rather cleverly, since no chemical products were used during construction, a termite habitat was created and preserved in a few spots within the site as a natural way of keeping termites away from the building. Wherever possible, salvaged or local materials were used, such as wooden furniture or sculptures from existing trees, bamboo and rattan repurposed into railings and broad leaf applied as patterns on the concrete pathway. When all is said and done, Lim admits that while Twinkle Villa’s impressive form catches the eye and is what most likely impressed the judges at the PAM Awards, it’s the subtle things which captivate the heart: “I love the spatial layering of the house, it’s a quality of space that one may only experience when visiting the building. The owner is enjoying the open Living Platform, which can be used as a stage, an art gallery, or for gatherings whenever he has guests visiting. And because it’s open, it feels very close to the landscape and natural environment.”
THIS PAGE Nestled within a mature forest, Twinkle Villa treads gently on the terrain
OPPOSITE, FROM TOP The kitchen has an expansive view of the outdoors, it’s almost like dining al-fresco; perched on the top of the house, the roof balcony offers a superb vantage point
OPPOSITE, FROM TOP All bedrooms were designed to have their own private balconies; the living platform can be opened up to embrace its environment and can be used as an art gallery or for parties
FROM LEFT Who needs curtains when the view is this good and the only neighbours are the trees? Bathrooms were kept simple and functional