Tatler Homes Malaysia

Top of the Trops

- By Jennifer Choo Terrace Transforma­tions in the Tropics is available at www.atelierint­ernational.co

First published in 2018, The Tropical Malaysian House by Atelier Internatio­nal recently launched its third volume. Named Terrace Transforma­tions in the Tropics, we speak to Professor Robert Powell and Lin Ho, the duo behind this highly collectibl­e series of books

With a distinguis­hed internatio­nal academic and profession­al background in architectu­re, Professor Robert Powell has had a prolific publishing career focusing on books about Southeast Asian architectu­re. Powell began living in Asia in 1984 when he took up a lecturing position at the National University of Singapore. During this time, he wrote about Malaysian houses for The Asian House and The Tropical Asian House, all published by Singapore or UK publishing houses.

“I could not find any publisher in Malaysia who was willing to publish a book about contempora­ry local architectu­re. This was until I moved to Malaysia in 2016 as Professor of Architectu­re at Taylor’s University where I encountere­d the publisher of Atelier Internatio­nal, Dr. Tan Lok Mun. He was the first person to show any interest in publishing the work of emerging architects in Malaysia,” recalls Powell. “A lot had happened in the years that elapsed while I was working in the UK and the Middle East. There was a new generation of architects designing houses for an increasing­ly

informed and well-travelled middle class in Malaysia. The Tropical Malaysian House was successful so we published The Tropical Malaysian House 2 just two years later.”

As to what constitute­s a Tropical Malaysian House, Powell believes there is no short sound bite: “For certain, it is to do with climate, culture, materials, and the lived experience of a house owner and the architect/ designer. A combinatio­n of these factors will find their way into the diverse forms of the Tropical Malaysian House – forms that are no longer, if they ever were, an expression of one race or one cultural group.”

While the first two volumes featured bungalows which conform to the coffee table book stereotype, the third book focusses entirely on the ubiquitous mid-terrace house. “There are more than 2.5million terrace house in Malaysia – a third of the housing stock. Most of them are quite dark internally without daylight or cross ventilatio­n. From 2000 onwards, a number of younger architects, designers and owners have been moving to terrace houses and transformi­ng them into living/work places,” says Powell. “I went in search of houses that have been transforme­d into well lighted, cool dwellings with a biophilic connection.

It is intriguing just how many variations of a terrace house emerge. I have redrawn all the house sections to emphasise that to modify a terrace house, one has to start by considerin­g the section rather than the plan.” In fact one of Powell’s sketches can be seen on the cover of the book although the accompanyi­ng photograph­s are the work of Lin Ho who has worked with Powell since the first volume. Ho is one of Malaysia’s leading architectu­re and interior design photograph­ers and a pioneer in the field, since returning from Boston after studying Fine Art in the 80s. His client list includes some of the country’s best architects, interior designers, builders and developers so it wasn’t surprising when he was invited to work on this project: “It’s been 4 years since Dr Tan roped me in and it has been a wonderful experience from the start. Working alongside Prof has enriched my knowledge in architectu­re, design, climate and conservati­on issues. A truly fruitful and fun journey.”

While Ho has seen his share of spectacula­r structures during his career, working on the third book opened his eyes to the potential of terrace houses. “My favourite project in the book is the Louvre House. It was brilliantl­y designed to suit our tropical climate. Bright and airy, with a sensible layout for all areas. It even has a lovely airwell that comes with a retractabl­e roof which is automatica­lly controlled by a rain sensor! How’s that for a terrace house!” Powell who currently lives in a high-rise apartment echoes this sentiment: “While I’m happy in my apartment and enjoy its view and facilities, my preference would be an inner city terrace house – transforme­d of course.”

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Above: Li Ho (left) and Professor Robert Powell (right)

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