The Star Malaysia - Star2
Hovering over large, open-plan spaces, the unique roof designs of these two houses are inspired by the canopy of the lush, mature rain trees around them.
THE two homes cascade gently over the slope, almost as if cuddling the land they rest on.
What stands out are the roof structures – which wrap firmly yet fluidly over the houses – and how the overall design is inspired by the surrounding rain trees.
Over 100ft (30.5m) tall, with wide arching foliage that fans out in a protective stance, the shady trees gave birth to the idea of a large canopy under which all the living spaces would be arranged, shielding the interiors from the heat while still able to capture the breeze.
Completed in 2018, Falanchity House and Canopy House, located in Ukay Heights, Ampang, Selangor, belong to two friends who agreed to having similar architectural features.
“Both houses shared the same design philosophy, which was to create a shelter replicated from the idea of the huge canopy of tropical trees that dotted the site.
“The early concept was based on the idea of refuge under a canopy that protected the occupants from the natural elements, like rain and sun.
“This idea was then developed into a complex roof structure that engaged with the steep, sloped land and the clients’ individual spatial requirements.
“The shape of the roofs is inspired by the direction and movement of the sun, as well as takes into consideration how breeze is drawn in from the valley below, and the opening up of the houses to the distant KL and immediate garden views,” explained lead architect Melvyn J. Kanny, from MJ Kanny Architect.
The design highlight, added Kanny, was to create a floating roof over an open-plan concept house.
“This allowed the spaces to appear seamless and not contained or defined within specific boxes as found in most houses. It also provided the opportunity to escape from conventional flat ceilings. The roof itself doubled as the ceiling and so the latter rises and falls depending on which space you were in, creating a dynamic, fluid-like effect and quite often, large cavernous spaces,” he explained.
Two key design and construction challenges that arose revolved around the roof structures and the steepness of the slopes the houses were built on.
“Ten years ago, 3D software was becoming more prevalent and that was a big help as these houses could not possibly be designed using 2D methods like in the old days.
“This was because the roofs evolved and morphed into their final forms after countless changes. It was basically like carving out a piece of sculpture that needed to both function as a roof as well as an architectural form. That took months to develop, with cooperation from both engineer and architect, until the final nod from the clients,” shared Kanny.
The steep slopes also meant additional considerations needed to be taken to prevent slope failure.
“Construction took over three years to complete as the contractor struggled to build the houses due to limited access, a steep terrain and complexity of the roof structure,” he added.
Asphalt-based shingle roofs were selected in the end as they matched the overall building context and appeared almost part of the natural surroundings.
The roof structure was built entirely out of steel I-beams (beams with I-shaped cross sections) as timber would not be strong enough for the huge spans required. The ceiling was lined with Nyatoh timber boards while leaving the steel beams exposed.
“Sustainable products were not readily available when the specifications were done some eight years ago, so we went with readily available local hardwood.”
Being one with nature
Although the houses share a similar design approach, they are also unique in their own way, each serving the clients’ requirements accordingly.
Canopy House was designed for a couple, their parents and son, whilst Falanchity was designed for an engineer who is also a fiction writer.
When it comes to the interiors, Falanchity House is home to antique-style furniture as the owner enjoys collecting such pieces, particularly those from the Asian region. Meanwhile, Canopy House exudes a more contemporary, Nusantara-style concept.
Being located on a hill means the houses are generally cooler than the city below. In addition, roof insulations and large overhangs further promote a comfortable ambient temperature, reducing the need for air-conditioning.
“Large glazed windows compensate for the loss of sunlight entering the house due to the roof overhangs, so there is less dependence on artificial lighting,” said Kanny.
Glass roofs and floors were also factored into Falanchity House to allow light to penetrate downwards into the sub-basement floors. All bedrooms also have high-level bamboo screens to
allow hot air to dissipate and to encourage cross ventilation. The roof also generally hovers about four inches (10cm) above the walls and windows to allow hot air to escape.
“The large vault-like ceilings further help keep the internal spaces cool while discouraging the use of air-conditioning. We also took great lengths to preserve the huge tropical trees on the site. Some of the trees were anchored to the ground to keep them stable and to prevent them from swaying towards the house,” said Kanny.
Even the lift in Canopy House was fitted with a roof skylight to allow light to penetrate downwards to the lowest floor. Timber louvres were introduced on the windows to reduce sunlight and glare entering the spaces.
Overall, the houses were designed to blend seamlessly with the outdoors and encourage the occupants to enjoy the natural environment.
“Our design approach has always been to allow the house to engage with its surroundings and take advantage of the tropical setting unique to Malaysia. Tropical heat and rain are major challenges that needed to be overcome but when celebrated, they can be the driving factor behind the design itself,” ended Kanny.