Armed with a trapezoidal piece of land on a hillside and lots of ideas about a modern tropical house design for themselves, there was not much left for the clients, a German/Malaysian family, to do but find the right architect. In a scene akin to the proverbial joke “a man walks into a bar…”, the client instead walked into an interior designer’s office in Ipoh and asked “who’s the best architect in town?”. Without irony they replied “the best architect in Ipoh is actually based in Sydney”.
So began a years-long collaboration between clients and architect to bring their dream of a tropical house design to life, one that would offer the opportunity to entertain family and friends in spacious rooms, connected to the outdoors and taking full advantage of their land. To add complexity the clients also wanted the bedrooms and other areas to be really private. And although this made the brief more difficult for the architects, the clients note the design was able to resolve the requirements very well.
Despite the oddly shaped hillside land presenting particular difficulties, with one section a full 3 metres lower than the rest, the first decision was to not level the land. By doing so the tropical house design could take full advantage of the resulting split levels. This ecological approach minimised earthworks and it also ensured that differing vistas as well as breezes could be captured from every level.
To minimise the carbon footprint of the house, local materials and methods of construction were used. The clients were highly involved in the process of selection, with field trips organised to local quarries and timber mills through the architects’ extensive network of collaborators. The tropical house design fuses sustainable materials with updated construction techniques, and includes handmade custom items such as the bamboo and paper lamps.
The house acts primarily as a wind instrument. Located on a slope between a hill and a pond, it catches cool morning breezes falling downhill and evening breezes flowing in the opposite direction. Through the use of on-site observation and fluid dynamics the tropical house design channels the breezes through the living areas. Even when there’s not much wind there’s a breeze inside the house, it is always cool and comfortable.
An indirect evaporative cooler was incorporated into the living area, the first installation in Malaysia, and uses 80% less electricity than an air conditioner. Large underground tanks capture rainwater which is then recycled.
According to the clients, the architects’ approach of “understanding us and the land and the climate has resulted in a home which we could never have thought of by ourselves. It’s a great and peaceful place enjoyed by us and our friends (and chicken and geese wandering in our garden)”