Cover The dramatic roof echoes the terrain

Over the hills and not so very far away in Janda Baik, MJ Kanny Architect built a pair of dramatic houses designed specifically to work with, rather than against, the challenging terrain

Much like the Hamptons to well-heeled Manhattanites or Berkshire to affluent Londoners Janda Baik has become something of a weekend getaway to KL-ites; after all, in just half an hour, one can swap the city’s traffic congestion and pollution for clear mountain air and uninterrupted verdant views. The sleepy town has seen the mushrooming of weekend homes of various architectural ambitions, many which gratifyingly work with the terrain rather than against it.

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Two such homes were built by Melvyn Kanny of MJ Kanny Architect who got to know a middle-aged couple who had two plots of land (each measuring one acre) that they purchased in Janda Baik. They had been recommended by the late David Winter, an interior designer whom Kanny had worked with before and requested for him to propose two houses, one intended as their holiday cum retirement home while the other was for either investment or for their children’s use. One of the houses was submitted for Pertubuhan Arkitek Malaysia's (PAM) competition and took home PAM’s Gold Award in the Single Residential Category in 2018.

 

Located on a steep slope with a commanding view of the Genting Hills, both units were to be of a similar concept yet different in terms of spatial usage and while the site was spectacular, Kenny confesses that it acted both as muse and master .

“The form was inspired by the captivating landscape of Janda Baik with its jagged hills and outcrops that finally inspired the built form that was in itself very natural and organic. All the interior spaces had different spatial characteristics and no room had 90-degree corners. Each space was designed to capture a view of its immediate natural environment and all effort was taken to blur the distinction between inside and out,” enthuses Kanny

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As the houses were built on the principle of sustainability, the materials were chosen to be as natural as possible, consequently raw concrete and natural brick walls and plastered walls with unpainted finishes became the natural choice. However, this had to be balanced with the client’s taste and requirements as they wanted the home to also be cosy and welcoming, so some stone and timber was also used to diffuse the masculinity of the rugged unfinished look.

“I think the final outcome was a delicate balance. The principal has always been to use local natural materials as possible. Even the natural un-plastered brickwork was selected from a nearby factory. Bamboo that was cut on site was reused as outdoor lamp posts and even as a shower stand in the master bathroom,” explains Kanny

Although the client didn’t request for a “green” house. Kanny subtly infused this into the design. First, the house was designed not to require air-conditioning and to capitalise on the naturally cool temperatures of Janda Baik. This was done by maximising openings and apertures to allow air to move freely through the house while high-level motorised windows allows hot air to escape.

A lift shaft was provided as per the clients brief but the lift would only be installed in future if needed. The idea then came to convert the shaft into a wind chimney, capturing the cool mountain breeze and forcing it down into the internal spaces, a concept popular in Middle Eastern countries. This later became a prominent design feature of the house. Apart from that, natural local materials were used extensively with little use of chemicals or VOCs like paint. The brick walls are built in two layers with an air-gap in between keeping the inner walls always cool. 

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Sun-shade analysis was carried out to reduce western and eastern direct sun. The result of these studies led to the unique roof form. This was achieved by creating large roof overhangs on the eastern and western sides. 

“Our main issue was the coordination with the engineer to make the structure work, especially with the extra-large roof overhangs. The roof was the most challenging and complex part of the house detailing. It was a three-dimensional structure with falls in three directions. We wanted the roof to hover over the house and so we used frameless glass between the roof and the walls and structure below, so getting this right was challenging. To make matters worse, there was no plaster or painting on the structure, making any mistakes almost impossible to rectify,” recalls Kanny.

 

“The structure was mostly exposed and not hidden with a ceiling as in a conventional house so the structure and architecture must work hand-in-glove to achieve the seamless look. The contractor was very helpful in trying to build according to our details as the house was not a typical conventional two-dimensional structure and there were very complex angles on both the floor plate as well as the elevations. They built a scale model before proceeding with the works in order to comprehend how the final form would look like and this helped them in planning the construction. Kudos to the contractor for achieving this.” 

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Rainwater as well as natural ground water are collected in a pond at the bottom of the site and re-used for irrigation. However, due to budget constraints, the landscape works were kept to the minimum and is still a work-in-progress.

Although It will take years for new trees to grow and fill up the site, the client whom Kanny describes as having green fingers is doing his part by growing his own organic plants like avocados, Musang King durians and olive trees. Fresh air, fruiting trees and a stunning view—what could be better?

 

Indeed Kanny reports that the clients are satisfied with the results: “They are generally very happy with the house. The main challenge is cleaning the high level glass and ceiling which is constantly barraged by insects and spider webs. In a working relationship, it is very difficult to strike a balance between the client’s needs and the architect’s vision of the house and sometimes the architect needs to back off on certain issues that the client feels strongly about that may go against the architect's design aesthetics. Ultimately, there is always a solution that both parties can live with and it's the process of finding it that makes it challenging and worthwhile.”

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