Cover The limited colour palette extends to the furniture and is austerely elegant.

Eleena Jamil Architect’s drastic transformation of an end-lot terrace house has resulted in a practical yet pleasing home for a young family

The ubiquitous terrace house is problematic for comfortable living, especially in tropical climates. With their lack of air flow and low ceilings, it would seem that these houses were designed to maximise floor space rather than ease of living. Of late, a new breed of young architects are transforming this humble typology into homes which work with the environment they’re in rather than against it.

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For a couple who had bought one such terrace in Bangsar, they chose Eleena Jamil Architect (EJA) after seeing the award-winning firm’s work online. Struck by their thoughtful and sustainable ethos, they embarked on a journey to remodel the 1980s end-lot house which had low ceilings and awkward split-levels.

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Above The completed terrace looks drastically different from its original state and a splendid example of how a humble typology can be transformed

The project came together as an exercise in extending the existing structure to accommodate the couple, their two young children and visiting guests in a comfortable family home with views of the city. 

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Undeterred by the limitations of the original house, the architect went about revealing its full potential. “From the outset, we set out to open up the house in terms of planning by removing some walls, floor slabs and by reconfiguring the staircase in a new location.

These moves created a better flow of spaces within an open plan configuration. It also allowed for more daylight and improved the natural ventilation,” explains Eleena Jamil, founder of EJA. To ensure uninterrupted views of the city, a level was added on the rooftop.


The building is extended along its southerly front facade with a board-marked concrete wall that sits over the car porch. This new façade wraps around the master bedroom and extends upwards to enclose a roof terrace on the top floor.

Here, the concrete wall is punched with large rectangular openings that frame views out to the neighbourhood and the city’s skyline. Some privacy and shading from the afternoon sun in the terrace are provided by multiple trees planted in oversized planters brought up and put in place by a crane during construction.

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The tactility and rawness of the board-marked concrete façade continues inside the house with a softly grey material palette of bricks, steel, and smooth exposed concrete against the backdrop of white walls. A new folded steel plate staircase hanging from steel rods along a brick wall greets guests at the entrance which connects the different levels in a series of flights that revolve around the core of the house.

“Our work has always been defined by using material and finishes in their most basic state. This means using bricks and concrete exposed where possible, and steel unadorned. I like the idea of layering these different material, for example, steel against the rawness of brickwork or concrete,” explains Eleena.


To overcome the problem of low room heights, false ceilings were removed and voids were created. Where the original dining room was, a new double height volume was opened and the addition of a new high-level window draws light deep into the core of the house.

This creates a powerful visual connection between the living areas on the ground floor and the corridors of the upper floors. Apart from that, it also produces surprising vertical spaces and lightwells that are animated by the staircase rods and sunbeams streaming in, creating a tree house-like quality.


Such initiatives are congruent with Eleena’s sustainable design process: “Our approach to green principles here has been organic rather than steadfast. This means that green principles like improving daylighting and ventilation and creating shading are interwoven with the functional practicalities without compromising the essential design features of the house."

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On the top floor, a playroom was placed with a direct connection to the roof terrace. The family spends a lot of time here as it provides a safe outdoor place for the children to play. Apart from relaxing, the space is also used daily for hanging out laundry to dry and occasionally as an outdoor dining space.

“This area has to be my favourite part of the project as the exposed concrete wall encloses it to provide privacy but carefully placed openings frame views of the Kuala Lumpur skyline,” reveals Eleena.


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Above The rooftop is the family's private space

When furnishing this austere envelope, the client sourced for suitable furniture, objects and lighting from various vendors but consulted the architects before making any purchases. Eleena also speaks highly of the contractor who executed the concrete and steel detailing superbly.

As for the transformation of the terrace, Eleena opines: “We don’t really know what truly is possible until we start removing layers of the house to reveal the hidden structures. Some rethinking of spaces and details were necessary during the construction to accommodate the existing structures. Working with an existing house is much more complex than working on a completely new-build.”  


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