Cover Twinkle Villa is enchanting at dusk

Designed by CY Chan Architect, Twinkle Villa in Janda Baik won the best building prize at Persatuan Arkitek Malaysia Awards in 2017

The green enclave Tanarimba in Janda Baik has become something of a Hamptons type weekend getaway for well-heeled city dwellers. Just a half an hour (on a good day) drive and its good bye stifling heat and frenetic city life, hello cooler temperatures and fresh hill breezes. The architecture of these private homesteads range from the unapologetically modern to Balinese timber fantasies, more representative of the owners’ tastes rather than a response to the majestic pine trees and old tropical hardwood forests surrounding them.

However, Twinkle Villa, located on the highest point of Tanarimba, won the best building and a gold award at the Persatuan Arkitek Malaysia Awards in 2017 for “conversing eloquently with the idyllic forest and responding climatically to the setting”. The Awards Jury went on to say: “Hard on the external appearance, it transforms and opens up dramatically towards the woodlands while unravelling the charming and delightful ambience of a retreat within.” The client had approached CY Chan Architect to design a retirement home which was close to nature and a retreat from hectic city life.

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From the very first meeting, his main request was keeping the site as intact possible. “The client’s design brief was to preserve the original surroundings so construction methodology had to be kept at a minimum. This aligned with our thoughts from our first site visit back in 2014 when we got stung by bees while exploring the topography of the site, this inspired us to design a house that would blend with nature without chasing them out,” reminisces Lim Kee Yen, lead architect on Twinkle Villa.

As a result, the ultimate design is a response to the client’s brief as well as the context. “We choose the flattest land within the site boundary to avoided cutting too much of the earth and felling big trees. All trees with more than 1.6m diameter in width were identified and out of these 115 trees, only two were sacrificed for the building’s final setting-out. This determined the elongated rectangular shape which became the building’s footprint,” explains Lim.


Hidden from the street, the angular lines and edges of the house reveal themselves as one approaches through the tree lined pathway. A striated, gravity-defying C-shaped box of volume perched lightly on top of natural slope, the building has something of a split personality depending on which way you view it - on one side, it’s a solid raw concrete wall rising dramatically above building height while on the other side, it’s a meticulously assembled palette of finishes emphasising materiality and modularity– a mixture of fair-faced concrete, glass, clay brick wall and bamboo railings.

“The fair-faced concrete was cast on site and used for main building components, like façade walls, concrete roof, columns and beams, while clay brick walls were used to divide internal spaces. Both were used without plastering and paint. This was one way to minimise environmental damage and in the long run, they require minimum maintenance,” enthuses Lim. “Moreover, the natural appearance of the materials suits the original forest palette, like the bamboo we found on site which was used for the railing and now enhances the building’s appearance.”

Within the house, the initial idea was to house all the client’s needs (living room, dining room, kitchen and five bedrooms) in an enclosure within the rectangular form. As such, a double volume Living Platform was created as the focal point of the house. Circulation spaces were tucked in one corner thus allowing all of the functional spaces to have a borrowed view of the environment. However, during construction, the owner changed his mind and decided that he only needed a small area comprising of a room, a library and a bathroom for his own private usage. All other rooms would function as guest rooms.

To accommodate this, the architects decided to open up the rectangular enclosure and opened the Living Platform to embrace the external surroundings. “The entrance exists without a physical door—we created an entrance statement rather than an entrance per se. By opening up the enclosure, the layering of spaces is enhanced. Through spatial layering, we created a variation of spaces and you can clearly see the layering of solid and void spaces from one end to the other end,” opines Lim. 

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Apart from preserving the natural environment surrounding the house, several passive design strategies were implemented. For starters, having an open plan concept from the entrance to the Living Platform takes advantage of the lower temperatures at this altitude, not to mention maximising cross ventilation by virtue of having an entrance without a physical door or barrier. Cross ventilation is further optimised by isolating the circulation space from the main functional space and confining it to the fair-faced concrete wall. The concrete wall also acts as a thermal mass to absorb, store, and later release the heat. All spaces benefit from being double-shaded (man-made concrete roof and natural tree shade) which effectively creates a very low solar transmission to the internal spaces while the balcony spaces also function as “shading devices” for privacy as well as reduce sunlight penetration.


A natural habitat was created via the fishpond adjacent to the entrance by channeling natural mountain water. Rather cleverly, since no chemical products were used during construction, a termite habitat was created and preserved at few spots within the site as a natural way of keeping termites away from the building footprint. Wherever possible, salvaged or local materials were used - wooden furniture or sculpture from existing trees, bamboo and rattan repurposed into railings and broad leaf applied as patterns on the concrete pathway.


When all is said and done, Lim admits that while Twinkle Villa’s impressive form catches the eye and is what most likely impressed the judges of the PAM Awards, it’s the subtle things which captivate the heart: “I love the spatial layering of the house, it’s a quality of space that one may only experience when visiting the building. The client is enjoying the open Living Platform, which can be used as a stage, an art gallery or gatherings whenever he has visiting guests. And because it’s open, it feels very so close to landscape and the natural environment.” 

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