Tessellar Blog

Friday, December 9, 2016


For a proposal in Jasin , Melaka, we combined Honeycomb terrace houses, cluster townhouses and semi-detached houses that varied in price from RM150,000 to RM350,000.

The client is one of the Government owned companies that has been given the job of building affordable housing in Malaysia. Although it has been in existence for over a decade, the National Housing Corporation, SPNB Berhad, had more recently changed its guiding policy. Instead of building a fixed ratio of low-cost, low-medium and medium-cost houses at fixed prices funded by proceeds from sales supplemented by grants from the government, now the affordability range has been stretched to wider range, the ratio of low-end to higher-end houses has been made more flexible, and the corporation henceforth must be more self-sustaining.


Working with SPNB Bhd to help the government implement affordable housing, the State Government of Melaka made available a 20 acre site in Jasin, Melaka. The land comprised a small hill that had been planted with oil palm, opposite a technical school and overlooking a low-cost terrace housing estate and a short row of detached houses.

The hill with the peak in the centre and sloping down all around it posed a challenge. The aim was to try to minimize the earth cutting. To achieve that we set the levels from the lowest points in the neighbouring land and designed the roads from them at the steepest slope that is allowed, which is 1:12. The terrace houses, which had 6m frontage, were raised 500mm at every unit interval to achieve the maximum allowable slope.

The client was keen to test new ideas to match their new affordable housing policy; the idea of a new housing estate with a broader mix of house-types was in line with their new mandate. They were also keen to design housing with better social features compared to conventional forms.

For these reasons that we were able to get this job, and to be able to apply the Honeycomb terrace ideas.

The terrace houses were laid out to in the middle of the site, with steep cul-de-sac roads starting from the lowest points on Eastern boundary up to the middle of the site where the central spine of terrace houses is located. 

Here at the spine, the terrace houses face one direction then the other, with cul-de-sac roads on both sides. Drains on this site either go eastwards towards a retention pond at the lowest point in the east, or else it flows west towards the neighbourhood green open space on the west which has another smaller retention pond. Around the terrace houses are blocks of townhouses and semi-detached houses.

In this layout we could place communal courtyards in front of the houses. The Melaka State planners insisted that any open space smaller than 10,000sf would not count towards the 10% green requirement. On top of this, the State Public Works Department (JKR) also required the road around that green to be a 40’ road. However, we believed that if we could minimize traffic in front of the houses, shift the resident car parks to the rear and have the front-yards fully utilized as gardens, the cul-de-sac road could still function as an attractive social space.

We submitted the plans with two car parks for each unit at the rear and using the back-lanes to access them. However, the idea of having the resident’s carparks at the rear of the houses proved to be too radical an idea for the Melaka State Planning. So we had to shift back the car parks to the front. Not ideal, but it was the best we could get.

The site had the old estate manager’s bungalow on the hill-top in the middle of it. This house had to be demolished and the land cut down. There was no way to avoid earth cutting and export because the levels at the periphery of the site were fixed by the existing levels and retaining walls would have been expensive. However, we could minimize the volume of cut earth by making the roads as steep as could be permitted, which was a 1:12 slope.

To achieve the 1:12 slope, the terrace houses were designed to step 500mm every 6m. This meant a step at the boundaries of each intermediate terrace house. However, on the first floor, steps were introduced only every two units, such that the ceiling height of one unit would be 3.1m,but its neighbour at a lower level would have a ceiling height of 3.6m. In this way, the construction cost associated with additional beams on the first floor and roof levels were avoided. At the same time, this additional cost of additional beams and extra walls on the ground floor could be recovered by selling the unit with the high ceiling at a premium.


The townhouses have 1000sf built-up area each with a car porch for two cars side by side. Unlike the townhouses at Alor Gajah, there are four of these units in each semi-detached block. The internal layout has a living area opening to two bedrooms at the side, a dining and dry kitchen area that opens up to a wet kitchen at the side and the master bedroom suite at the back. Placed on the border of the site, the master bedrooms have vistas overlooking the houses below them. 

The townhouses are priced from RM150,000; the lower floor units which have larger garden areas than the upper floor ones are priced slightly more.


Each terrace house has a column-free car porch for two cars, a wide living and dining area in the front and a kitchen, toilet and bathroom at the back. The staircase in the middle leads up to two bedrooms and a shared bathroom and a master bedroom with an ensuite bathroom.

Initially, the car porch was to be at the rear but as required by the State Planning authorities, we had to place them in front. The garden area is now shifted to the rear, each intermediate unit garden 16’ x 20’ serviced by a 20’ back lane. The terrace houses are priced from RM240,000.

Original plan with carpark at rear and veranda in the front

Due to the layout design, about half of the units are premium lots being either corner lots with land at the side or units with taller ground floor ceilings or both.

Apart from the Townhouses and Terrace houses are a small number of semi-detached houses priced from RM320,000 and single-storey shop-houses. This mix in the types of houses is expected to make it easier for the developer to sell and deliver the products.

As I’m writing this, the first phase of the construction work is underway with the completion slated for 2018.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016



The sorting out of new cities into separate functions - industrial, commercial and residential was a natural reaction to the squalor of Victorian cities. The ideas of Ebenezer Howard and the notion of town-planning as a reform profession had a strong influence on Malaysian townscapes. Today, the concept of zoning is entrenched in Malaysia’s laws on land and planning. Land titles are largely categorized in accordance with their use – agriculture, commercial, industrial, institutional or residential; similarly, Local Plans that are prepared by local governments as a guide for future development, specifically divide land into different zones for various specified functions.

So, the practice of segregating housing from commercial and industrial areas is an established practice in the preparation of development layout plans. But going further than this, it has also become common accepted practice that within the zone designated for residential use, neighbourhoods are designated by house - type and density.  
Higher density housing is placed in different neighbourhoods from medium density ones and from low density housing.  This logic has taken on a life of its own – there is something in it that compels 40' X 80' double storey semi-detached houses to be separated from 20' X 60' terrace houses. 

Planners seem oblivious to the social consequences of this practice – that it is in fact segregating society by wealth. After apportioning the land for the upper and middle classes, the worst bit of land left over would be given over to low-cost housing. Functional zoning has evolved into zoning by house types and density, and implicitly, by affordability and income.


I had an advisory role in the town-planning of a new 70-acre housing estate in Durian Tunggal, Melaka. This was an early proposal for a development near Ayer Keroh in Melaka, a fast-growing township, the following house types are neatly arranged to fit in with the site contours: 

  • Low cost walk-up flats 
  • Medium cost terrace houses 20'x 70” lot size 
  • High medium cost terrace houses 20'x 75' 
  • Medium high cost semi-detached houses 45'x 80' 
  • High cost semi-detached houses 50'x 100' 
  • Very high cost detached houses 65'x 100' 

In this example, there are areas for bungalows, semi-detached houses, cluster and terrace houses, and low cost flats. It is perhaps a logical way of creating a new township, where various types of housing products catering to the range of pricing categories, are separated from each other. Here, bungalows are placed on top of the hill, on the most attractive piece of land; less expensive semi-detached houses are located on the slopes of the hill, just above the medium-cost cluster houses. At the foot of the hill are the terrace houses. Tucked away discreetly at the lowest least attractive corner of the land, on a marshy area are the low-cost flats. 

Great care has been taken to separate the more expensive houses from the cheaper ones: the most expensive houses are placed on high ground, overlooking the rest; the low-cost flats are placed on the lowest part of the site, opposite the sewerage treatment plant. The rest of the houses are placed in keeping with the same design principal – the more expensive houses are placed on higher ground. 

Of course, it is the rich that can afford the very expensive houses, those with medium income will buy the medium cost houses; only those with low income people will buy the low-cost house. 

Do people really prefer to live in homogenous neighbourhoods comprising the same type of houses, consisting of residents generally belonging to same income group? If so, should planners distribute homes corresponding to this preference? Whatever the answers, the fact is that to most developers and planners, this is just how it's done. 

Has zoning by income become an unspoken tenet of town-planning in Malaysia? The common practice is that development land for housing should be ordered per density of the house type, but implicit in such a practice is the notion that housing should be geographically ordered conforming to affordability and by income level. 

Maybe, this is how society sought to be ordered. Town-planners and developers might well argue that rich people don’t want to live too near to poor neighbours.  It is not my intention here to challenge the practice of sub-zoning by house type on idealistic or ideological grounds: my point is a commercial one. I would like to argue though that this arrangement of housing products very often does not fit well with the pattern of consumer demand and with what is practical and cost effective to build, particularly in the small residential markets of second tier cities, small towns and outer suburbs.


The layout plan for new townships are plans for the future – maybe looking 5, 10 or more decades into the future. As such they are developed in phases. It is difficult to build the whole of it in one construction phase, and it is not desirable to do so. The development content of a new township is almost always more than the current demand for housing. The developer will construct it by phases - each phase suitably sized to be easily built, and more importantly, to be easily sellable.

One problem with the segregated-income layout is that it makes necessary the selling one type of house in one phase, followed by another type in the following phase, and so on. This is fine in a market where the number of units of any one type of house put up for sale is a small percentage of the total demand for that type of house. A developer selling 200 terrace houses in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur where 2000 similar houses got sold the previous year will not face a problem. However, trying to sell 200 of the same houses in a rural area where the demand is for about 50 houses a year is a different matter. 

At any one time, there would be a demand for a range of house-types. So, it makes sense that when a single phase of the development is launched, ideally the number and type of units for sale would match the expected demand. Below is how that demand can be profiled and a layout where the house-types are more desegregated.

For a small town where the total demand in a year is 200 units, it is likelier that a phase where there is a desegregated mix of low-cost, low medium, medium and high-end houses will sell better than one where there are only 200 units of say medium cost houses. In the latter situation, people who want high-end houses or low-medium cost houses must be turned away with an invitation to “come back later” as a consolation. It is likely that these potential customers will go to another developer.

The developer did tke note of my arguments and now the layout at Taman Nuri in Durian Tunggal, Melaka is more like the plan below:

In segregated layout situation, for the developer to be able to offer a wider range of options, she must build all around the site, including the infrastructure that must be extended to each section of houses. This option would mean more roads, drains, pipes and cables to be built to serve the house-types which are scattered all over, and would be an expensive and unwise choice to adopt.