Friday, February 29, 2008

Mexico Loves the Grid

This country has seen a lot of housing development in the last decade or so. The people have become more prosperous and housing loans have become easier to get. New townships have sprung up. The houses are to a certain extent similar to those in Malaysia, halfway around the world. But there grid layouts are striking in scale.

Yann Arthus Bertrand included this in his book “Earth From Above; 366 Days”:

I picked up these images of Mexico City from “Territoire des Sens” blog. A bit better...

But look at Nezahualcoyotl. The Deputy Dog blog calls it “The Frightening Grid”.

There is a little bit of 'grid versus cul-de-sac' battle in the US. I find the entrenched ideological positions a bit hard to understand. A more important issue is monotony and scale. Both cul-de-sac and grid layouts fail when they are blown up to an inhumane extent.

But there does seem to be a lot of towns built to the iron grid in Mexico. Does anyone know why?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bali House

I was reading the ‘Impiana’ magazine (Sept. 2005 edition) when I saw a picture of a Bali house. I’ve never been visiting Bali before, and that was the first time I saw the Balinese architecture. In this magazine, it shows a modern Bali house design which has been blended with some other architecture style. As I read through the article, the urgency to know more about this house has driven me to look for more information on the internet.

The basic concept about Bali architecture is really interesting. They believe that the temple must face the north and east corners as they considered these two areas as holy and sacred spaces. The west and south are the lowest corners for architecture, so mostly houses face these sides (

As I browse through the internet, I found this article ( which explains in detail about the Bali House design:-

Here is the description of each number from the picture above:

  1. Family Temple.
    The house temple called Sanggah or Merajan, is the place to worship the ancestor and the Hyang Guru. Below is the picture of Sanggah (
  2. Sleeping Pavilion.
    This building usually a large eight-post structure on a high base. A terrace usually attached for receiving guests at family ceremony.
  3. West Pavilion
    The west pavilion or Bale dauh, is the workhouse of the compound. Serving the variety of purposes, from gathering place to sleeping quarters. Below is an example of a common Bale Dauh (
  4. Ceremonial Pavilion
    The east pavilion, or bale dangin is the ceremonial pavilion. The place is where the life rites and death rituals occur.
  5. Sakenam
    The guest pavilion for relatives and children varies in size and number according to the needs.
  6. Granary
    Or the lumbung or jineng is the storage area for rice.
  7. Kitchen
    Or paon is in the south because of the association with Brahma (the god of fire) whose place in the south.
  8. Protective Wall
    Or aling-aling, most behind the gates to deflect the malign influences. The gate is called angkul-angkul. You can see a small wall called aling-aling in the picture below (

There is also an article about the history of the Bali House, which you can read here: This article mainly discuss about the Hinduism influence in Balinese architecture.

It is interesting to learn that Bali house actually consists of a few buildings but operate as a single entity. It is like having a private town in your own house. I might consider this design as my dream house in the future.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Jungle Trekking in Kuala Lumpur

Thank god for the steep hilly areas:land much too steep for rubber or oil-palm plantations, or construction. One of the great things about my home-city is how near it is to waterfalls and jungle treks.

Taman Cuepacs is less than an hour from the city-centre. The housing development there date from the 1970's is rather non-descript: terrace-houses and more terrace houses with some terrace shop-houses for relief. Then there is an imposing high-rise development at a hill-top with some dreamy name like "Venice Hills" or something.

But it is also at the foot of a scrap of hilly forest reserve. The jungle trail here is clearly marked. From a clearing next to a few rows of houses right next to the forest, you first climb up and down a small hill to a little stream. This is stage 1. For Level 2, it gets steep for a good 30 to 45 minute climb. The rest is easier, but I've never gone on past Stage 3. When I brought my family along for a trek it was a bit difficult for the two little girls, age 9 and 10. This is us resting after the steep ascent. Notice that we're not smiling.

But the girls enjoyed it better when we we got back down to the little stream.

Nature-loving city folks have been trekking through these forests for quite a while. Some of them had got together keeping the trails clean, placing signposts on them, put up simple toilets and changing room at a clearing where trekkers can park.

But sometimes, citizen self-organization and people enjoying nature is too much for officialdom. The State Forest Department has recently spent good tax-payers money to put up fence around where trekkers usually start their walks and put up a signboard threatening "3 years jail or RM10,000 (USD 3,000) fine, or both" for tresspassing!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Small Town Development in Maran #2

More on the Mosaic layout in Maran






















Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thermal Comfort #3

Most people would describe Malaysia as a hot country. But it's not that hot really!

Year round temperatures are almost always less than 32 degrees Celsius in the daytime and go down to below 28 degrees at night. That’s rather moderate when compared to summer temperatures of over 40 degrees in continental temperate climates. And bears no comparison to desert climes.

But what is true is that is that almost all houses overheat. Data logs of temperatures in typical houses show that for most of the time it is warmer inside than outside!

What Peter pointed out in the last episode when people here suffer from heat stress, they shouldn’t blame the weather. They should instead blame the defective design of their homes!

Here’s the third episode:

Movie at

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Circular Communities

I was surprised by a HUGE spike in visitors the last two days. It was thanks to the blog "Deputy Dog" , which did a fantastic post on circular communities viewed from the air. It cited my Round vs Rectangular Houses post I wrote earlier this year.

So thanks Deputy Dog!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thermal Comfort #2

When Mohd. Peter Davis first settled in Malaysia, he stayed in a traditional kampong house. But when he built his first “Thermal Comfort” home, it looked more like something from Queensland in Australia. And it worked! He calculated that over 25 years he had saved over RM280,000 (USD80,000), which was the construction cost of the house way back in the 1980's.

Still it was rather extravagant. Themain house was on the upper floor and it had verandahs all the way around which doubled the floor-plan area. This was a detached house: not an alternative to the terrace house, which is the most common housetype in the country.

So he studied the terrace houses to see what was wrong with them…

Movie at

Monday, February 18, 2008

Civets in the Attic

Since many years now, we have occasionally sighted what looked like big cats prowling outside our home in the night. At one time we heard what sounded like a cat-fight on the roof, then suddenly a piece of the ceiling got dislodged what looked like a big cat almost fell down. It was able to hang on to the ceiling joists and scampered away.

The civet must have been about from about 2’ long (600mm) excluding the tail, and it was black like this photo from

The animals are civets! The fox-like civet, or “musang” in Malay, is quite common in rural kampongs. They are regarded as pests, preying on chickens. Over the years, as more and more rural folk moved to towns, so have the civets. Now they’ve come to Kuala Lumpur, and for a while, they made my attic their home!

Civets, like humans are omnivorous. There are not many chickens in our neighbourhood, but lots of fruit trees. There are also the squirrel-like “tupai”. Perhaps food is easier to find here compared to the jungle or kampong!

About a month ago we had another close encounter. We saw 4 or 5 pups wondering around in the front porch, then suddenly the mother climbed down a porch column and took hold of her pups and brought them away to a more secluded part of the garden.

The pups looked like this photo from

A couple of weeks ago we were able to see these nocturnal animals climbing down the mango tree and walking along the fence outside my bedroom window. Bananas left outside in the evening disappeared the next day.

But we haven’t seen them since. This morning the squirrels (“tupai”) came back. Looks like for now it’s safe again for them.

My post about the proliferation of the “tupai” in the city touched on the prospect of having pocket parks with trees that bear fruits and berries in front of every house opening up the possibility of introducing some species of wildlife to the neighbourhood. I wrote: “Get the food-chain set up, perhaps artificially augmented, then more animals can happily live (in the city)”.

Is there also a place for the civet?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A small town development in Maran

Maran is a small town on the old trunk road from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan on the east coast of peninsula Malaysia. Using the new expressway, its about two and a half hours from KL, and 45 minutes from Kuantan. It’s the district administrative centre for the district which bears the same name. I was very enthusiastic about this project because it was an opportunity to plan a new neighbourhood with an urban character. This proposal is for the development of of 40 acres of land just adjacent to the existing town. The houses are right next to shops and within walking distance of offices and schools.

Movie of Small Town Development

I’ve adopted a “Mosaic” layout - this uses a tessellation pattern based on the rectangle rather than the hexagon. Tessellation planning here produces the normal quadruplex (quarter-detached) and also the “Corner Quarter-Detached House”. Some of the quadruplexes are then turned into “Garden Townhouses”.

The Mosaic tessellation

The density is quite high: nearly 20 units per acre compared to the normal 12 to 14 units per acre for normal terrace houses. This high density was achieved by introducing the “Garden Townhouse” building type.

Movie of Garden Townhouse

The single-storey terrace house had been the most common building type for developers building in rural small towns. But as the cost of building land has escalated, this type of houses have become more expensive and has left the demand for houses priced less than RM100,000 largely unmet. However, potential housebuyers here, unlike those in urban areas, are not quite ready to accept living in apartments. This is where the “garden townhouse” comes in; an apartment on the first floor sits on another one on the ground floor, but they both have their own access, car porch and little garden. I would expect them to be priced about 10% less than single storey terrace houses.

These townhouses are mixed in with quadruplex houses or, as I call them here – “Quarter-detached Houses”. In particular, have a look at the “corner quadruplex”: four units are linked together , but they are each accessed from different cu-de-sacs. Approaching one of these houses, it looks like a detached houses, because you can’t see any of its neighbours.

Movie of Corner Quadruplex

The planning and design of this new neighbourhood promotes high-density, mixes house-types, affordability categories, and commercial and residential land-use. But its not “New Urbanism” . I rather like like cul-de-sacs: they can provide a sense of privacy, community and security for people living right next to ‘downtown’. New-urbanists instintively hate them! But I think what they really hate are the long, low-density, monotonous dead-ends that are quite common in their suburbs.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Thermal Comfort Housing for the Humid Tropics #1

In 1984 a molecular biologist, Peter Davis, decided to leave Australia and follow his wife back to her homeland in Malaysia. It must have been a difficult decision. Moving to a new country and culture must have entailed a big change in lifestyle, and personal sacrifices.

But there was one thing about Malaysia that made it particularly difficult: its hot and humid climate. Peter was especially intolerant of heat. So for over 20 years, Peter has made the problem thermal comfort housing into a personal crusade. I reckon that his discomfort was our gain.

Two years ago he came out with the book “Thermal Comfort Honeycomb Housing”, ( I was co- author) which outlined a cheap and energy-efficient solution to the problem.
We are now working together to produce 5 three-minute videos to tell his story. This is the first instalment.

Movie atYouTube

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Living in Kuala Lumpur

Living in the city, you can get easily under people’s noses...

Evening view of the Petronas Twin Towers. Eighty-eight stories high, it is one of the tallest buildings in the world

My wife and I was walking back to our car at the basement of the Petronas Twin Towers. I was absent-mindedly reading some brochures about mobile broadband when Nooreha asked,“have you got the keys?”

I said no, she said yes. As I went to the passenger side of the brown Perodua MyVi , I heard the doors click to unlock.

Perodua MyVi

“There, you see, the car keys are with you!” I opened the door, bent down to move aside a magazine from the seat, then sat down.

“Hello!… Excuse me!” said someone who had come in at the drivers seat. I looked up from the brochures and saw a Chinese lady who was definitely not my wife. Stumped, I could only blurt out: “Hey! Where’s my wife?”

Nooreha in fact was standing in front of the car, looking back at me. I made a quick exit, too embarassed to even say sorry. Her car, in fact, was two rows ahead. We were laughing out loud the next half an hour.

“Keep up your absent-minded ways and one day you’ll get a slap on your face” , my wife warned me.

About that she is right. (But it also turned out she had the keys...)