Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Terrace Honeycomb Layout; a High-end Proposal in Petaling Jaya

For many years, my friends and I had been promoting cluster houses as a better alternative to terrace houses. In the projects that were procured, we had to show that, the cluster houses were able to yield a higher percentage of saleable land and as many units per acre compared to terrace houses. Yet, the comparisons involved producing two alternatives of equal value. Because cluster houses always had more land and a smaller footprint, the cluster houses would end up having more land but smaller built-up area compared to terrace houses. 

We could see that although land-use efficiency and density of the Honeycomb layout were respectively higher and the same as terrace houses but that the plot ratio – the amount of built-up area compared with the development land area - would always be lower. This wasn’t a problem to us. To compensate we would design efficient corridor free layouts, or add attic floors. 

But where land cost is high, the lower yield on built-up area obtained by cluster houses is a major disadvantage. Lower plot ratio means that the cost of land per square foot of sellable built-up area would be higher. In many urban situations where generous amounts of front and side gardens are unsuitable, the terrace house layout can maximize the saleable built-up area. 


It took a long time to come around to ask this question - we had always had a Honeycomb vs terrace house mentality - but once posed, the answer came almost immediately. 
This is the conceptual drawing of the solution.

As can be seen, the advantages of Honeycomb housing have been achieved:
  • A small number of homes are arranged around cul-de-sac roads like friends sitting around a table
  • All the houses face a communal courtyard in front 
  • Traffic speed and volume in the cul-de sacs is minimized 
The key was producing a spine of terrace houses where the houses faced one direction then the other. You can see this spine running horizontally across the middle of the layout shown above. In this way cul-de-sac courtyards are consecutively created on both sides. 


Back lanes for terrace houses are mandatory in Malaysia. So, they had to be provided in the Honeycomb terrace house layout. Due to this, the land-use efficiency – expressed as sellable land as a percentage of total development land - would not be as high as the cluster layout, though better than conventional rows of terrace houses. On the other hand, the density achieved will be higher than cluster houses. But because Honeycomb terrace cul-de-sacs would comprise short rows of terrace houses, the total footprint area would be marginally lower than a conventional layout made up of long streets with multiple rows of terrace houses.

Still, the Honeycomb terrace house back lanes can be put to better use. Planning authorities have, over the years, been increasing the minimum width of back lanes, from 5’ to 10’ to 15’, and now it is 20’. At that width, cars can now traverse the back lanes and we can use them for access to car parks for residents placed at the rear of the houses. 

This has the advantage of allowing the front yard to become a garden and freeing the front streets from all cars except for service vehicles and visitors’ cars. With the much reduced car traffic and the unfenced front gardens, the cul-de-sac street is better able to serve as an arena for social interaction and children’s outdoor play.


There is a small enclave of government quarters in an old part of Petaling Jaya which is ripe for redevelopment. However, it is located in a well-established neighbourhood next to a forest reserve which has staunchly defended against development as a vital green for the Klang valley. Despite its strategic location, anything other than low-rise, low density residential use would be out of the question. 

A well connected entrepreneur requested my firm to produce a preliminary design to put forward to the government; the case for the redevelopment of the dilapidated quarters is rather similar the case made for the Nong Chik development in Johor Bahru.

He asked that we design high-end terrace and semi-detached houses priced about RM1,500,000 or more. With only up to 12 units per acre, it was less likely to disturb the local residents and attract objections from them.

Semi-detached houses are laid out along the periphery of this rectangular site. An existing road is widened and adopted as the main entrance with a guardhouse. A club house and neighbourhood green area is placed just off this main entrance. The terrace houses are lined up in the direction of the slope, such that the back lanes can be set at a lower level than the front roads. 

This allows the garage at the rear to be a split level lower than the living room, with the dining, wet and dry-kitchens and bedroom 6 all siting above the garage, half a floor above the living room. The first floor is all on the same level, affording the living room a tall ceiling. On the first floor are four bedrooms with bathrooms ensuite, a family room and a balcony garden. On the second floor is a large master suite which has a roof-top garden.

Having the garage for three cars on the lower ground floor allows the whole of the front yard to become a garden, and freeing the front streets from all cars except for service vehicles and visitors’ cars. With the much reduced car traffic and the unfenced front gardens, the cul-de-sac street is capable of serving as an arena for social interaction and children’s outdoor play, even without a shared garden. 

The front-yard garden, first floor balcony garden and rooftop garden of each house is connected by a spiral staircase that allows access to a gardener without entering the house. It also allows the mistress of the house to walk down from the roof garden all the way down to the front sitting porch.

All the floors from the lower ground garage to the master suite can be accessed via a lift.  
The layout of the semi-detached house follows that of the terrace house, except that one side of the house has openings looking out to a side garden.

Although, this Petaling Jaya project did not take off, another opportunity did present itself. It was also an opportunity to propose a more diverse mix of house-types for a small project in Jasin, Melaka.

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