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New home design on wooded site blurs the lines between indoors and outdoors

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The raw, fair-face concrete wall experienced on the approach to this home belies the openness and transparency found on the other side of the home

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Your home is your castle – or at least that’s how many homes are designed, with four solid walls to protect inhabitants from the ‘hostile’ environment outside. But that’s not the approach taken by architect Chan Chin Yeow for this award-winning home.

Instead, Chan refers to the house as a bird cage house design, a term first used to describe a Miami home designed by architect Igor B. Polevitzky back in 1951.

“In a bird cage house, the envelope between the inside and outside is barely distinguishable,” says Chan.

So it’s an apt description for the house he designed for an 8000m2 virgin jungle site about 40km north of Kuala Lumpur.

“There were over 100 trees on the site, which also had a 20m drop across it. But by using an existing natural flat platform, we were able to construct the house without destroying any terrain, and losing only two of the trees.”


The open nature of the house stems from the way Chan developed its structure as a C-shaped box, which presents as a solid, raw concrete wall on the street side.

There is no front door as such on this facade, but a smaller concrete box, wide concrete steps and a void create an informal entrance into the home.

Behind the concrete wall is a second wall – this one in brick – and the space between these two walls forms the main circulation corridors for the home’s ground and first floors, and the roof garden.

“It’s a transition space,” says Chan. “You don’t feel as if you’re inside or out. You can’t clearly see the boundaries of the house.”

On the other side of the brick wall are the living spaces, with much more transparency and openness on the back facade.

“This facade fits around existing trees and has a sophisticated palette of finishes – a mixture of concrete, glass, clay brick wall and bamboo railing.”

The fair-face concrete was cast on site and used for the main building components such as the facade wall, roof, columns and beams, while clay bricks were used for internal dividing walls.

“All these surfaces were left raw, rather than plastered, so they require less maintenance and will have a longer life.”

The owner occupies half of the ground floor, while the rest of the space is given over to four guest rooms on the first floor and shared facilities such as the ground floor kitchen enclosed in a glass box. Both floors include outdoor, multi-functional gathering spaces.

“We tried to break away from the usual concept of how people perceive a house,” says Chan. “We wanted to reconfigure the internal spaces so there would be enough flexibility to blend with the exterior.”

First published date: 14 May 2018

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Credit List

Architect Chan Chin Yeow, CY Chan Architect
Builder Zhen Ye Projects
Cladding Fair faced concrete panels
Roofing Reinforced concrete roof, cast in-situ
Interior walls Fair faced concrete panels; bare clay brick
Flooring Cement render; laminated timber in bedroom
Awards Trends International Design Awards (TIDA) Homes – Runner-up, TIDA International Home Malaysian Institute of Architects PAM Award 2017 - Single Residential - Gold PAM Award 2017 - Building of the Year