Malaysian Timber in Applications

Wooi Residence, Selangor, Malaysia

The Wooi Residence is situated on a hilltop residential area in Shah Alam. It was conceptualized as an energy-efficient, eco-friendly home-cum-office.

One can see many influences in this house: the work of Australian Sydney School ‘nut and berries style’ architects such as Ken Woolley; Sigurd Lewerentz’s signature eco-brickworks; and a penchant for timber detailing by architects such as Jimmy Lim, Peter Zumthor and Richard Leplastrier. And one certainly cannot help but be reminded of Zumthor’s Saint Benedict’s Chapel, whose leaf-shaped roof and its detailing inspired part of the design for the Wooi Residence. While Zumthor’s is a one-storey chapel, the Wooi Residence’s “leaf” contains an office in the basement, formal dining on the ground level, and the master bedroom on the first.

House owner and principal of Wooi Architects, Wooi Lok Kuang built the house as a showcase for energy-efficient design. The general concept is to blend its design to nature and to keep it as environmentally friendly and energy-efficient as possible. Wooi studied under renowned Australian architects Bruce Rickard and Richard Leplastrier. Rickard taught him the natural warmth that timber gives, and his philosophy helped shape Wooi’s thinking on the importance of being sympathetic to nature in designing the built-form to achieve a sense of balance in a living space. Leplastrier, whose love for wood began in his childhood when his father used to build boats, believes that nature matters in the way houses are designed.

The brickwork is reminiscent of Sigurd Lewerentz’s Church of St Mark. Lewerentz was known to revere the wholeness of the bricks so much so that he would not cut the bricks at all! For the Wooi Residence, however, the bricks were cut to measure and laid to make up load-bearing walls.

The architectural delight the house offers seems never-ending as one’s eyes move from one interesting detail to another. Many of the building components are custom-made. For example, the doors are made of 1” x 2″ timber strips put together for different effects. The windows come in many forms: some are totally frameless and set into the brick walls while others are timber- or aluminium-framed, with unconventional divisions and edge details.

The round-shaped study is built on timber flooring cantilevered against brick load-bearing pillars. This is the first structure that greets guests as they enter the front gate. The installation of timber strips instead of brick or concrete walls allows for free flow of air into and around the house. This has greatly reduced the owner’s dependence on air-conditioning. The timber slats also afford a degree of privacy within the study.

The Wooi Residence has many dramatic details. One of them is the master bedroom, where clerestory window lights up a timber ceiling intricately laid to resemble the veins of a leaf. The idea of a leaf-shape ceiling in the master bedroom is again an attempt to bring one closer to nature.

Meranti strips were used to make the custom-built doors, Chengal for the stairs, Resak for the front door and Sentang for the flooring. Wooi loves the different grains afforded by these various species and finds timber to be highly versatile for both structural and aesthetic applications.

The built-in joinery items are made of either 1″ x 2″ timber slats or bare medium density fibreboard. Their rawness complements the ruggedness of the unplastered fair-faced brick walls and open-trussed ceilings. None of the interior walls and ceiling surfaces are painted or given any decorative finishes except for the bathroom walls, which are tiled.

The Tiang Seri or central post is another distinctive detail of the Wooi Residence. An age-old house-building custom, the Tiang Seri was the first structural post to be erected for the construction of a traditional Malay house. Wooi witnessed the raising of the Tiang Seri, deemed an auspicious occasion, a few times while growing up in the northern Malaysian state of Kedah. The different living spaces of the house would be designed and built in reference to the Tiang Seri, the home’s core. Wooi used Chengal for his home’s Tiang Seri, and he placed it outside the house to support part of the external roof bearing trusses that are put together to resemble a leaf.

In 2004, the Wooi Residence was awarded the Malaysian Institute of Architects’ Award for Excellence in Architecture, the highest accolade by the institute.