Malaysian architect's 3-storey home is inspired by traditional Malay houses in Kedah


The living space that greets guests when they first walk onto the ground floor. Photos: The Star/Yap Chee Hong

Growing up in Tanah Merah, Pendang in Kedah has influenced Malaysian architect Wooi Lok Kuang’s work in a big way.

Inspired by traditional Malay houses there, Wooi uses the same design concepts in most of his projects, including his own home.

“Most of these Malay traditional houses have perforations, and I use this similar concept in all of my work,” says Wooi.

With his own home, located in Shah Alam, Selangor, Wooi has incorporated perforated walls instead of just windows to allow lots of air to go through.

Every detail around the three-storey building is about encouraging air to flow through to deal with humidity.

The workspace area on the lower ground floor.The workspace area on the lower ground floor.

Constructed as a display for energy-efficient design, the structure’s overall idea is for it to be environmentally friendly and to merge the architecture into the natural world as much as possible.

Wooi, 62, bought the plot of land where the house sits on back in 1999, right after the economic crisis. He took his time in planning and designing the house that would soon be his family home. It was only in 2002 that construction started, a process which took a total of 16 months to complete.

Looking at it from the outside, most people would think the home is a double-storey house, but due to the land structure, it is actually three storeys, featuring six bedrooms which all come with an ensuite bathroom.

The home boasts a lot of eye-catching features. One of them is the master bedroom, with its leaf-shaped wood ceiling that has been meticulously designed to imitate leaf veins. Wooi is a big fan of using local timber, which is evident throughout the house. He used cengal wood for the stairs, resak for the front door, kempas for the study room flooring, meranti for the bedroom doors and yellow balau for the roof structure, together with resak for the ceiling panelling.

When he was studying in Australia, Wooi learned and picked up a very simple ethos, an ethics in design.

“This ethos basically means we don’t try to have something decorated. What you see is what you get. Nowadays everyone has plaster ceilings with some kind of fancy European design like back in the 18th century.

“Back then I learned that in Australia, they had a thing called ‘honesty in making a building’, which means not covering up. You see the materials as they are,” explains Wooi.

The jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom with lots of natural light and air passing through.The jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom with lots of natural light and air passing through.

This concept runs through his own home as the whole house features exposed concrete ceilings, brick walls, wooden stairs and a terrazzo flooring.

Walking around the house, one would also notice that there isn’t any wall art or wall decor as Wooi wants the focus to be on the natural surroundings and for everyone to connect with nature.

Building a relationship

Wooi’s wife Pamela Choong, 61, played a huge role in conceptualising the home, especially the kitchen area as she enjoys cooking and even does her own food show. Together the couple has three children, two sons and a daughter aged between 26 and 32.

Wooi says he’s glad that though his wife has her ideas, she allows him to have his creative freedom in the architecture instead of imposing any restrictions.

The home only has one kitchen instead of the standard dry and wet kitchens that most houses have. (Right) A breakfast bar in the kitchen with an open concept.The home only has one kitchen instead of the standard dry and wet kitchens that most houses have. (Right) A breakfast bar in the kitchen with an open concept.

Because of its unique design, entering the front door immediately brings you to the ground floor instead of the lower ground floor. Wooi shares that the ground and first floors serve as family areas where else the lower ground floor has a separate function where it welcomes outsiders.

With lots of bamboo shoots planted in the garden area on the lower ground floor, the space is much cooler than the other levels.

“On the lower ground, I have my studio and my wife’s workspace. I teach university students and they often come here to that floor,” says Wooi, adding that his favourite place to spend time in is his studio.

A walkway connecting the kitchen and dining spaces to the living room. The space features huge window panels which bring it lots of natural light.A walkway connecting the kitchen and dining spaces to the living room. The space features huge window panels which bring it lots of natural light.

While the materials of the house are kept simple, the construction of the house did encounter some complications due to the design.

Wooi shares that in any kind of architecture, you will encounter some kind of problem especially if you’re trying something new.

“You won’t see a house like this elsewhere. When you’re trying something new like (creating) the curves in this house, you will definitely encounter a lot of problems, as opposed to building a square (design) which anyone can do,” he shares, adding that having a good architect is important to conceptualise an idea and execute it accordingly.

One significant problem was building the leaf-shaped roof. As they were building it, the roof moved around and they had to hire someone outside to help out on this matter. Wooi says that his biggest investment would definitely be the roof as they used zinc titanium and had to figure out ways to support it.

“The round (base) shape of the roof was what helped solve the problem but it was also what caused the problem,” he chuckles.Wooi says that his house does not have a certain design style and neither does he want to impose a particular style to it.

“Most people would say it’s a tropical style because of how integrated nature is to the architecture but I think the house just adapts to the climate,” he says.

When it comes to design styles, Wooi’s advice is we should always ask ourselves what kind of relationship we want to create with our home and surroundings, and focus on that.

A simple yet sensible piece of advice indeed from a seasoned architect.


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