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Chapter 4: The Tectonic Expression

4.0 Introduction

4.1 Malay Cultural Influence


Wooi often cites his childhood days in Tanah Merah, Pendang as the trigger to
his affinity for the well-made. Living in the Malay kampong has not only shown
him how spaces can be stitched together but also taught him the significance of
detailing with meaning, when informed by culture and lifestyle. As such, Wooi
strives to reflect the nuances of the Malay vernacular within his design
approaches. He uses various formal and material joints evoked by his
childhood memories in order to achieve features that he most attributes to the
Malay vernacular: locally available materials, natural lighting and passive
ventilation.

His home, the Wooi Residence, is his tribute to the architecture of the
traditional Malay house. As a test bed of ideas (personal communication,
2017), Wooi Residence is the most detail-rich work of Woois, proving useful as
a point of departure for his future construction innovations. The construction of
Wooi Residence begins with the laying of the tiang seri (principal post),
representing Woois appreciation for the influences of the Malay culture and
traditions on architecture. Chengal is used for the tiang seri, not only for its
structural strength and ability to withstand harsh weathers but also for its
position in the hierarchy of timber used in traditional Malay construction.
Figure 1: Tiang Seri in Wooi Residence

From the tiang seri, a vaulted timber assembly whose curves are derived from
the curved contours of the site, extends radially outward to support the main
curved roof over the house. As the curve is irregular, each piece of timber truss
is of differing lengths. Woois affinity for the well-made is further depicted in the
juncture between the truss and other architectural elements in the house. For
instance, trusses are aligned to coincide precisely with timber frames of
windows or columns that make up handrails below.

Figure 2: Exposed roof trusses that fan out from the tiang seri in Wooi Residence
Wooi also draws inspiration from the stitching of spaces in a traditional Malay
house. In Wooi Residence, Wooi designs a selang, a transit point for users
between the various spaces of each floor. Traditionally, the selang functions as
an open linking space between two portions of the Malay house, providing
ample ventilation and lighting into living spaces. Wooi uses the selang within
Wooi Residence as a formal joint to mediate between spaces of different
privacy levels.

(diagram of selang in Wooi Residence)

In his later project House 9, the idea of the selang has been reiterated in the
form of an internal street that mediates the circulation from the public entrance
to the private sanctuary within the home. This atrium-like street runs diagonally
through the house, formally linking the street to other spaces within the house
both physically, leading to the living room and dining room, as well as visually,
with the bedrooms and the balconies overhead.

(diagram of selang in House 9)

Other elements from the Malay traditional house that inspires Woois tectonic
expression is the anjung. Traditionally, an anjung functions as a seating area for
guests and the family, with seats being an architectural element built into the
house. Wooi Residence incorporates an anjung in the family area. Here, the seat
has been designed to be built in as part of the house with openings at the base
of the seats, allowing ventilation into the house.

Figure 3: Detail of timber seat and air gap above family area
The anjung is also a recurring detail in Woois House 9. In an attempt to
humanize space, Wooi designs seats that are part of the brick columns on the
ground floor as well as part of the railing of the first floor. His reasoning is that
people easily form attachment and meaning associated with a favourite seat and
rarely from a favourite column or handrail. This contemporary variation of an
anjung effectively creates pocket spaces along what is normally circulation
routes.

Figure 4: Built-in seats in House 9

Wooi strives to achieve natural ventilation in all his projects, a notion inspired
by the design of the traditional Malay house. In Wooi Residence, Wooi achieves
cross ventilation by designing air gaps along the topmost point of the house
where the glass walls of the family area meet the roof. This, coupled with the
high ceiling, ensures a constant exchange of air in the family area, which flows
to the rest of the house due to the use of permeable timber screens as openings
along the faade instead of solid walls.
Figure 5: Air gap between wall and roof, Wooi Residence

(a)

Figure 6: Diagrammatic plan of lower ground floor showing cross ventilation

Wooi draws inspiration from both the tangible and intangible aspects of the
traditional Malay vernacular. From the reinterpretation of spaces in the Malay
house, to design principles and material joints, Wooi strives to create authentic
architecture that reflects a sense of place that is informed by the locality and
climate in which his designs are situated.

4.2 Construction Innovations


Although Wooi draws inspiration from the well-made qualities of the traditional
Malay vernacular, he also believes in constant evolution through
experimentation. Details from his earlier projects are often reengineered and
tailored to different contexts. Wooi practices close communication between
himself, the engineers as well as the builder. In both Wooi Residence and Ting
Residence, Wooi demonstrates the potential of gleaning ideas off the builder
and engineers, resulting in construction innovations that would otherwise be
difficult to attain by the architect alone.

In Wooi Residence, Wooi attempts to maintain an openness in the spatial


planning. In order to achieve this openness, Wooi worked closely with structural
engineers in designing beams that have minimal depth and arranged at short-
span, regular intervals in order to minimize columns on the plan to maintain a
space that is visually permeable from one end of the house to the other. It also
enhances the curved nature of the house as each beam is of varying lengths and
orientations.

Figure 7: Concrete beams over living room of Wooi Residence


Figure 8: Concrete beams over entertainment area of Wooi Residence

This practice of designing in tandem with engineers is seen recurring in his


later projects. In Ting Residence, Wooi also works closely with structural
engineers in order to maintain the intended design language of verticality and
openness. Here, steel columns are arranged in clusters of slimmer columns that
reiterates the vertical motifs of the timber screens, visually blending into the
space and maintaining the openness of the sapce. These tall steel tubes also
represents a reflection of the vertical trees on the outside, as the house is
surrounded by nature. Beams are also designed to imitate the curves of the
design, blending seamlessly into walls without visually overpowering spaces.

Figure 9: Cluster of steel columns in Ting Residence


In House 9, this similar notion of openness is reiterated in the design of the
internal street. Instead of a single structural system, Wooi, with the input of
structural engineers, designs a mixed system of concrete columns coupled with
steel columns that flank the double volume internal street. The house employs a
flat slab system throughout where the sheer load of the concrete slab is
concentrated at the concrete columns without the usage of beams. Brick
columns in House 9 is a combination of conventional concrete columns with
bricks as a permanent formwork to clad the columns, creating a unified
language of brickwork throughout the house. In line with Woois philosophy of
sourcing for local materials, the bricks in House 9 are obtained from a local
kiln, 45 minutes from the site.

Figure 10: Brick as walls and columns in House 9

Steel is used judiciously with steel columns and beams supporting the bridges
suspended over the internal street as low beam depths are possible and
therefore allow for unobstructed views through the street. This material joint
between concrete, brick and steel, coupled with a knowledge of construction
systems, achieves Woois design intention of transparency.
Figure 11: Flat slab system combined with steel frame

In Ting Residence, Woois work with structural engineers resulted in the design
of a curved roof that envelopes the entire design, generated by the curvaceous
nature of the site. He employs zinc titanium in the curved construction of the
roofs due to the materials great tensile strength, ensuring that it is able to be
bent into the organic curve required by the design. In addition, zinc titanium
high resistance to corrosion makes it durable and weatherable for longer.
Exposure to the elements allows it to develop a self-protecting surface layer that
gives a pleasant grey slate as it naturally ages.
Figure 12: Aerial view of Zinc Titanium roof of Ting Residence

The dramatic curve of the site is not only reflected externally on the form of the
roof but also internally through Woois application of detailing. A steel skeletal
structure is first used to determine the overall shape of the curve. As the curve
is irregular, it required individually designed trusses where each truss if
different from the next. Wooi himself undertook the design of the trusses,
liaising closely with the structural engineer in order to create a curved roof that
is dynamic in its flow. The timber panels used for the ceiling here is made of
yellow balau.
Figure 13: Yellow balau curved ceiling in Ting Residence

Woois experimentation with innovative details can only be made possible when
working closely with the builder. His understanding of material attributes as
well as its standard measurements is construction knowledge gleaned from
interacting with builders. In Wooi Residence, his innovative use of yellow balau
and chengal strips in its standard measurement results in not only permeable
timber screens but also custom designed timber doors. On the lower ground
floor, doors use durable yellow balau strips mounted on a chengal frame with
45 indents, as they are constantly exposed to the elements such as rain and
sunshine.
Figure 14: Entertainment area on lower ground floor with detail of timber louvered door

The front gate and fences around the Wooi Residence also applies a similar
detail, allowing air flow into the property. A chengal main frame is located
behind the yellow balau strips, holding them together and allowing for a
seamless appearance of timber strips on the outside. Wooi states that the
timber in his designs avoids custom measurements or ukuran kasar in the local
dialect. Materials that are kasar require a higher cost. Yellow balau strips use a
standard dimension of 1 x 2 to minimize customization and reduce cost.

Figure 15: Wooi Residence - front gate and fencing of timber strips
(b)

Figure 16: Diagrammatic plan of ground floor showing cross ventilation

Detail (b) (see Figure 16) is an assembly of chengal strip screens, ensuring that
each space in the house is naturally ventilated. This particular detail is seen in
the material joint between the staircase and the wall. Chengal is used to
ensure structural strength in the staircase. A steel bolt connects the chengal
strips together, forming the tread of the stair. The stairs are then attached to
the 1 x 2 timber screen via a birds mouth joint, which is enforced with a steel
rod that runs through the entire width of the screen. The dimensions of the
staircase and screen is informed by the standard size that the timber is
available in to reduce customization and cost.

Figure 17: Detail of staircase and timber screen


(d)

(e)

(c)

Figure 18: Diagrammatic plan of first floor showing cross ventilation

At the study area (d) (see Figure 18), Wooi applies a vertical variation of detail
(a) (see Figure 3) in place of conventional metal grilles, which allows natural
light and ventilation into the space. Here, yellow balau and chengal is used due
to its durability against weather. The standard dimensions of 1 x 2 is used for
the yellow balau strips. Sliding glass windows are paired with these vertical
louvres in order to prevent rainwater from entering the house.

Figure 19: Detail of vertical louvres at study area

Constraints in material dimensions does not limit Woois experimentation,


resulting in various articulations of a single detail. Wooi applies an iteration of
these vertical timber screens in his later project, Ting Residence (2010). Here,
the detail has been reengineered, allowing it to span not just from floor to
ceiling but across the entire faade of Ting Residence. These vertical timber
strips span from the lower ground level to the eaves of the roof surround the
windows of the house, acting as screens that filter the entry of sunlight and heat
into the house.

Figure 20: Diagrammatic plan of ground floor showing location of timber screen

Figure 21: Timber screens surrounding the gallery and living room of Ting Residence
When windows are opened, cross ventilation can occur as the permeable timber
screens all around the house allows a free flowing of air through the house.
These timber screens are found enveloping the entire faade of the main
dwelling floors, affording its residents privacy whilst not excluding light and air
passage. As with Wooi Residence, Ting Residence utilizes 1 x 2 chengal strips
in the assembly of the timber screen as these are the most commonly available
dimensions, reducing material wastage and additional cost.

Figure 22: Diagrammatic plan of first floor showing location of timber screen
Figure 23: External view of timber screens

Woois construction innovation are reflected in both large details such as the
roof of Ting Residence, to even the most minute of details, such as the custom
designed doors of Wooi Residence. The doors apply a mixture of local timbers:
meranti, yellow balau, resak and chengal. The variety of timber used allows
Wooi to discover attributes and joinery techniques of the different materials that
he later applies into his future projects. Most, if not all, of the doors in his house
are frameless, allowing for an effect of infinity and openness when the doors are
opened. Hinges are either bolted directly to the brick walls or the pivot point of
the door is bolted to a timber strip which is then connected to the floor and
ceiling.
Figure 24: Various doors in Wooi Residence

Figure 25: Detail of frameless door with hinge embedded into brick wall

In all his projects, Wooi constantly innovates construction techniques in order to


create architecture that is specific to topos and typos. He recognizes that
construction innovations can only be achieved through developing a close
working relationship with both engineers and builders. Only when all parties
work in tandem can the assemblage of joints be materialized and the design
achieved.
4.3 Spatial Experience
Wooi is critical in his use of joints and details as they each evoke certain
spatial qualities. In Wooi Residence, Wooi experiments with various ways to
achieve spatial qualities and experiences that will inform his later works. Unlike
the conventional walls of plaster and paint that is common within Malaysian
houses, bricks are used as the main material for walls in Wooi Residence to
reiterate Woois affinity for well-made details. The bricks are cut to measure
and laid as load-bearing walls. Walls are left unadorned by plaster and paint,
allowing the variations in the natural hues of the bricks to be showcased.
Irregularities in the size of bricks are balanced out with thick layers of mortar
upon laying.

Figure 26: Brick forming load-bearing walls and columns in Wooi Residence
Figure 27: Thick layers of mortar laid between bricks to eliminate irregularities

In the master bedroom of Wooi Residence, Wooi designs an ode to nature in the
form of a vaulted timber ceiling takes on the shape of a leaf with trusses
fanning out to resemble the veins of a leaf. Each truss of the master bedroom
ceiling carefully aligns and connects with the timber frames of the clerestory
windows below. The windows allow ample natural light to enter the bedroom
during the daytime. The orientation of the master bedroom ensures that full
length windows are not exposed to direct sunlight during the day, controlling
heat gain in the space.

Figure 28: Leaf-shapes ceiling over master bedroom


Figure 29: Clerestory windows of master bedroom

In the master bath of Wooi Residence, Wooi teases the notion of privacy by
enveloping the master bath in a variation of a recurring detail, the vertical
timber screen. The timber screen forms both the walls and a portion of the
ceiling. This allows natural light to flood the entire space, creating an openness
that is not usually associated with bathrooms.

Figure 30: Vertical louvres of master bath


Woois use of joints is often used to narrate a journey through spaces. In the
design of Ting Residence, the contoured site posed an initial challenge for Wooi,
where the road level is 15 metres below the back boundary and 11 metres from
the first buildable level (McGillick, 2013). In order to mediate this huge
difference in levels, Wooi crafts an experiential journey from the access level on
the lower ground to the main dwelling space above with a dramatic arrival
sequence in the form of a spiral staircase as a formal joint. Here, Wooi utilizes
various materials to form spatial territories. The use of cold concrete at the
lower levels, where the entrances are located, later transforms into the intimate
warmth of timber on the upper levels of the house narrates the arrival as one
journeys into the house. A spiral staircase of 56 steps leads up through a
narrow stairwell to the naturally lit upper ground floor.

Figure 31: Curved concrete staircase leading up from entrance of Ting Residence

The spiral concrete staircase is itself a slender construction, protruding out of


the exposed concrete walls, with equally slender steel hand-railings, that leads
visitors on a gripping journey through rough concrete beginnings on delicate
steps up towards the signature exposed timber ceiling.
Figure 32: Detail of slender concrete staircase with steel railing

In Ting Residence, the curved and contoured nature of the site inspires the
unique architectural responses within the project. For instance, Wooi designed
the two curves of the house to imitate the existing curves on the site. This main
curve houses the main living spaces whilst the secondary curve grows out of the
main wing, housing the main point of entry to the house. The interior spaces
reiterate these external curves with Woois use of curved walls to extend the
curvaceous nature of the site into the house, gradually revealing spaces as one
journeys through the house.

Figure 33: Curved walls imitate the existing site in Ting House

The elevation of the contoured site presents many opportunities for view-
framing. Wooi believes in framing and limiting views in order to enhance the
effect of a vista. Walls facing the deck are of full height glass with sliding doors,
allowing unlimited access to the framed views outside. This glass wall extends
throughout the ground floor, coupled with vertical timber screens, affording not
only views but natural light and ventilation to the house.

Figure 34: Full height glass walls facing the outdoor deck

In Ting Residence, Woois design approach attempts mediate the unusual nature
of the site and the dwelling spaces within the house. A series of outdoor decks
serve as a formal joint between the interior dwelling spaces and the exterior
views. The orientation and location of the outdoor decks limit the view towards
the east and west, enhancing the views towards the north.

Figure 35: Outdoor decks to limit views in Ting Residence


The outdoor decks also serve as formal joints to mitigate between the different
levels in Ting Residence. The first deck, located on the lower ground floor,
serves as a buffer space between the more public living room and the private
spa area. The second deck, located on the ground floor, connects the indoor
dwelling spaces with the larger deck and the spa area below. These decks
mitigate privacy levels from the main wing of the house to the outdoor spaces.

Figure 36: Outdoor decks as formal joints in Ting Residence

Woois technique of narrating a journey in Ting Residence is reiterated in House


9 where the journey is narrated through the use of formal joints to highlight
the procession through the site. The approach is enhanced by the upward slope
of the driveway and pedestrian walkway towards the entrance of the house.
Within the compound of the house, an outside forecourt buffers between the
privacy of the inside sanctuary and outside world. The forecourt then spills into
the internal street beyond, the heart of House 9.
Figure 37: Diagrammatic plan of ground floor of House 9 highlighting forecourt and internal
street

The topos of the site reflects residences that are fully built-up in a gated-
community. In the design of House 9, Wooi purposefully turns its back on its
surroundings and internalizes the architectural experiences. The front faade
comprises of an understated concrete wall that contrasts with the complex brick
interior within. This internalization is also reflected in the design of the main
space of the house, an internal street that runs diagonally through the house,
drawing visitors into the protected sanctuary within. In the atrium-like internal
street, one experiences an explosion of spaces, formally linking the street to
other spaces within the house both physically, leading to the living room and
dining room, as well as visually, with the bedrooms and the balconies overhead.

Woois notion of internalizing House 9 is reflected in balconies of the various


bedrooms overlooking either the internal street or internal courtyards, framing
internal views rather than the conventional external views. Woois use of
internal balconies as formal joints visually connects the upper floors with the
lower public domain below.

Figure 38: Diagrammatic floor plan of the first floor highlighting internal balconies

House 9 utilizes a series of bridges as formal joints between the various layers
of privacy of the house. In figure XX, on the first floor, the journey picks up from
the semi-public staircase landing where bridge (a) is applied as a formal joint
between the two wings of the house. The bridge also visually connects the
upper floor with the public internal street below. Moving further into the upper
floor, bridge (b) and (c) also function as a formal joints linking the semi-public
family area with a private bedroom and semi-private music area.
bedroom music
area

(b)
(c)
family
area

(a)

staircase
landing

Figure 39: Diagrammatic plan of first floor highlighting connecting bridges

Figure 40: Bridge (a), (b), and (c) in House 9


In Wooi Residence, Ting Residence and House 9, Woois careful assembly of
joints is highly informed by a pre-determined design concept. Each joint is
then situated to articulate a desired spatial experience or quality that reflects
the design concept. There is a refinement in the way details are assembled,
reflecting an evolution of Woois design process with every new project.