Thursday, September 28, 2023
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Brunei Town
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Malaysian architect couple crafts modern tropical home and workspace

ANN/THE STAR – Emerging subtly from the surrounding leopard trees and nestled among terracotta brick walls, the structure boasts a distinct appearance with its pitched roof and understated grey facade.

Within the neighbourhood, it’s earned the affectionate nickname “triangle house” due to its unique design. House 8, a creation of architect couple Oscar Tan and Cheryl Quan, reached its completion in December 2018. Situated within the well-established Section 12 neighbourhood of Petaling Jaya, Selangor, it stands as a testament to their architectural prowess.

The original house, estimated to be over 40 years old, was owned by an old couple who wanted to downsize their home.

Tan and Quan had been searching for a new home for a year, and did not expect much from the current house at first when they arranged for a visit.

But that changed completely when they entered the home, which is a generous 36.6 metres (m) in length.

“There had not been much renovation done to the house and we saw its potential. We then saw the courtyard and back lane, and really felt what it was like to live in the 60s and 70s, which was the concept that we wanted to encourage. We immediately fell in love with the house,” recalled Quan.

Being old, the building was not in good condition, so they rebuilt it while largely retaining the original layout. The result is a warm yet contemporary space characterised by terracotta brick walls and a black and neutral-toned interior.

The family area upstairs has plenty of daylight, thanks to overhead skylights and also looks out to the courtyard below. PHOTO: THE STAR
The kitchen and dining area has a bright and spacious feel due to the special space carved out at the side that accommodates skylights and greenery. PHOTO: THE STAR
The front unit of House 8 features a pitched roof and corrugated concrete design. PHOTO: THE STAR

“Even though we redid everything, we maintained the features of the house because we wanted to highlight the functionality of tropical home designs, for example, the open-air courtyard, which promotes cross ventilation and daylighting. In addition, the high ceiling cools down the house in our tropical country,” said Quan.

Indeed, despite the hot weather that day at around 11am, it was very comfortable inside as we toured the space.

“In our setup, we find much beauty in Malaysian and tropical houses. We feel that many people want to maximise space but don’t understand why certain design features are there,” said Tan, who co-founded OTCQ Architects with Quan in 2020.

“That’s why, through our house, we hope to showcase the importance of living with your climate and environment, and co-existing with nature and your surroundings,” Tan emphasised.

As an example, the couple has witnessed birds building nests on their Tristania trees in the courtyard, while squirrels and frogs can also be seen occasionally.


The original design of the house featured a car porch that sloped downwards from the main outer gate to the house entrance. What the couple did was level the area to fit the current corrugated concrete office unit.

The one-and-a-half storey home – the front portion is single-storied while the living space at the back is a double-storey design – is only 6.7m wide but it still exudes a spacious feel despite allocating some space to the sides of the interior to bring in light and greenery.

“One of our design approaches to this house is we offset 0.9m on the left and right (along the courtyard and the kitchen respectively) to accommodate skylights, green landscaping and airflow,” said Quan.

Louvred glass shutters strategically placed throughout the house and glass sliding doors further boost natural ventilation and light penetration.

“Most of our guests have said that they don’t feel that this is a link house, but more like a semi-D or bungalow. So when we try not to maximise the built-up area, actually the space feels extended, and the effect is reversed,” said Quan.

The roof height of the office was also maintained to respect the surrounding neighbourhood aesthetics.

The office building connects to an amphitheatre – which has had its original ceiling removed and fitted with reflective elements to create a voluminous effect – located a few steps below.

The amphitheatre acts as another office area as well as a space for discussions. Timber storage boxes interspersed among the steps serve the dual purpose of offering an aesthetic touch as well as storage solution.

“The idea for the amphitheatre came about because we wanted to have a shared space. We are working in the creative line and Oscar lectures part-time, so we often hold quarterly idea-sharing sessions with students and other creative minds,” said Quan.

“We believe that there are a lot of like-minded people around, and that’s why we wanted to connect with them through these sessions,” added Tan.

Behind the amphitheatre is the open courtyard, home to Tristania trees whose orange-brown bark matches the terracotta brick wall opposite.

“When we redesigned the house, we tried as much as possible to respect the original spirit of the house,” said Tan.

“In the past, most of the houses had inner openings for skylight which many Malaysians have it roofed over to increase space, but that causes the houses to be dark and gloomy inside.

“So when we bought the house, we decided to open it back up,” said Tan.

“Some people might say that when it rains, the corridor will be wet, and leaves will fly in, but we see it as part of the beauty of our house,” added Quan.

“It brings daylight in, so we have to give and take.”


Past the courtyard, a black steel “suspended” staircase creates a strong visual impact, with sunlight creating shadow play on the floor.

Inspired by Nyonya tile patterns, black-and-white tiles at the foot of the stairs and before the kitchen give an edge to the overall vibe.

Upstairs, a floor-to-ceiling steel bookshelf, which also doubles as a space for the TV, forms part of the family area, which looks out to the trees at the courtyard below.

Quan said their house does not really have a living room for guests, adding that a living room is more of a Western idea. “Actually for Asians, our gathering is often the makan space, which is the dining room and kitchen.

“So for our family, the gathering space is the dining area and we have a family area upstairs,” said the mother of two.

Quan’s favourite spot in the house is, unsurprisingly, the kitchen and dining area, which is where she also likes to work. And when the kids are at home, that space doubles as their playground while Quan cooks. – Wong Li Za

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