For those in the know, the Window House – located atop a forested hill in Bandar Baru Selayang, Gombak, Selangor – might remind them of the Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France designed by renowned French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier. It is one of the world’s significant architectural sites under Unesco’s World Heritage List.
However, this reference was probably more of a subconscious intention, according to architect Lee Cherng Yih of Formzero, which designed the house. (see sidebar)
The three-storey Window House is a thoughtful design that respects its natural surroundings and the environment. Trees around the house have been left untouched as much as possible. A gabion wall constructed from granite left over from the construction process is seen on the left as one enters the home. To save water, a rainwater harvesting system has also been installed to water the plants around the house.
However, what makes the house aesthetically and functionally unique is the angular, perforated concrete shell that semi-cocoons the house from east to west.
This covering provides thermal protection, promotes cross ventilation, as well as form a privacy barrier. It incorporates various openings of different sizes, located strategically, to maximise light and air into its interiors as well as create different viewing experiences.
Some of the openings have glass coverings added on later for a practical purpose, which is to keep the rain out.
The top part of the shell is tapered at the front but widens at the back towards the forest. The roof also features a terrace and skylights to further boost daylight penetration.
Hidden spaces between the house and the shell – which can be found at different corners and levels – cradle pockets of greenery, blurring the line between the indoors and outdoors.
Lee at first wanted the design to embrace its green surroundings but the owners admitted that they were not really outdoorsy people.
“We wanted the interiors to be maximised as I was not so keen to have to take care of a big outdoor space. So Lee thought of this indoor-outdoor concept where greenery is factored into the interiors,” says Emily Lim, 41.
“At first, I was also not so sure that I liked the plain, grey facade (of the concrete shell). Then Lee said that it needs no repainting, which was something that I liked, so I agreed to the design,” says the mother of two girls, aged 14 and 16.
Since moving in almost two years ago, the family of four has been thoroughly enjoying their living space.
“At night, the view here is very nice. It looks towards KLCC and in the morning, there is what I call the ‘Bali feel’,” says Lim, referring to the trees in front of us as we stand on the wooden deck next to the infinity pool.
When the glass doors and windows on the ground floor are opened, it can be quite breezy, she adds.
Lim used to do her work in the dining area, which looks out to the deck and greenery outside, but she admitted that she would feel so relaxed that she would hardly get any work done! “When it rained continuously sometime back, the temperature went down to 17ºC at night,” adds
Lim, who together with her husband are in the fresh food supply business.
Lim’s favourite part of the house is the study, which has almost floor-to-ceiling windows that open out to a calming mini garden beyond.
Overall, the interiors of the house are an open concept, made possible with the Bubbledeck system of construction, which allows the space to do away with pillars. Furniture and furnishings in and around the house are largely modern contemporary.
Anchoring the ground floor is a specially-designed staircase – partially veiled by a sheet of rods – that leads to the second floor.
“I wanted the staircase to feel and look as light as possible, in contrast to the heavy concrete wall,” explains Lee.
Upstairs, the games room has an industrial feel – think raw concrete and brick walls – with the highlight there being the suspended metal and glass staircase that leads to an upper loft.
On the top floor, a small flight of stairs with overhead skylight leads up to the roof terrace, which offers an uninhibited view of the city skyline.
And that is probably the priceless part about living in the Window House.
Window to the outside world
The Window House bears a distinctive design that merges the owners’ lifestyle and the architect’s vision. It won a commendation (single residential category) in the Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM) Awards 2018.
Lead architect Lee Cherng Yih shares his thoughts about the design.
“There are two very important principles in my design. The fundamental design concept is driven by the user experience. Form and style are only the consequences of that experience,” says Formzero’s founder Lee Cherng Yih, the lead architect of the project.
“In the case of the Window House, we imagined how the owners could develop their relationship with their future neighbours without compromising on privacy. One of the key experiences of living in a house is not just ‘in’ the house, but also how you see the outside world from inside,” he adds.
Lee says the second principle is that “every architectural design should find a creative way to respond to its context.”
“The response may not necessary echo the surroundings and a more rebellious way may represent a form of criticism to its context.”
The openings in the concrete shell design are also said to reference the famous chapel at Ronchamp in France by Le Corbusier.
“We all learnt about the Ronchamp Chapel in our early days of university, but I did not pay much attention to it until I was commissioned to design the Window House. It is no doubt a good precedent for me to study the relationship between multi-dimensional facade and light in architecture,” he explains.
What has designing the Window House meant to him as an architect?
“As an architect, we should not treat the client’s brief like design doctrine. The design is a process for both parties to learn new knowledge, and more significantly, to discover a greater lifestyle naturally inherited from this specific context,” says Lee.