The courtyard benefits from natural light and ventilation due to its numerous openings. "If we closed off this area, it would be quite dark, not to mention, very hot," says Ang. "In the tropics, good volume is important to make a space breathe, unlike in temperate countries where you want less volume for minimal heating loads." On the left are gaps created by the angled walls, which are left open in the outdoor area to funnel air in.

WHBC Architects builds a big, broad brise soleil that safeguards a home

The firm envisioned a structure that would act as a protective shell but not enclose its users entirely, and one that would keep heat out but let light and air in at the same time.

  • February 11, 2019

  • Written by Miguel R. Llona

  • Photographed by Ed Simon of Studio 100

WHBC Architects
The meter-deep brise soleil creates multiple eaves across the front façade, effectively shading the frontage from the morning sun and rain. “Because labor in Malaysia is not as expensive as in other countries, building with concrete is a common construction method here,” says architect BC Ang.

Sheltered among trees, it looks like a forgotten temple with its worn and mossy concrete surfaces and labyrinthine elevations. The client gave WHBC Architects two mandates: First, retain the existing trees within the 975-square meter lot and replicate the experience of living in a jungle. Second, make it as low-maintenance as possible—no periodic cleaning and painting of the house and no constant mowing and weeding of the property. “The most expensive commodity is time,” the owner reasoned.

Because the firm takes particular pride in employing topographical context to inform their designs, they eagerly accepted the challenge. “We wanted a house that embraces the dense, natural enclave surrounding it,” says BC Ang, who runs WHBC with his wife, Wen Hsia.

WHBC Architects
The walkway leading to the front door makes for a striking entrance into the house, providing a sampling of materials and textures also worn by the interiors.

WHBC Architects
The house has a 12-meter setback from the street. Because the lot slopes down, the architects built a narrow footbridge leading from the street to the front porch, where one can see how the brise soleil wraps around in the house. The space behind the frameless glass rail is the anteroom which holds visitors before they are ushered further into the house.

Rather than give the architects headaches, the mature albizia trees on the property made all the difference in their design concept. Instead of the 10-foot setback required by the village, they set the house 12 feet back to give the surrounding albizia more room to flourish. Trees are nature’s brise soleil, a home’s first line of defense against the extremes of tropical climate. Apart from deflecting direct sunlight, they would dramatically cut down the heat gain of concrete—an ineffective insulator, and would absorb run off from rain and keep the land stable with minimal artificial aid.

WHBC Architects
From the porch, one can see how the brise soleil wraps around the house. Much to the owner’s delight, the exposed concrete is weathering well.

The three-storey house was built on the remaining 696 square meters, elevated from the sloping terrain, with the garage and service areas below. The house faces northeast, where the trees are fewest. A concrete brise soleil in a grid pattern was built on the front façade and wraps around the northwest side. The concrete grid projects from the structural walls by a meter, forming square and rectangular cavities ranging from 2 by 2 to 8 by 4 feet. “There’s no special reason for the pattern,” says Ang. “They’re just based on the standard plywood sizes used for the formwork, and we just worked along the sides.” Apart from screening the house from sunlight and effectively keeping rain out, the brise soleil acts as a protective shell against the surrounding overgrowth, especially on the northwest side where the trees are thickest.

WHBC Architects
The exposed concrete beams of the living area echo the brise soleil‘s rectilinear pattern. The interiors are sufficiently lit throughout the day with indirect light from the lightwell-cum-windtower beside the staircase to the left and the courtyard to the right. It’s a spacious battleground for the owner’s nerf gun wars with his children.

WHBC Architects
The living area and master bedroom face the southwest but the length, breadth, and depth of the concrete brise soleil on three sides (left, right, and overhead) keep the interiors shady and cool. Note the gaps between the three angled concrete walls on the left side of the courtyard. The narrow vertical openings create the Venturi Effect, forcing air outside

The southeast side, meanwhile, is walled up due to its proximity to a neighboring house. Light and air still filter into the interior through this side, however, as the elevation is made up of three large concrete walls angled like louvers with 150-millimeter gaps—in effect, another brise soleil, but on a larger scale.  A bridge flanked by albizia trees leads to the front door. An ante-room to the right of the main door holds visitors upon entry, and straight ahead is a narrow corridor flanked by the staircase. The corridor leads to a brightly lit space that brings the living, dining, and kitchen areas together. “I wanted connections within these spaces, so interaction with people is easy,” says the owner, who often invites friends and relatives over.

WHBC Architects
Vertical steel louvers flank the staircase, cutting down sunlight coming in from the adjacent wind tower.

Beyond the large living space is a double-volume courtyard that takes up almost half the building footprint, with a lap pool and deck. The southwest side is completely open, while the same concrete grid as the façade’s screens the northwest side and overhead, like a trellis. The quality of the space out here is extraordinary, but not for everyone. The empty concrete niches stained and streaked by nature give off the feeling of isolation and abandonment. But the owner welcomes the solitude.  “In the morning, I have my coffee or morning juice out here,” says the owner. “I’ll hear birds chirping in the trees. Even monkeys hang around the brise soleil sometimes.”

WHBC Architects
The master bedroom overlooks the double-height courtyard. The headboard wall is one of several angled walls on the southeast side of the house. The narrow gap in the corner perpetually glows with a soft light during the daytime.

WHBC Architects

The powder room adjacent to the ante-room shows how the brise soleil protrudes from the structural wall. With no glass or screens separating the inside from the outside, many of the residents’ indoor activities feel like they’re en plain air.

This outdoor area serves as the home’s main source of cool air, which is instantly available as one opens the sliding doors of the living area. The entry of cool air pushes hot air up and out the light well by the staircase, which is wrapped on three sides by jalousie widows. The exit of hot air in turn hastens the entry of cool air wafting in from the pool area. Cool air in this house is a renewable resource.

WHBC Architects
Concrete louvers line the southeast wall of the house like gills. The 150-millimeter slits encased in glass allow daylight in and the owner to see outside.

The bedrooms on the second level enjoy ample light and air as well. Positioned on the northwest side, the children’s bedrooms have large windows doubly screened by the brise soleil and tree canopies. The master bedroom overlooks the double-height courtyard, with jalousie windows allowing copious amounts of air to flow in and out. “Wind direction changes over the year, so if I say I oriented the house in a certain direction, I’d be lying,” says Ang. “The most important thing in a tropical house is ventilation, making sure there’s an inlet and outlet for air.” B ender

READ MORE: The interplay of colors inside Philipp Mohr’s faithful renovation of a Le Corbusier apartment

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