Malaysia is one of the fastest developing nations in Southeast Asia. Much of the growth is centered in urban areas, with 70 percent of its residential housing in cities like the capital, Kuala Lumpur. This development is good for the country, but it may be bad for the environment.
“Unfortunately, houses in Kuala Lumpur have never been designed to be environmentally friendly. Many of the houses in urban areas are not designed in a sustainable manner,” said local architect Clement Wong.
Since starting his architectural firm some ten years ago, Wong has made it his mission to change the mindset of Kuala Lumpur residents. He’s doing it the only way he knows how – by retrofitting old homes.
“Although many new housing developments today are quite environmentally-friendly, many of the existing houses in the city are not. That’s why the best thing to do right now is to convert these old houses,” he said.
Wong recently renovated a home that’s more than 30 years old.
A key goal of his green design was to made use of this tropical country’s abundant sunshine.
“We have a long slot of skylight on the rooftop, and also an interior courtyard. Not only will this courtyard give ample lighting, it also gives you natural ventilation,” Wong said on a tour of the house.
Another integral part of his design involves working around the existing environment and landscape, rather than removing it. The house’s front garden has a lush green rambutan tree that produces sweet fruit every year.
“Next to it, we have a balcony that is actually a tree house,” he said. “So the children in the house can actually climb up and touch the tree.”
Another unique feature of the redesigned house is a rainwater catchment system that has been installed on the roof. Water is stored in a tank and used as needed.
The owner of the house, Lee Wai Kong, said he’d never heard sustainable designs until he read an article about Clement Wong in the newspaper.
“A major part of it, we saved as much as we can. We didn’t have to get anything new,” Lee said. “Especially the old roof tiles, which we recycled at the back into a nice planter box, which was a brilliant idea.”
For many ordinary homeowners the cost of these kinds of renovations may be prohibitively high. But Wong said there are options for every budget
“For those who can afford to build sustainable houses, by all means go all the way and do it well. But for those who are conscious of the costing, there’s always a way to create a sustainable house within a budget,” he explained.
Less than one percent of the homes in Kuala Lumpur are environmentally friendly or self-sufficient. That means Wong has his work cut out for him.