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Creating Homes Out 
Of Houses

by Ar. Adj Norzaini bin Mufti | Z&SR Architectural Ventures Sdn Bhd


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Architects are designers of the built environment. They are curators of buildings and surrounding spaces. The architects' primary role is to design buildings, which involves space planning, facade creation, and ensuring the functionality of the building. Space planning exercise is a complex process that is driven by building typologies. Building functionality depends on the successful resolution of the building's space planning. Discrepancies exist between available products, statutory requirements, and end users' needs. Therefore, this article discusses how these mismatches in the planning of dwelling units can be addressed.  


In mass housing projects, regardless of whether they are affordable or otherwise, products usually consist of not more than five varieties of floor plans, and more often, there are only three types of products. These products are available due to ease of construction, pricing mechanism, product placement, profit maximization, and statutory considerations. For each of these projects, the gross floor area might spread within 20 percent of each other, but the spaces provided in the dwelling units are pretty consistent, namely: entrance foyer, living and dining areas, balcony, kitchen (wet and dry), drying area, three bedrooms and two baths (one attached to the master bedroom). Statutory requirements (via Uniform Building By-Laws) determine the minimum dimensions and sizes of bedrooms, baths, void areas, stairs width, corridor length, natural lighting and ventilation, and others. Taking into consideration all these statutory requirements, constraints, and developers' appetite for profit, it is no surprise that most of the high-density housing projects available in the current market are variations of basically the same products.


Society continuously evolves, and their needs for dwelling units should adapt accordingly. Furthermore, various community members have unique spatial requirements for their residences. For discussion purposes, the following are a few living scenarios and their particular needs and requirements.

The examples above depict different compositions of the nucleus family. Each of them requires a different layout to live comfortably and efficiently. This issue brings about an all-encompassing question of how mass housing units can address these varieties of needs and help create housing complexes that are more flexible, adaptable, and relevant for a wider group of users over a more extended period. Following are two proposals that the author wishes to highlight as possible game changers if they can be implemented in the mass housing sector.


Proposal 1: Definition and calculation of density for residential development. 

Current guidelines specify the number of units per acre regardless of the size of dwelling units. Since the size of units directly determines the selling price, this way of calculating disincentivizes developers to offer smaller products. A potential solution is to cap the total nett floor area allowable in a development combined with the maximum number of units and tiered system for car parking requirements. The following examples compare the two different methods of calculation.

Proposal 2: Flexible layout and materials for internal walls 


Most strata units are built with similar units stacked on top of each other for the whole height of the tower. There are beams to support all the internal walls. Party walls are provided between units to fulfill firefighting requirements and provide sufficient soundproofing. For reasons explained earlier, this typical layout does not allow usage flexibility among most end users. A potential solution is to provide permanent walls of bricks or concrete limited to the unit perimeter and toilet areas. Other internal walls are to be built using dry partition walls with proper insulation for noise and temperature control. Structurally, this can be worked out by providing a thicker structural slab that can carry a load of much lighter internal dry walls without having any cross beams. Drywalls are easier to construct and deconstruct. Owners will have the flexibility to alter their layout based on their current needs. This method will enable buyers to purchase the shell of a dwelling unit and make their initial financial commitment relatively low compared to the present method.


Housing is a complex issue involving multiple facets of society. This article does not deliberate on intangible issues such as communal dynamics, mentality, or lifestyle preferences. It addresses two major possibilities on how the physical quality of residential complexes can be improved tremendously with a bit more thinking and commitment from various stakeholders. The end goal is to create homes, not just houses.

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