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Planter Box House: A Narrow Lot Home with Edible Landscapes and Raw Concrete Façades

Planter Box House: A Narrow Lot Home with Edible Landscapes and Raw Concrete Façades

/ Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia /

/ Story: Kangsadan K. / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Ameen Deen /

Edible landscapes provide amazing benefits. But what if you don’t have space for them? Raised garden beds and planter boxes come in handy to deal with the challenges of living in a small space. This narrow lot home in Kuala Lumpur is a living proof of creative design and the advantage it brings to garden plants fit to be eaten. Done right, they thrive everywhere, building façades included.

Form panels made of bamboo strips leave their imprints on poured concrete surfaces and unadorned planter boxes on the building façade.

Boasting beautiful edible gardens and lush fruit trees, the modern home in KL affords 340 square meters of living and functional spaces. The overall effect is impressive notwithstanding its austere simplicity characterized by the rawness of concrete surfaces. But that’s precisely the quality that radiates curb appeal.

There’s more to it than meets the eye. The secrets to creating indoor thermal comfort and sustainable living environments lie in those planter boxes that adorn building façades at the front and back. Plus, the rooftop deck has even more room for raised garden beds filled with herbs, vegetables and fruit trees growing luxuriantly.

A drawing illustrates the positioning of living, functional and gardening spaces on all three levels of the house plan. / Courtesy of Ameen Deen
A side-elevation view of the house plan in cross section shows front and rear façades bedecked with deep planter boxes starting from ground level all the way to vegetable gardening spaces on the rooftop. / Courtesy of Ameen Deen

Named the Planter Box House, it’s the brainchild of Formzero, a homegrown architectural practice renowned for advocating sustainability and design best suited to the geographical features and the Tropical climate prevailing in this part of the Malaysian peninsula.

That being said, it’s designed to be power efficient, thanks to passive building strategies that include deep planter boxes on the balconies where lush trees and edible plants grow. Together they work in tandem to keep the sun and heat out, thereby regulating indoor temperatures by allowing just the right amounts of daylight and fresh outdoor air into the home.

From a distance, the planter boxes crafted of poured concrete have a rawness feel to them that blends seamlessly with trees in the vertical garden landscape. The building exteriors are made to appear untidy and unrefined by design.

Take a closer look, and you discover more than 40 types of edible plants. For safety, big trees are securely anchored in deep planter boxes. Needless to say, they fill passers-by with curiosity as to whether it’s some kind of a fruit orchard tucked in the middle of an urban neighborhood.

A drone’s eye view shows planter boxes filled with fruit trees overlooking edible plants in the front yard garden directly beneath them.

For lack of a better word, it’s a home in a class of itself, one made attractive by a forest of lush foliage and the upper branching of trees that set it apart from everything out there. The poured concrete surfaces lack sophistication as a result of bamboo strips being used to make concrete form boards.

For the architects who designed it, the house represents a fusion between heritage unique to this part of Kuala Lumpur and a new design concept that attempts to redefine Tropical residential architecture from a modern perspective.

A concrete form board made of bamboo strips leaves its imprint showcasing ridges and grooves on the surface in its austere simplicity.

Take a look inside and, surprise! The solid, unsophisticated exteriors belie the fact that the house plan is quite open and airy creating a sense of space, thanks to windows and doorways glazed using clear glass with generous wall openings strategically placed for good ventilation all year round.

Downstairs sitting room enclosed by a clear glass wall affords a view the front yard filled with thriving fruit trees.

The ground floor contains a kitchen and dining room lying furthest to the back of the house. A set of light and bright stairs crafted of steel separates them from a sitting parlor with comfortable furniture located upfront. The kitchen and dining room combo takes pride of place under a high ceiling that rises 6 meters from ground level.

It’s a spacious, well-lighted place, thanks to clear glass walls that stand tall from the floor to the ceiling. On the opposite side of the stairway, the sitting parlor affords a view of the front yard garden adorned with edible plants and trailing woody-stemmed vines handing down from concrete exteriors.

A steel staircase made light and airy by design separates the living room upfront from an open kitchen and dining room lying furthest to the back of the house.
The homeowner enjoys his retirement busy making art in the dining room enchanted by high-ceiling design.
A small piece of ground affords room for vegetable gardening right next to the kitchen and dining room.
A large dining table takes the most prominent position under a high ceiling that rises 6 meters from ground level. The room serving multiple purposes feels light and bright enclosed by a glass wall with swing doors opening to a small backyard.

Climb a flight of stairs, and you come to the second floor that’s in fact a private mezzanine containing a bedroom and a sitting room en suite. From here, the stairway continues on to third floor holding a quiet, secluded reading nook. Worthy of attention is that every part of the home is surrounded by vegetables and herb gardens growing luxuriantly at the in front and back of the building.

Concrete planter boxes and fruit trees provide a privacy screen for the semi-outdoor shower room enclosed by glass walls.

Proceed to the rooftop deck, and a beautiful panorama of the cityscape unfolds before us. Equally fascinating are lush and shadowy gardens developing vigorously covering the full extent of the deck space.

Low-profile barriers on the third-floor balcony afford a beautiful panorama of the cityscape.

Albeit small in size, it’s a living space that speaks volumes for the homeowner’s love of gardening. And it shows in the way raised garden beds and planter boxes are put in every possible place.

In the end, it boils down to ingenious design, the kind that’s fit for the warm and humid Tropical climate prevailing in this part of Malaysia. Plus, it’s a confluence of ideas resulting in crisp cool shade, good ventilation and indoor thermal comfort. Simply fantastic!

Architect: Formzero

Principal Architect: Lee Cherng Yih

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Binh Duong House: A Home and Restaurant Combo Nestling Warmly in Nature

Binh Duong House: A Home and Restaurant Combo Nestling Warmly in Nature

/ Binh Duong, Vietnam /

/ Story: Kangsadan K. / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Courtesy of k59 atelier /

Here’s a home of a dual nature that takes pride of place amidst natural surroundings. It consists of a house and a restaurant thoughtfully devised to merge into the verdant countryside in Binh Duong, a province north of Ho Chi Minh City.

To ensure privacy, the house is tucked back in a quiet nook at the rear away from the family’s small restaurant business.

The single family residence with plenty of room for a business appears light and airy to say the least. It’s warmly nestled among the trees in Thuan An, a small town famous for its abundant fruit orchards that are the pride and joy of southern Vietnam. Named Binh Duong House, it seems like the perfect escape amidst breathtaking woodlands and lush scenery of the rural area.

Time changes everything. As the farming town grows and gradually becomes more urban in character, a yearning hope to reconnect with nature grows ever strong. With it come new roads and new buildings, enough to make some people change their minds. This landowner originally had planned on building a row house, a popular architectural style ubiquitous across Vietnam. But after much debate, he decided otherwise.

The result is an interesting combination of a residence and a place of business environed by nature at the woodland’s edge. It’s the brainchild of a capable team of designers at “k59 atelier”, a homegrown architectural firm based in Ho Chi Minh City.

They were tasked with creating a design tailored to the specific needs of the property owner – a home and business space integration that fits right in nature. And they gave him exactly that.

The new home-and-restaurant combo is cool and comfortable, canopied by overhanging trees and understories of lush greenery thriving luxuriently. “Binh Duong House” offers 234 square meters of usable space. It consists of a single-detached home at the rear and a restaurant building abutting the street upfront.

A drawing illustrates the ground floor plan divided into three parts with rooms disposed around or next to the center courtyard. / Courtesy of k59 atelier
A drawing of the second floor shows the ancestor altar room at the center of the house plan in relation to trees providing shade and improving air quality. / Courtesy of k59 atelier
Roof Floor Plan / Courtesy of k59 atelier

What remains unchanged after construction has been completed is the delightful atmosphere of a home under tree cover. Together the upper branching of trees and shrubbery beneath the canopy go to work reducing the amount of sun and wind hitting the buildings.

On the ground, well connected garden pathways and drainage systems are carefully planned to carry off rainwater, thereby preventing floods and keeping the biological community safe in the long term.

Walk in the door and you find the residential wing divided into three parts. The ground floor holds a spacious living room, a dining room in the middle and a bedroom in a quiet area overlooking the yard.

Like many traditional Vietnamese homes, the second floor contains a shrine that’s a way to honor and give reverence to family ancestors. It lies flanked by bedrooms on either side that constitutes the third part of the house plan.

The ground floor holds a bright and breezy sitting room with a view of the surrounding natural and built environments.

The house exterior is full of life and energy, thanks to a center courtyard illuminated by natural daylight shining through tree leaves, creating subtle shadows on a pleasant secluded garden. Both buildings are roofed over with clay tiles fired the old-fashioned way by industries indigenous to this hideaway region of Vietnam.

On the ground, the outdoor patio floor is covered with interlocking pavers showcasing the shape, texture and color unique to local heritage. There is attention to detail in the way the doors and windows are installed.

All of them face in the right directions so as to reap the full health benefits from the natural surroundings. Plus, furniture has a rawness feel to it that blurs the boundaries between indoors and outdoors.

Furniture has a rawness feel to it that blends seamlessly with the fired clay tile floor in matte artisan brown.
Downstairs, the bedroom with a garden view opens to take in fresh outdoor air, while the center courtyard brings a positive impact on people’s lives.

What makes the home stand out from the rest is the high pitched roof that offers more effective drainage during heavy rains. It’s covered in overlapping rows of tiles sloped down to meet the front facade at the far end. At the risk of stating the obvious, the monsoon season can bring heavy rains that can do damage to homes in a Tropical climate.

The house’s side elevation shows a high pitched roof designed for increased privacy and more effective drainage during heavy rains.

Because cultural heritage matters, the upstairs ancestral room takes the most prominent position under the apex of the roof so as to give it a sense of space, plenty of natural daylight and aesthetic appeal.

From the ancestor altar room, the roof slants down to meet the front façade at the far end. The shrine takes the most prominent position in the house, a spot under the apex of the roof, also known as the ridge beam.

Advocating for sustainability, the design team at k59 atelier put in a waste water treatment plant on the property as a way to protect a small river skirting the north and east sides of the land. The plant has an underground tank that collects and processes waste water before releasing it to the environment. There’s also another underground tank used for storing rain water.

The growth of urban sprawl has become one of the inevitabilities of life in this part of Vietnam. Binh Duong House serves as an example of human ingenuity in residential design. At the end of the day, it’s about encouraging everyone to do his fair share in restoring the natural environment to health.

A cross section drawing in perspective shows the trees and branches, their root systems and the lush canopy protecting the home built into nature. / Courtesy of k59 atelier
An isometric diagram illustrates the coming together of different component parts to form a cohesive whole. / Courtesy of k59 atelier

It’s a product of collaboration between the architects who designed it and the family that lives in it, a home warmly cocooned among the trees and green foliage. Plus, it offers plenty of space for a family business. Awesome!

Architect: k59 atelier

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