Concrete has many connotations, and not all of them are positive. It’s strong, solid, durable, and adaptable, with tactile textures and a sense of raw honesty to it. It’s also cold, hard, uncomfortable, and prone to echoes, and when it’s used on a large scale — as in the famously divisive Brutalist architectural style – it’s often seen as overbearing. But it doesn’t have to be.
WHBC Architects strikes a fine balance with “Tropical Box House” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contrasting concrete’s materiality and dramatic Brutalist flair with a breezy porosity and perfectly framed views of the nature outside. Measuring over 7200 square feet, the home is monumental without being imposing thanks to a gridded structure with an unusual source of inspiration.
“Set in the tropics, we designed a concrete egg-crate structure that envelops the house to keep the heat out but draws daylight in to create comfortable spaces within,” the architects explain. “The perforated nature of this envelope allows the existing overgrowth to grow into the volume of the house, thus softening the boundary of inside and outside.”
Like most of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur remains in the 80-90ºF range by day and around 70º by night throughout the year. Consistent rainfall and lots of sun make it an ideal climate for spaces that blur the lines between indoors and outdoors, sheltered from the sun yet open to the fresh air. WHBC Architects allow Tropical Box House to embrace the jungle, the irregular pattern of frame openings casting shadows in the interiors to cool the home without making it feel closed off from the world outside. The concrete grid has been made 35 inches deep (900 millimeters) for extra stability.
Built on the edge of a gradual slope, the entire home is elevated from the ground on stilts to protect it from dampness and humidity — a crucial consideration in a tropical climate. As a bonus, the spaces in the rear of the house feel like they’re floating among the trees. Tropical Box House is set back slightly from the road, with a bridge crossing the slope between mature Albizia trees to reach the main entrance.
Once inside, visitors are immediately dazzled by an indoor/outdoor swimming pool that stretches out into the leafy canopy. The living and dining spaces gaze onto the shimmering surface of the pool, while bedrooms are hidden away on the upper floor for privacy and even better views. The dampness-prone ground level is reserved for utility rooms and a three-car garage, which itself is accessed by a ramp that flows down the side yard from street level.
“Looking beyond the pool and the garden, one is greeted with a clear and extended panoramic view of the forest,” say the architects. “On upper floors, windows are specially designed to capture views of big beautiful trees. A seemingly heavy concrete box, it touches the ground lightly, places itself among the trees and encourages the enduring landscape to grow within it.”
Even if you aren’t normally a fan of large-scale concrete architecture, you can probably agree that the only thing “brutal” about this house is its undeniable beauty.