Architect: Ar.Choo Gim Wah, Principal of Choo Gim Wah Architect
Project Team: Lead Designer – Liew Yit Meng, Technical Designer – Tung Chee Quan
Site Area: 0.498ha
Built-up: 1,031sqm (internal) + 818sqm (external)
Contractor: Yap Chu Woon Enterprise
C&S: Ng & Ng Consult Sdn Bhd
Photographer: Lawrence Choo
Canvas Hill Residence was completed in mid-2019, its name, a combination of a painter’s medium and the sloping Janda Baik site, reflects the spirit of the homeowner – a renowned local artist – that on many levels intuits its use and genius loci within a modern yet traditional-infused architectural proposition, creating a family home, private workspace, and art gallery. The site’s naturally flat crest atop a 7m-high knoll proffered a datum that architect Choo Gim Wah would leverage on.
“The design I envisioned was a courtyard by the slope, framed by two pavilions. It had to be direct, bold, strong. Yet, it also needed to be light. “So we thought of the traditional Chinese courtyard residence, or siheyuan, but with three sides where an infinity pool forms the enclosing fourth side.”The courtyard, seen through the house’s yueliangmen or moon gate entrance, is ostensibly defined by the residence’s pavilions that frame the picturesque horizon beyond.
Of the two, the main dwelling-cum-art-spaces is the larger edifice; layered with cantilevered decks and flying roof, the three-story pavilion manages to effortlessly project off the sloping terrain. The second more diminutive guest pavilion, though visibly grounded, retains a similar language with its clever play of planes. The scheme as a whole is overly linear but is skilfully manipulated to elicit the necessary lightness and dramatic effect desired for such a prominent site.
Within the main pavilion, the residence’s three modes – private, semi-private, and public – are negotiated via stacking. As a family home, the pavilion’s basement and first floors house the semi-private spaces; living and dining areas are gallery-like in their open-plan configuration, exposed to both courtyard and the 2.1m-wide cantilevered timber deck with a view of Genting Highlands.
The second-floor family room and bedrooms are likewise encircled by a deck, connected to the level below through a bespoke steel staircase. An outdoor patio beneath the first-floor deck serves as the artist’s workspace. Its 3m-high ceiling invites natural illumination ideal for producing artwork, simultaneously shielded from inclement weather by the generous overhang above. The art gallery directly adjoins the workspace and features both the artist’s works and his private collection.
Open to periodic viewing, the space represents Canvas Hill’s public program, accessible by a dedicated entryway and guest parking at a lower platform separate from the home entrance. Views to the surroundings and the capture of the morning sun were priorities, revealing the purpose of behind the timber decks and the full-height glass façades that allow penetration of light deep into the interior.
Indoor temperatures remain surprisingly respectable, courtesy of the building’s axial orientation, the elevated climes, and cooler air; high-level louvers like those of traditional kampung houses ventilate the pavilion even when doors and windows are closed. On hotter days, the decks and flying roof provide shade and cooling without necessitating air-conditioning, making the pavilion’s passive design an all-in-one solution.
A closer examination reveals an eclectic palette of materials, embodying the Malaysian Nueva vernácula, characterized by clean lines, local materials, and rawness of finish. Where off-form concrete and clay brick are the de facto materials of this style, the inclusion of steel as structural framing adds a mild twist enhanced by its visual synergy with timber. Chengal is used in the decking, the hardwood ending warmth, durability, and color to the residence’s most distinctive features.
Vertical strips of Merbau are integrated into the steel columns, extending further the ambiance of wood into the private areas. “It was definitely more adventurous (doing this design). What you see is what you get,” remarks Choo on the collage. “But coordinating all of it was very tough. You have different materials that require different details, different methods of construction. To make everything seamless was an ongoing battle.”
Despite its appearance, with building finishes, details, and services all too exposed, the owner-painter is incredibly passionate about his highland home. “The house is in the middle of the jungle, and for him, it’s a wonderful place to create art. He finds it enjoyable. Like his art, the journey is a process; he’s constantly working on it beyond the original design. I think he’s adding a breakfast corner!” admit Choo. The unvarnished aesthetic to an artist is itself a blank canvas that invites creativity and experimentation to flourish.
Poignantly, the architect concludes, “The client once told me to keep the building ‘unpretty’.“Because it is in this state of being raw, that the building is true to its nature. It is original, pure. And it is stable.”