Kevin Mark Low established his architectural practice in 2002 in Kuala Lumpur, after many years of corporate work in Asia and the Middle East that focused on the large-scale development of urban architecture in these growing regions. Not content with what he calls ‘global ubiquitous design’, Low instead embraced the mantra that less is more – less projects, each designed down to the last detail, that reflect their context and examines usage and materials for long term sustainability. As one interviewer stated, Low’s works are “raw, subtle and humble: honesty and simplicity are valued more highly than refinement.” Stemming from this idea, his projects, for the most part all based in Southeast Asia, tend to connect with the tropical landscape and utilise the climate of the area. Gardens and courtyards are openly connected to indoor spaces, plants grow over exterior facades, pre-existing modes of shade and ventilation are incorporated into the structure, and emphasis is placed on the ‘micro-geography’ – taking direct influence from the site, rather than the wider universe. Low himself states: ‘Think small. Think water, wind and light. Think about the meaning of use… the quality of a detail almost always comes from its response to context.’ Moreover, this focus on the local has allowed Low to have a detailed understanding of local construction techniques, available materials and dimensions of building sections, ensuring each project is continuously connected directly to the space (both physically in the now and via the long term maintenance from local persons) within which it inhabits. Low’s unique perspective on the underlying thoughts that drive architectural design and connect maker, craft and place have made him one of Asia’s most recognised modern architects, his position as University Lecturer and workshop master across the Asia-Pacific region author of Small Projects have further cemented this title.
Safari Roof House
Located in suburbia in a Malaysian city, the Safari Roof House is a unique example of contemporary design. Designed as a detached bungalow house of two stories, the house consists of four separate blocks, surrounded by a lush garden, and enclosing a forested courtyard and pool. Its most identifying feature, and namesake, is the roof – an elevated section of bituminous corrugated roofing sheets (a material usually found beneath the ‘proper roofing finish’), that allows for cool wind to enter the abode. Based on the Series Type Land rover that was widely used in the colonial tropics, the safari roof acted as a sunbreak to the vehicle, blocking the direct sun intensity, while encouraging cross ventilation below - a feature that has been re-applied very successfully to the Safari Roof house. Positioned to capture the morning sun, but to block the incoming sun for the remainder of the day, shade is integral to the property. A concrete block screen veils the pavilions whilst a long verandah runs the north-south length of the house, providing shade for the living room. The garden was located within the centre of the house to act as a cooling sink. Subsequently it was planted with trees specifically selected for shading purposes, located according to their ability to filter sunlight, and ficus pumila creepers were planted at the bases of selected walls to form a natural heat-insulating layer. The house was made using mainly local materials found in Malaysia, reducing the expense and environmental impact associated with international importing. Furthermore, many of the finishes were eliminated from the final development, for example the external surface of the house was finished with a hard wearing cement plaster that has meant the walls will never need to be painted, again reducing the need for maintenance and lessening the environmental impact. Low himself proposed the Safari Roof House as a way to “introduce a sensibility of the ‘garden industrial’, one which begins its architecture with its garden and sets it as an extension of its larger context, with its external surfaces intended to receive that sense of scale which only the passing of time can bring.” The combination of aesthetics and practicalities exemplified in the Safari Roof House, highlights the idea that architecture can encompass many things and continually challenge concepts throughout the process, but ultimately still deliver comfort, form, sustainable design and local responsiveness for the occupant.