Participatory Design – The Malay House Concept, Social Sustainable Housing

I was watching this film “Urbanized” this morning in GSC, a special film invitation by Penang Institute. It’s a documentary done by Gary Hustwit, a feature-length documentary about the design of cities, which looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design and features some of the world’s foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers.

Over half, the world’s population now lives in an urban area, and 75% will call a city home by 2050. Unlike many other fields of design, cities aren’t created by any one specialist or expert. There are many contributors to urban change, including ordinary citizens who can have a great impact improving the cities in which they live.

There is too much food for thoughts in the 85minutes film, but one important point is about Participatory Design, which I could relate very much to our homeland indigenous Malay Kampung houses concept. What we understand by participatory design, is a design mechanism that attempts to involve all stakeholders such as the building industry, town planners, politicians and ultimately the end users, people. This is to ensure the product designed meets their ends.

In Architecture, we speak about ethics that we need to help one to realize their language of perceiving a certain design, not asking them to identify our design, but rather involving them to participate in this language of architecture.  I remember hearing Malaysia’s landscape Architect Seksan on his opinion why most of his project involves public spaces and shared spaces like condominiums or planning, not private property, and he stated that “it’s not right to interfere into a garden of a family and expecting them to stick to your design but it should be theirs.”

Malay traditional houses have a good testimony on participatory design. They don’t even really need an Architect but a builder that knows the module well. Having it fading away with time, this house concept truly respect all aspects of social, economic and environmental. But here I will emphasize on social, on how a house became a home that grew together with families as they grow. The importance of the home to a family in this context is different compared to how modern societies see houses in big cities as a big city instead of a basic needs.

The construction system of the house can be demountable, dismantled, relocated on any site because it’s fully based on timber structure who is light, good thermal advantage and also local and flexible. As the family grew from small to big, addition possibilities come with variety types.

The basic module would be a Rumah Ibu which is a huge space that can be used for many living activities but related to more of the private life of the family. Living Spaces , Serambi is to entertain male guests only and also an alternative sleeping area. Normally to define the space, a temporary partition or curtain is sufficient to do so. Rumah Dapur is located at the rear of the house often in a separate building connected by an intermediate circulation space is the second most important multifunction space of the house. And it’s the second living space for a woman and entertaining female guest.

Adding on, these few pictures are scanned copies of Lim Jee Yuan’s book on Malay Houses which I see the pictures have been widely used in several publications and lectures. More to come soon in regards to Malay Houses.