It Took A Village
Styles old and very new, talents near and very far—all came together in this epic Malaysian house by Agence Jouin Manku
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 1/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Kuala Lumpur is one of the world's more surreal capitals. It's a hypermodern, high-tech Blade Runner-ish city of the future, its glittering skyline crowned by the arabesque spires of the Petronas Twin Towers. But KL, as locals call it, is also filled with reminders of Malaysia's multicultural past and its days as a British colonial outpost: old Chinese and Hindu temples, Malay mosques, and a cricket ground and neo-Tudor clubhouse marking what was once the center of town. It's all woven through with lush tropical jungle so thick it looks ready to envelop the city in a blanket of green. In fact, if not for continuous pruning, the vegetation would win.
This wild mélange of nature, architecture, and ethnic diversity is the backdrop for a futuristic yet traditional house that is as eclectic as KL itself. Parisian interior and product designer Patrick Jouin and partner Sanjit Manku, a Kenyan-born Canadian architect, designed the mammoth 32,000-square-foot residence and reception suites for three generations of a prominent Chinese-Malaysian family. (Jouin recently split his firm into two entities: Agence Jouin Manku, overseeing interiors and architecture commissions, and Patrick Jouin ID, focused on industrial design.) Commanding a nearly 1-acre hillside perch in a posh inner suburb, the house tries to minimize—visually and functionally—the impact of a program that's nothing short of gargantuan.
Grandparents, parents, and seven children ranging in age from 10 to 22 have the run of three floors comprising nine bedrooms, living and family areas, Western-style and open-air Chinese kitchens, an outdoor breakfast terrace, a formal library, a game room, and a swimming pool. A pair of guest suites is housed in a semidetached boomerang-shape wing that's cantilevered out over the hillside. Sweeping terraces, filled with gardens and shady spots for afternoon tea, surround the residence.
The banqueting and reception areas are equally expansive, since the family entertains on a grand scale: Small weddings take place in a sleek but spare chapel; for bigger nuptials, a wall of glass panels retracts for more guests. The adjoining ballroom can accommodate as many as 200 people for receptions that include a Chinese New Year's banquet each winter. Elaborate dinners, frequently for government and business VIPs, are held in the formal dining room, which seats up to 30. Among these three spaces are 13 bathrooms.
Separating the family's daily life from business goings-on was absolutely key. "It was important that the kids could run around in pajamas at the same time a meeting was being held," says Manku. He and Jouin cleverly tucked the reception spaces into the excavated hillside, keeping them out of sight at basement level while creating a huge, landscaped plinth on which the house sits. "That way, you're not looking through big, empty rooms every day," he says.
The house itself is a long, faceted three-part tube bent around the pool and ringed by ribbons of paved and planted terraces. Its open-plan ground floor, which contains the vast multilevel living, dining, and kitchen areas, is an irregular-shape pavilion enclosed in floor-to-ceiling glass. The glazed walls slide open to the pool on one side, to the sequestered breakfast terrace on the other. The library and family bedrooms occupy a two-story volume that appears to float above the transparent base. Thanks to massive cantilevers, the bedroom wings extend well beyond the ground floor footprint, creating deep, column-free overhangs for shaded outdoor living.
Each of the seven children's bedrooms is different, spatially and decoratively. Like its occupant, each bedroom has a distinct personality. "We made some more extroverted, taller, skinnier, some with more nooks for reading," Manku says. The grown-ups get suites, one a duplex with a sitting area and double-height glass walls open to skyline vistas.
Maintaining views while tempering the near-equatorial sun meant shading large expanses of glass. Where cantilevers and overhangs didn't provide protection, Jouin and Manku wrapped the upper levels of the house in a shimmery second skin of stainless-steel louvers that open and close electronically, revealing varying amounts of glazing. (Some of the bedrooms are enclosed with sliding louvered panels of chengal, a native wood.) Besides screening the interior, the delicate outer skin helps diminish the visual bulk of such a large volume. "The house was to appear very light, as if tethered to the ground like a balloon rather than crushing the earth," Jouin says.
Throughout the project, custom elements run the gamut from high-tech to rough-hewn. Jouin and Manku collaborated with local and international artists and craftsmen on many of them, including a massive kitchen island carved from a single hulk of Carrara marble; a circular stair with petal-shape teak treads, constructed by elderly woodworkers who put off retirement for this project; a sculptural freestanding Corian bar in the living area; 10-foot-tall teak lanterns hanging in the atrium linking the bedroom wings; and the stunning ballroom chandelier comprising 13,000 porcelain petals, produced by young French designer Roseline Pailheret and ceramists in her native Limoges, France. "We created a brand-new architecture for the house," continues Jouin. "New shapes, new ways of connecting spaces, and new combinations of cutting-edge technology and traditional local practices."
Designing and building the house was truly a global effort. Paris-based Jouin Manku was joined by a local architecture firm. The home base of the landscape team is Lugano, Switzerland. The lighting designers are from New York. Like KL itself, talent from the far corners of the earth shaped this thoroughly contemporary home that still respects history and tradition.