Design Works: In touch with nature, light and spatial experience

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on September 7, 2020 - September 13, 2020.

The large and airy interior of The Courtyard House (Photo by O2 Design Atelier)

-A +A

At O2 Design Atelier Sdn Bhd (O2DA), the expression in architecture and design is a unique response to the nature of each project.

Its director and principal Edric Choo Poo Liang does not subscribe to a signature style. “For me, good architecture responds to the project brief and space requirement, site, context, function, culture and the user. It must be sustainable and environmentally responsive.”

Nonetheless, Choo does apply a common principle across his projects, but in different styles. “My work is always in touch with nature, light and spatial experience, as well as the relationship between space and form. I believe architecture is a balance between art and science that goes in harmony with the site.

“Also, I’m always in search of and developing new architecture language [taking into account] the past and local culture,” he adds.

Before founding O2DA, the 44-year-old well-travelled architect honed his skills at 

well-known firms such as TR Hamzah & Yeang Sdn Bhd, ZLG Design Sdn Bhd, RT&Q Architects Pte Ltd, W Architects Pte Ltd, SCDA Architects Pte Ltd and WOHA Architects Pte Ltd.

After obtaining his licence to practice from the Board of Architects Malaysia, Choo set up O2DA in 2015 in collaboration with his sole proprietorship, Choo Poo Liang Architect (CPLA).

“It has always been my dream and plan to have my own practice and do the work that I believe in. Business has been good so far, and [it is] getting better, with many trusted and good clients, including developers,” he says.

The firm does mainly residential projects ranging from single homes to landed housing developments and high-rise condominiums. It has also worked on restoration, commercial and hospitality projects as well as masterplans, landscapes, interiors, lighting and furniture design.

Here are three of Choo’s notable home projects.

Choo: I believe architecture is a balance between art and science that goes in harmony with the site (Photo by O2 Design Atelier)

The Courtyard House

This is Choo’s own abode. “I bought the house in 2014 and completed the renovations in 2015 after I moved back from Singapore,” he shares.

Located in Sungai Buloh, the terraced property has a standard 22ft by 75ft lot. By extending the front and back, Choo has maximised the internal space.

The property has a contemporary look and the car porch is infused with greenery. Downstairs, it is large and airy with an open-plan concept connecting the living, dining and kitchen spaces.

In the centre of the house, a double-volume space offers more greenery. “The idea of a traditional Malaysian courtyard house is revisited here. The original upper floor slab has been removed and some roof tiles have been replaced with clear polycarbonate ones to draw in natural light,” says Choo.

According to him, courtyards create an inverted private sanctuary with a semi-outdoor quality.

On the upper floor, solid walls have been replaced with sliding windows to optimise cross ventilation and user interaction between both levels. “This space has become the heart of the house,” says Choo.

Each bedroom upstairs opens out to greenery and the master bedroom has its own balcony garden above the car porch.

The cement finishes of the floors and walls give the home a monolithic effect, highlighting the quality of light, shadow and space.

At 3 Courtyard House, Choo opted for pre-cast vent blocks to offer privacy and security (Photo by O2 Design Atelier)

A Home for 2

In 2018, the architect completely revamped the interior spaces of this property in Desa Park City but kept most of its exterior façade. Spatial adaptability was the design parameter for the house, which is tailor-made for two.

Apart from a master bedroom, the house has a multipurpose space that has been designed as a guest room, a flexible communal space as well as a TV room or study.

The ground level has a fluid space. Internal spaces have been arranged in a continuous flow — from the front right to the back — for optimum cross ventilation.

From the front, the internal spaces are partially obscured by a vertically patterned metal screen and a courtyard garden.

A double-volume space has been created at the centre of the house by removing a bathroom from the upper floor, allowing natural light to filter through the randomly placed roof tiles, thereby evoking a poetic sense of light and shadow. This is the focal point, with all the rooms pivoting from it, making them light and airy.

At the back of the house, a double-storey masonry brick structure has been constructed in a stretcher bond, forming an open, landscaped courtyard.

Upstairs, the second bathroom towards the rear has been installed with a full-height glass window, creating a sense of space and allowing natural light to fill the well-ventilated space; all behind the privacy of the brick structure.

Meanwhile, on the first floor, a steel bridge connects the front and back of the house. The perforated floor of the lightweight bridge allows light to permeate through, casting dappled light and shadows on the lower floor.

At A Home for 2, Choo created a double-volume space and connected the front and back of the house with a steel bridge (Photo by O2 Design Atelier)

3 Courtyard House

Choo created a series of three courtyards to draw in light and infuse greenery into the otherwise narrow and deep interiors of this 22ft by 75ft terraced house in Petaling Jaya.

The 1,885 sq ft home, which was completed in 2018, once had the standard walls and low ceilings typical of Malaysian terraced houses.

Addressing the client’s main concerns about privacy and security, pre-cast vent blocks were installed to screen the front of the house, sheltering the internal spaces from the outside world, both visually as well as physically.

The pre-cast vents, which represents the client’s profession as a highway engineer that often works with precast structural components, are also designed to cast geometrical beams of light and shadow into the interiors of the house, notes Choo.

The first courtyard can be seen upon entering the front foyer. The open-plan living and dining area is seamlessly linked to the second courtyard and the kitchen towards the rear.

The kitchen, which has sliding doors to optimise space and ventilation, also opens up to the rear courtyard that functions as an outdoor terrace concealed by a perimeter wall.

Upstairs, one room has been converted into a family area and study with a full-height window and door, creating visual and spatial connectivity with the other parts in the house.

Meanwhile, the master bedroom and the family area have been designed to receive natural light from the central courtyard.  

According to Choo, courtyard spaces, in addition to bringing in light and greenery, blurs the boundaries between the indoors and outdoors, connecting the internal spaces with nature.

For this project, time and resources were spent on achieving spatial quality instead of investing in expensive materials.