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How to Build Comfortable,

Cool, and Attractive Housing


by Marjorie Mazel Hecht

Thermal Comfort Honeycomb Housing: save him the entire cost of


The Affordable Alternative to Terrace building the house in another 9
Housing
years. (Note that he is not
by Mohd Peter Davis, Mazlin Ghazali, Nor
Azian Nordin against air-conditioning, how-
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Universiti Putra ever, and recommends that for
Malaysia, 2006 bad heat waves or large gather-
Hardcover, 187 pp., $50.00 (postpaid from ings, people could have one
Malaysia)*
unit for their living area.)

T his book is an inspiring example of


how human creativity and determi-
nation can solve a problem that will
Thermal Comfort
Davis then took on the project
of improving Malaysia’s existing
change the lives of many people for the urban housing and developing
better. As the authors’ “honeycomb an attractive, comfortable, cool
housing” becomes a reality in Malaysia design for new housing that
(where the government and housing could be easily and inexpensively mass- tive. Roof wind turbines, they discov-
developers are awarding honeycomb produced. He and his colleagues scientif- ered, had no cooling effect.
projects), the idea should catch on, to ically studied, first of all, individual ther- By combining the cooling features,
build comfortable housing around the mal comfort—what a tolerable tempera- the improved house was 5.6°C (10°F)
world—and to tackle other very solvable ture was for most people in Malaysia’s cooler than conventional houses. The
development challenges. hot, humid, climate—and then measured key was keeping the roof from heat gain
In the first chapter, author Mohd Peter the temperatures night and day of various from the Sun. They accomplished this,
Davis explains how when he moved to kinds of existing housing. For most peo- working with industry, by finding a
Malaysia from Australia, he found his ple, the thermal comfort zone is between white metal that would stay clean, not
wife’s house in Kuala Lumpur lovely, but 24° and 28°C (75.2°-82.4°F). leak, and not store as much heat as the
too hot. It was a typical terraced row- They charted the Malaysian climate usual red concrete tile Malaysian roof.
house, but so hot during the day that he for every day in a year, and studied how They tested both glass wool and rock
couldn’t think and so hot at night that he houses heat up, and cool down. wool insulation, which both worked, all
couldn’t sleep. Malaysia has 2 million of Although Kuala Lumpur’s humid out- in all reducing thermal discomfort in a
these grossly overheated houses, both door temperature didn’t get above 35°C two-story house by 80 percent and in a
low cost and luxury versions, he says, (95°F), the indoor temperature reached one-story house by 70 percent.
and the capital, Kuala Lumpur, is now a 49°C under the roof. To keep the walls from heat gain, they
serious “urban heat island.” Then Davis and co-authors worked on designed wrap-around verandas. This
The older, traditional wooden kam- the science of the architecture and the enabled the concrete building materials
pong houses in the rural areas were cool building materials. First, they developed a to store the coolness from night ventila-
at night, but unbearably hot “torture “cool roof,” which reduced indoor tem- tion, instead of the heat from the Sun.
chambers” during the day. So, highly perature by 3.5°C (6.6°F). They found The authors proposed that the govern-
motivated by heat stress, Peter Davis that the common Malaysian practice of ment replace the current urban roofs
decided to design and build a new kind using natural ventilation—doors and win- with the new “cool roof,” which would
of house that would be comfortably cool dows open—during the day made the cut the thermal discomfort factor by 80
without air conditioning. He succeeded, house hotter, because it brought in the percent. But no one wanted to pay for
and has been living with his family in hottest air of the day from outside. the renovation. And so, they decided to
their dream house for 14 years. Conversly, opening the doors and concentrate on building new housing
As he writes, “Our dream bungalow, windows at night—the opposite of usual that was thermally comfortable—at no
designed to suit our family needs, has Malaysian practice—cooled down the additional cost to the builder or buyer.
served a wider purpose; it is the first sci- house and stored the coolness, keeping It should be noted that in the past,
entific demonstration that energy effi- the house cooler the next day. A Malaysia has been a housing success
cient thermally comfortable houses can mechanical ventilation system at night story, constructing “reasonable quality
be built in Malaysia without using air- (such as an exhaust fan) helped this urban housing,” Davis says, to keep
conditioning.” Davis calculated that his process. They found that between 14 to pace with the population increase and
decision not to use air-conditioning will 28 air changes per hour were most effec- the migration from the rural areas. The

100 Fall-Winter 2006 21st CENTURY BOOKS


problem is today that the price of
buying a row house is too high for
most working families, who live
instead in high-rise “pigeon-hole”
apartment buildings.
The Honeycomb Design
Architect Mazlin Ghazali’s hon-
eycomb design addresses the cost
question, and also two other com-
plaints by residents of current low-
cost housing: thermal discomfort
and too-small kitchens. He also
considered the lack of community
spaces and the unfriendliness of
conventional urban designs.
The Ghazali design revamps the
traditional urban row house design
by placing housing units around a
central space in hexagonal forma-
tions. This gives the group of hous-
es an inner courtyard. Instead of
“monotonous terrace houses with
small front yards,” Ghazali says,
there are “semi-detached houses
with generous gardens . . . at no
extra cost to the buyers.”
The Ghazali tessellating design
is not only attractive, but is more
efficient than the usual row house
design, accommodating more
housing units per acre, using
duplexes, triplexes, and quadru-
plexes. He has designed whole
neighborhoods in a hexagonal
grid, and all types of housing,
including honeycomb four- and
five-story apartment buildings. The
design allows for mature trees to
have the room to grow in the inner
courtyards, unimpeded by sewer
and utility lines. An early concept proposal for a satellite city envisioned to house 100,000 residents in
A basic consideration was how 2,000 acres.
to provide safe play areas for chil-
dren, and community recreational “about 500 million new houses, mainly location for these new cities.
spaces in an urban setting, and how to in developing countries.” They see their The book concludes: “We can only
make quality homes available for every design as a counterpole to the greens agree with Vernadsky: ‘The future is in
Malaysian family. Toward this end, for who advocate going back to nature and our hands. We will not let it go.’ ”
the last four years, the authors have been the Stone Age. Instead, they write, we The first honeycomb cities, to be
talking about thermal honeycomb hous- have to go “back to the optimism of funded by the Malaysian government,
ing with consumers, developers, and the the great Biosphere scientist Vladimir are on the drawing board (see figure).
government. In one market survey, their Vernardsky and his concept of the If Malaysia can do it, why not New
scale model of “My First Home” had 80 Noösphere. . . .” Orleans?
percent approval among respondents. We need 1,000 new cities in the Notes ____________________________________
When you look at the housing layouts, developing world, the authors state, and * The book can be obtained directly from the
and the sketches of the honeycomb Malaysia is positioned to play a leading authors in Malaysia. Send a bank draft for
U.S.$50.00 (which includes postage), payable
community, it is easy to see why they role as a city builder. Where will these to Peter Davis, and mail to him at Institute of
would be preferred to the usual row cities be located? The authors cite the Advanced Technology, Universiti Putra
Malaysia, UPM 43400 Serdang, Selangor,
house. Eurasian Land-Bridge, as pioneered by MALAYSIA. For more information, contact Peter
The authors note that the world needs Lyndon and Helga LaRouche, as the Davis at e-mail: mohd_peter@hotmail.com.

BOOKS 21st CENTURY Fall-Winter 2006 101