Malaysian timber has come a long way since those days where the mention of wooden structure would conjure up imageries of traditional, vernacular built forms in rural villages such as the ubiquitous village houses or native longhouses on stilts with thatched roofs. This article showcases the application of timber in extraordinarily imaginative and creative ways. It features some of the most uniquely daring and different uses of Malaysian timber, which sees perfectly eye to eye with beauty and functionality, and more. The Henderson Waves and Nautique in Singapore, Four Seasons Resort Langkawi and the Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort as well as the Viceroy Resort in the Maldives, whose distinctive time-transcending designs are testaments to the versatility and flexibility of Malaysian timber for innovative and experimental uses.
Named after the road it crosses at an elevation of 36 meters, the Henderson Waves connects Mount Faber Park and Telok Blangah Hill Park in Singapore in a rather dramatic fashion. This 274-meter bridge, the highest pedestrian walkway in Singapore, has intermediate supports at 24-meter intervals with a central span of 57 meters. The bridge effortlessly harmonies itself with the natural landscape, connecting existing pathways and parks to provide natural and continuous access from both hills. This engineering feat of a bridge comprises four distinct sections, i.e., seven undulating curved steel ribs; supporting hollow sectioned vibration-dampening steel frames; Balau timber deck with curved balustrades, wooden seats and alcoves. The undulating curved steel ribs form a ‘wave’ that alternately rise over and under its decks. The curved ribs form alcoves that function as shelters hugging seats within.
The bridge’s sinuous curves, designed to look like three-dimensional waves, and its 1,500-square-meter timber deck required a great variety of different modular panels to form the complex dimensions. Five thousand pieces of 70mm x 32mm Balau modular boards were used to clad the bridge in areas meant for interaction between man and material, such as the walkway, alcove seating and sidewalls. The boards were fabricated with numerical precision using proprietary software, which provided exact dimensions of the surface at regular 500mm intervals, thus reducing material wastage. Timber specialist Venturer Pte. Ltd. of Singapore supplied the Balau strips, which were certified as originating from sustainable sources by Certisource, a UK-based timber legality verification standard.
Docked at Raffles Marina, Singapore, an unusual looking structure with portholes and a huge timber drum is actually a boathouse named Nautique – the home of Kevin Hill and his wife Kelly Chan. Kevin is in the third of three generations of English professionals and craftsmen involved in the construction industry, specializing in timber. Having lived in Singapore since 1992, he understands tropical timbers very well and often specifies Malaysian timbers due to their legal credentials. As a specialist timber contractor, he conceived the idea of a boathouse that meets all the requirements of a boat with the comfort of an apartment. It is effectively a floating water villa, the construction of which did no harm to the seabed.
The 2,000-square-foot Nautique consists of three levels; the lowest level is equipped with a kitchenette, bathroom and a lounge that opens out to a patio. A master bedroom with an en suite bathroom occupies the middle floor while the top level is an open-air entertainment deck complete with a jacuzzi. The eye- catching timber drum is actually the stair tower, which is framed in Balau and clad in Merbau. The decking is made of Teak while the floors are Balau joists with tongue-and-grooved Merbau strips. The interiors are furnished with Merbau floors, solid Teak furniture and cozy sofas. The boathouse, apart from being the owner’s ideal retreat, is meant to be a prototype for floating luxury villas that could be tugged to exotic locations and quiet islands for a truly private escapade, without feeling that one is on a boat.
Inspired by the Alhambra Palace in Spain, the design of the Four Seasons on the Malaysian resort island of Langkawi is a combination of Moorish, Arabic and Indian influences in a Malay kampong setting. Latticed timber screens and Moorish architectural features are recurring themes in this resort. High walls with plenty of indoor courtyards to provide privacy are typical characteristics of built forms adopting Moorish architecture.
Located between its reception and outdoor floating pavilions, the consultation area sports a lattice of Chengal rafters and battens beneath a fiberglass roof. This roofing installation is not only structural but also serves as a filter for the otherwise too intense sunlight streaming into the double-volumed space. The roof is asymmetrically held up by painted masonry wall on one side, and square timber columns on masonry piers on the other. The roofing structure frame the pastel-colored walls to provide an uplifting yet calming space for consultation and preparation before any spa treatments. These are complemented by the judicious use of timber in slats as simple screens and the polished Balauflooring.
As part of the Addu Atoll, Villingili Island is a five-minute boat ride from Gan International Airport. Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa is located on the northern tip of the island with 6km of coastline and 2km of white sandy beaches. The 132-villa resort’s structural works were all constructed with a mix of Balau and Kapur whereas Meranti was used for interior timberworks. There are seven distinctively designed villas, two bars and three specialty restaurants in the resort.
The Fashala Restaurant, which offers seafood cuisine, features the most dramatic design of the three restaurants and affords spectacular views of the ocean. The slightly tilted giant central columns in the restaurant are clad with strips of Meranti. The floors are in Balau and the screen walls are of Meranti slats. All the timberworks were finished to a consistent lime-washed look and feel, which binds all the disparate materials to provide a harmonious and relaxed spatial experience.
Over at the 61-villa Viceroy Maldives located in the isolated northern edge of Maldives, on Shaviyani Atoll, the 17-acre private island of Vagaru is a haven of unspoiled nature dotted with palm trees and pristine sand encircling a blue lagoon. The design of the villas is an interpretation of the hull of an inverted Maldivian dhoni – a traditional fishing boat. A deliberate move away from a stiff square or rectangular design, the villas have irregular shapes with curved walls, lending a sensuous feel to the spatial experience. Every villa comes with a private pool and a private sun deck.
The villas are well spaced around the island for maximum privacy with 32 villas over the water and 29 on the beach. Some of the villas are single-storeyed while others are double-storeyed with either a room or an open deck on the upper oor. Those with a room on the upper floor have a dormer window for stargazing. An interesting mix of Balau, Kapur and Meranti were used for different parts of the resort’s structure and interiors ranging from roof trusses, ceilings, flooring, doors and windows. A giant chill-out swing suspended over the Balau deck from the ridge beam of the villas’ roof heightens the enjoyment of the Maldivian sea breeze and the boundless sky.
These projects are just a few of the many found within the region as well as other parts of the world that prove that a discerning eye for aesthetics and a deep understanding of timber’s technical qualities as a building material could result in breathtaking functional structures that become icons in themselves. And whatever the design script is, Malaysian timbers such as Chengal, Balau, Merbau, Kapur and Meranti help dramatize and liven the construction stage.
*This article was provided by the Malaysian Timber Council. For more information on these and other popular Malaysian timber species, please visit: www.mtc.com.my.