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TESSELLATION PLANNING Fly over the country and you will Orthogonal grids have been used

AND see rows and rows of houses. Is as the fundamental tool for
HONEYCOMB HOUSING subdividing land. Linear roads
there another way to lay out
• Mazlin Ghazali and Mohd. Peter provide roads to individually
Davis buildings?
owned plots of land. Roads and
• gridlines may be distorted by
We present here a new method of
Copyright September 2004 subdividing land for housing that, design or necessity but retain their
we believe, produces better social, linear nature.
environmental and aesthetic Terrace housing
outcomes, but in a way that uses
land more efficiently. Terrace housing has been long
been considered the densest form
It was conceived as a practical of landed property development
and economic substitute to the possible. Not only in Malaysia but
terrace house, but it can also be all over the world.
seen to be an alternative to row
Here in Malaysia it is the terrace
housing and the linear approach
to planning. house that predominates. The
typical lot varies from 16’ x 50’ to
24’ x 100’, but the most common
Conventional row housing and lots now are between 20’ x 65’
the linear approach to planning and 22’ x 70’. The ubiquitous
terrace house plan has been
Dwellings can be arranged on
designed and re-designed many
individual plots of land as
times but always within the same
detached units or linked to each
restrictive framework without
other. Detached or linked they line
much scope for innovation.
up along streets to form row
housing. In a row house, owners
The layout also has become
of individual plots of landed
stereotyped. In the typical housing
property maintain sole occupancy
the terrace houses are lined
up along grid-lines with 40’ Strata-title development Organic Layouts
service roads in front with
much smaller back lanes and Groups of houses share Following the trend from more
side lanes. Communal areas ownership of the communal developed countries, local
for schools, civic and religions facilities allowing greater freedom planners have devised ”organic”
building as well as open areas in designing the access routes layouts where winding roads
for children playgrounds and and common facilities allowing and occasional cul-de-sacs
parks are also provided. high densities. break the boredom of the iron
Despite the infrastructure grid, but density is sacrificed. A
The Desa Park Homes Guthrie development at Bukit
provided, the design of many
development is an example of this Jelutong is an example of this
housing estates does really
type of approach. It is able to trend. But the houses there cost
meet the practical needs of
achieve as good densities as a RM500,000 or more.
the average resident. Apart
conventional terrace house layout.
from the aesthetic boredom of
However, strata- titles are not
rows and rows of houses,
considered as valuable as land
among the drawbacks of the
terrace house layout is the
lack of public security and a
genuine sense of community 1

Current alternatives to
terrace housing
Trying to improve the
monotony of housing in rows,
planners have devised various

Desa Park Homes BukitJelutong,

Clustered Layouts

Similarly the cluster approach can

produce interesting outcomes but,
in most cases, loses out on

The circular clustering of houses

at Brondby near Copenhagen in
Denmark shows a wide expanse
of green area between the

Honeycomb housing

Using the tessellation method of

planning, all the houses are built
around small parks with large
shade trees in hexagonal cul-de-
sacs, which efficiently interlock to
form townships similar to a bees’
Segments of the tile
In mathematics, to tessellate
A small triangular tile, the
means to cover a plane with a
mother-tile, is the basic building
pattern without gaps or overlap.
block that creates the
For centuries artists and
honeycomb layout. It contains
craftsmen have used
three requisite elements of a
tessellations as a tool to create
township layout:
visual effects on surfaces.
Tiling is the most common • Road
form of tessellation. Regular • House & garden
tessellations occur when the • Public area
tiles are regular polygons and
they are the simplest form We call these colored segments,
The Muslim craftsmen in Spain daughter-tiles.
in the 15th century created
beautifully complex visual
effects by tessellating a small
simple basic tile pattern.
Intricate and complex designs
can be built-up from basic tile
patterns in a simple way by this
We apply this creative
mathematical technique to
town–planning. In Honeycomb
housing, the creative power of
tessellation is applied to town
planning, where the colours are
not merely decorative but
represent functional space.
The mother-tiles and close
variations of it tessellate according
to simple rules to form what seems
a complex and intricate pattern.
When tessellating, daughter-tiles
meet and link up with similar ones
in adjoining tiles. The same colored
daughter tiles form conjoined-tiles.
It is the complex shapes of these
interlocking daughter tiles that we
see: not the simplicity of the
triangular grid.

Conjoined house/garden tiles form

the basis of new house types.
Linked Honeycomb houses ideally
join back to back and are accessed
from different cul-de-sacs. This is
the case of the duplex and triplex.
But they can also link side to side
at the same time, as in the case of
the quadruplex and sextuplex.
Designing the courtyard tile
Designing bigger neighbourhoods

A courtyard tile containing the When the courtyard tile is tessellated,

planning elements necessary to the roads are linked to create a bigger
form a small community is neighbourhood without loss of
created by tessellating the efficiency. Opportunities to link
mother-tiles to form a hexagon. dwelling units into multi-unit blocks
exist along the tile boundaries.
Communal space is created in
the middle, surrounded by the Social aspect of Honeycomb
houses. The road accesses the housing
individual units internally and
creates an extremely efficient Using the tessellation method of
circulation system. planning, houses are built around a
small park with large shady trees in a
cul-de-sac: this communal garden,
Through design, we have easily accessible to all, acts as a
created a spatial boundary, a social focus for a small, friendly
central area that can become neighbourhood and is a defensible
the communal focus, and a space designed to naturally reduce
sense of entry into this place. crime.
The design is such that there is
a clear, common perception of The short winding roads reduce traffic
the cluster as a ‘homezone’, a speed so that urban areas become
UK term denoting the smallest safe and pleasant for children and
neighbourhood. pedestrians, encouraging outdoor
social interaction and the
. Connection to 50 feet road development of a community.
Cars versus pedestrians Creating Communities

Planners have long realized the The outdoor space between

negative effect of fast moving buildings is an important arena for
traffic to neighbourhoods. social interaction. Social contact
Radburn in New Jersey, built and spontaneous interaction are
over 70 years ago in the US, is important building blocks towards
the prototype for the separation creating a sense of community.
of pedestrians from traffic. Delft The creation of a safe, pleasant
in the Netherlands, built in the and shady area of suitable size,
1960’s, is one of the first just outside the home, is a basic
examples where the roads are feature of Honeycomb housing.
designed with traffic-calming The central courtyard becomes
features to slow down vehicles.2 the social focus of the
neighbourhood. In this location it
In Honeycomb Housing the is accessible to all to enjoy, the
network of roads comprises very young, the old and the
looping cul-de-sacs and short disabled.
connecting roads leading to Sociologists find that individuals
distributor roads. relate better to small groups rather
than large.
This road pattern slows down
In Honeycomb housing the
traffic naturally rendering it safe
neighbourhood contains only 5 to
for pedestrians.
40 units defined clearly by the
single access road and the
The short connecting road with
communal courtyards. It is easier
no access to houses provides
to recognize each other, to get
space for visitors’ parking.e-sacs
acquainted, to form informal social
and short connecting roads
groups and to initiate collective
leading to distributor roads
Defensible Space
Environmental design can assist
The issue of public security in
in providing natural surveillance
residential areas is a hot current
of the external spaces. The
topic. The concept of Defensible
Honeycomb layout can be seen
Space3 with hierarchy of private
as a technique to design
space, semi-private space and
townships where every house
public space, after 30 years, is
lies in a cul-de-sac which
already widely accepted.
naturally produces defensible
Residents must be allowed to
exercise influence over the
Furthermore it completely
environment just outside their
eliminates back-lanes from
homes: visitors should know when
where 70% of break-ins in
they are entering a semi-private
Malaysia originate.4
Play areas for small children The space outside the home, In this respect their shape is
easily overseen by parents very much like big detached
Play is an important arena for should be made conducive to houses, and it is evident from
learning. In the growing up process, play and the growing up process. existing that the typical
the child becomes more and more Play areas with football fields developer flattens large
independent of the parent, some minutes away from the expanses of land for his
exploring first the spaces around home do not serve this function. terrace houses, but lets the
the mother and progressing to bungalows go up and down to
other rooms in the house, the front better suit the original
yard and so on. The opportunity for The Environmental aspect of contours.
exploring new environment is best Honeycomb housing
presented in small discreet steps
so that children can explore them Tessellation planning makes
at their own pace. 5 undulating land suitable for high-
density landed property
The growing up process of the development with less cut and fill.
kampong childhood that Lat,s Big trees in the cul-de-sacs
cartoons vividly describe is now provide cooling shade; they also
just a memory for city dwellers. serve as source of food and
habitat for small birds and
The problem with the typical animals.
Malaysian situation is that the
process of exploring new territory Sloping sites
independent of the parent stops at To build long rows
the front gate. Beyond that is not of terrace houses cheaply require
considered safe. hills to be cut and streams to be
When he is finally old enough to go filled. Honeycomb link units have
out unaccompanied by an adult it compact footprints that allow
is too big a transition. more level changes to be placed
between the block.
Bringing nature into townships Aesthetic Aspect

The road shoulder with its cables and Tessellation planning allows new
pipes are not suitable for trees: but townships to break free from the
big shady species can thrive in the mental grid-lock that produces
small communal gardens of rigid rows of housing without any
fhoneycomb Housing. The clearing of cost penalty. To most architects,
trees to create concrete jungles are designing yet another terrace
the main contribution to the heat- house is a boring chore.
island effect. Maximizing the tree Honeycomb housing with its
canopy area is the strategy used in novel house types represents a
Honeycomb housing to minimise the new refreshing challenge for
heat island effect. architects.

They lead to new house types

With the profusion of big trees, small with wider, more articulated
trees and shrubs, we can start frontages; where linked units like
thinking of landscaping not only in the duplex and triplex give the
terms of beautifying the environment impression of being detached
but as a source of food and habitat units viewed from the entrance of
for small animals. Linking the small each house.
islands of green via the footpath
landscaping and the private gardens The quadruplex and sextuplex
will encourage biological diversity. give the impression of being
semi-detached units. These new
Wildlife technology to be developed forms give architects more room
further by UPM will introduce suitable for creativity.
species of butterflies, birds and small
mammals to make the Honeycomb
Township its home.6


Hierarchy of roads

It is very easy to get totally lost when Along Lingkaran 3 branch out Miss a turning on the circular road,
looking for a house in the typical Desa 1/3, Desa 2/3, Desa 3/3 and and we just have to keep going
Malaysian township. Make one so on. From Lekok 2 we can get until we get back to the junction
wrong turn and it is easy to to Lekok1/2. again. Errors are not compounded.
compound this error with other The system is self correcting.
mistakes which takes you further The fact that the smaller roads do
and further away from where we not connect to other small roads
actually want to go. means that if we make a wrong
turn into one of them, we go out
Using the tessellation method, we the way we came.
can adopt a strategy to make it easy
for people to navigate the streets
and not to have to worry about
getting lost.

In the example shown, there is one

main entrance road which leads to a
circular road which dominates the 50
acre site. Jalan 1 leads to Lekok 2
and Lingkaran 3.

These are the distribution roads.

The houses are in the cul-de-sacs
which are accessed from these main
Tessellation planning can also be
applied to the layout of apartments,
where the units cluster around the
central lobby of each block and
the blocks, in turn, are arrayed
around a central courtyard which
contains the driveway, car parks
and a central garden.
The Economic Aspect of The circular one by itself would be
Honeycomb housing the most efficient. However, as we
have seen from the example from
The terrace house can be Brondby, Denmark, the circle
seen as a row of houses does not tessellate. The third factor is the shape of the
surrounded by roads. In The hexagonal neighbourhoods individual lot and its effect on the
contrast, Honeycomb houses interlock each other without gap or Buildable footprint after taking into
surround the road. It is easy to overlap. setback requirements. In the example
understand intuitively that shown, the truncated triangle shape
roads accessing internally are The second consideration is the of 6000 square feet yields a higher
more efficient than roads length of the distribution roads plinth area compared to a typical 60
accessing units from the that encircle a precinct. The feet x 100 feet site.
external boundary. This perimeter of an hexagonal
accounts for the efficiency of precinct is 7% shorter than the Notice how the improvement in plinth
cul-de-sacs. Given a fixed perimeter of a square one. area accompanies a considerable
area and number of houses to aesthetic improvement.
access, the shorter the cul-de-
sac, the less the area taken
up by the road. A square cul-
de-sac neighbourhood has
less road area than a long
rectangular one.

The basic neighbourhood comprising 5 and 16 units

of quadriplexes and duplexes is compared with a
terrace house arrangement of an equivalent 5 and16
units of terrace houses. It is demonstrated in the
table below that the honeycomb layout is more land-
use efficient.

A similar comparison between 2 and 8 units of

detached units of terrace and Honeycomb layouts
respectively comes to the same conclusion.
Comparisons of private and public green areas, and
of potential tree canopy areas also yielded
interesting results.
Showing 288 houses
Low-medium cost d/s
1200sf, 18’ frontage
3 bedrooms

Showing 258 houses
Low-medium cost d/s
3 Bedrooms
Proof of concept

Presenting our ideas to various people in Another survey on attendees of a

the housing industry, we find that most seminar on ‘Lightweight Steel for
warm to our ideas. However, doubts are Residential Construction’ yielded
often expressed as to whether others in similar results.
the industry or consumers can accept
this radically new concept. Furthermore, Mathematical model
many also are skeptical about our claims
on the improvement in land-use Distances and areas of a
efficiency, and expect such ‘complicated’ Tessellation Layout and an
layouts to be more expensive. Certainly, equivalent Terrace Layout were
we agree that our claims on the cost expressed in terms of variables x, y,
savings are counter intuitive. etc.
Consumer and industry surveys
Using formulae from the Pythagoras
Reaction to Honeycomb housing has Theorem and the Solution to
been tested through surveys. UPM Quadratic Equations, a
undertook a targeted consumer survey at mathematical model of the two
an exhibition of houses for sale. alternatives was built up. We then
track how land-use efficiency and
They gave out questionnaires after a 15 density vary as a range of buildable
minute explanation at our booth,. footprint areas of the two
From 116 respondents 79% agreed that alternatives are input.
‘liked to live in a tessellation housing We were able to prove that
scheme’. From 69 members of the Tessellation layouts reduce the total
Housing Developers who responded to a area of roads, thereby resulting in
questionnaire given out after a 60 minute more saleable land, and lowering
presentation, 78% agreed to the infrastructural cost. We also showed
statement that ‘tessellation layouts are that densities can be improved.
Land-use efficiency and density

By varying the inputs we can see the

result on the outputs and capture this on
a graph. We can show that within
practical limits, the sextuplex in a
honeycomb layout is always more land-
use efficient and dense than the terrace


By going through the same process with

the length of service mains we found big
reductions in the quantity of roads and

We found some increase in the cost of

sewerage but overall, there is a
substantial reduction in Infrastructure

IT aspect and prototype software

The industry-standard method of

designing housing layout is largely an
intuitive process. The design and
drawing of a housing layout is required
before a feasibility study can be done
and the first solution is very unlikely to
be satisfactory.
The search for an optimal solution Projects
There is no similar software in the
involves a lot of hard work with market that provides these capabilities
multiple iterations between layout From case studies and using the
based on the conventional method of
drawings and feasibility studies and feasibility planner, we are able to
design. The application software
is often not fully done. show developers that they are able
described may become a compelling
to improve their sales revenue from
alternative to the current slow and
the increase in sellable land and
By contrast, the tessellation method laborious intuitive method.
units, and reduce their costs by
of planning involves geometrical
cutting down the amount of roads
manipulation that can be captured Using the mathematical model and
and drains to be constructed. We
by mathematical formulae and a set employing a set of algorithms, and
are already working as consultants
of algorithms that can be partly funded by Malaysian Venture
on real sites to realize the first
programmed. Capital Bhd, we have produced:
tessellation developments.
• A prototype of software that can
Proposed systematic computer-
rapidly produce a feasibility model that
aided process Universiti Industri Selangor
is able to handle what-if questions to
reach an optimal layout proposal
Thus, a key feature of the This is a prototype tessellation
without drawing a layout plan first.
tessellation method of planning is layout applied to student housing in
Density and percentage sellable land
the fact that it makes possible an Berjuntai Bestari, Selangor. Five
are calculated based on the
application software that can rapidly storey walk-up apartments for 5000
mathematical model.
produce a feasibility model that can students are laid out on a hexagonal
handle what-if questions to reach an and pentagonal grid creating the
• AUTOCAD add-on tools that simplify
optimal layout proposal. cul-de-sac courtyards. The
and speed-up the drawing of
construction work is already 80%
tessellation layout.
complete and CF is expected by
A further capability is the almost
February 2005 before the students
automatic production of a drawing Our near term objective is to be able to
move in.
of that layout. produce a preliminary feasibility study
during an hour-long consultation,
followed by a detailed tessellation
housing layout 6 hours later.

Puncak Alam

We are working on the

layout of a 400 acre mixed
development site north of
Shah Alam. The proposal
includes low and low
medium cost apartments,
medium to high medium cost
attached housing, industrial
and commercial properties
and the full range of
amenities that make up a


Puncak Alam The next step
We are working on the layout of a The successful urbanization of the We believe that there are
400 acre mixed development site Malaysian population has become an commercially feasible
north of Shah Alam. The proposal inspiration to other developing technological solutions that can
includes low and low medium cost countries. In just two generations the improve the homes and
apartments, medium to high medium rural society has been transformed townships we live in. We want to
cost attached housing, industrial and into a predominantly urban society spread our new ideas to as many
commercial properties and the full providing vastly improved incomes, people as possible so that these
range of amenities that make up a health, nutrition, housing and ideas can be put into practice. We
township. education. However there have been will be offering to license our
negative side effects to rapid proprietary knowledge to town-
Research and Development urbanization. But these side effects planners at very low fees. W
are not inevitable. Our current work hen our software
can help improve the urbanization becomes a reality, they will be
Tessellation Planning can be seen to process in Malaysia and other made available at affordable
be an invention and we have taken developing countries. prices.
steps to apply for patents in Malaysia
Apart from R&D work in the core field
and Australia. The breakthrough
of tessellation planning, further REFERENCES.
came over a year ago after eight
research in complementary fields like Encyclopedia of Malaysia Vol 5
years of working on the concept of Architecture, Chen Voon Fee ed.
thermal comfort technology, wild-life
generic designs for housing. Since Jan Gehl “Life Between Buildings”
technology, and building systems are
then, we have not only worked hard (1971)
already under way. Oscar Newman “Defensible Space”
on rapidly commercializing the
invention, but have also spent
M Y Abas & I N Sugianto “Break Ins
considerable resources in exploring The combination of these mature and
Malaysian Houses” Silpakorn
the more long term possibilities. An emerging technologies have strong Architectural Discourse 2004
important feature is the collaboration appeal as evidenced by data from John & Elizabeth Newson “Four Years
between UPM and Arkitek M. the surveys mentioned above. The Old in an Urban Community (1968)
response to the question on the Thermal Comfort Honeycomb Housing
Ghazali. Peter Davis, Visiting
for Hot Climates by Mohd Peter Davis et
Scientist at the Institute of Advanced desirability of “thermal comfort
al presented at the Commonwealth
Technology is working on finding honeycomb housing” from all three Association of Planners Conference, 7th
solutions to the problems of rapid surveys have been almost July, 2004
urbanization in developing countries. unanimous!

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