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Mazlin Ghazali Introduction In “Honeycomb Housing”, instead of rows of terrace houses, we are proposing that every house is in a cul-desac with a garden in the middle (1), where giant shady trees will be planted. The courtyard in the middle of the houses is not just a street for transit: it is a place safe enough from speeding cars and criminals, for even preschoolers to play on. Of course houses in cul-de-sacs (2) are very much sought after in countries like the US and Australia. But what we propose is suitable not only for high-cost houses but can even be applied to find alternatives to the existing “lowcost housing” solutions.

Figure 2

Figure 1

Instead of detached single family homes around the cul-de-sac, we can divide the buildings into two or three houses such that each home faces a different cul-de-sac (3). We can also slice up the buildings into four or six so that a pair of houses faces each cul-de-sac. As we partition each building into more units, we are reducing the size of each unit, increasing the number density of the development, but take note that we are not reducing the quality of the external environment found in the cul-de-sac.

Our aim is to recreate the best elements of kampong and small-town life: where children can play outside our homes with friends without fear from crime and traffic, in a community where people know and talk to each other. We are trying to create a more suitable environment for the “kampong boy of the future” – something better than our existing terrace houses. And honeycomb housing can deliver all the benefits of the cul-de-sac housing environment, but with the cost advantages of the densely packed terrace housing.

Figure 3

Low Cost Housing
Existing housing for the low and middle income group in Malaysia suffers from various defects. Studies done by UPM at a housing estate with single storey houses has shown that three major complains from the consumers are that the houses are too hot, kitchens are too small and roof leaks. Safety is another problem. A national survey undertaken by IKMAS and NST last year showed that the main concern of Malaysian citizens is crime (4). Another aspect is the safety against traffic: the straight roads found in terrace housing are too hazardous for small children (5).

Figure 5

Figure 4

Not only is the inside of the house hot, but the external environment too is getting hotter and hotter. Records show that Kuala Lumpur has grown hotter by 0.6o centigrade per decade, faster than other cities in the world due to the hot island effect (6,7). This in undoubtedly due to the transformation of the natural environment to become a concrete jungle. Despite the attempts at tree planting and landscaping, the typical suburban housing estate is an ecological desert, where crows and mosquitoes seem to be the only wildlife that thrive.

Problem: ‘Heat Island Effect’
Many cities are getting hotter

by 0.10C to 0.60C per decade
Baltimore USA Shanghai China Oakland USA Tokyo Japan Los Angeles USA Kuala Lumpur 0.10C per decade 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.6

Conclusion: KL holds the world record !

Figure 7

Figure 6

So not only is the straight line terrace houses aesthetically boring (8), they don’t function very well, they become social and environmental slums. Developers subsidize low-cost housing, yet many go unsold. An anonymous developer laments “the Government is forcing us to build low-cost house which people don’t want to buy”. The government also builds low-cost housing and sells them at a loss, but these houses are unloved. Squatter kampongs usually fly proudly the BN or UMNO flags before resettlement. Where are they on the new flats? The auction notices in the daily papers illustrate another problem: many low-cost houses don’t seem to appreciate in value. For example, the reserve prices of three properties shown in the New Straits Times (4th August 2005) were RM 26,000, RM 35,000 and RM 42,000. The servicing of interest on assets that do not appreciate in value is not a privilege: it is a financial burden. Housing policy involves many facets; the physical planning of the homes is only one of the factors that contribute towards a good policy. However, it is a key issue; certainly bad design creates bad housing.

Figure 8

Figure 8

Developers, planners and architects have come up with several alternatives to the drawbacks of linear planning. In trying to improve the monotony of housing in rows, planners have devised various strategies: Strata-title development Groups of houses share ownership of the communal facilities allowing greater freedom in designing the access route and common facilities allowing high densities. The Desa Park Homes development (9)is an example of this type of approach. It is able to achieve densities as good conventional terrace house layouts. However, strata- titles are considered not as valuable as land titles. Organic Layouts Following the trend from more developed countries, local planners have devised ‘organic’ layouts where winding roads and occasional cul-de-sacs break the boredom of the rectilinear grid, but density is sacrificed. A Guthrie development at Bukit Jelutong (10)is an example of this trend. However, the houses there cost RM500,000 or more.

Figure 9

Figure 10

Clustered Layouts Similarly, the cluster approach can produce interesting outcomes but, in most cases, loses out on efficiency. The circular clustering of houses at Brondby near Copenhagen in Denmark (11) shows a wide expanse of green area between the clusters. New Urbanism From America comes a new trend against suburban sprawl. The Neo-Traditional Development (12) seeks to rediscover the vitality found in small towns by re-introducing the rectilinear grid, often overlaid with diagonal streets to link focal points.

What most of these efforts require is additional resources. More land, more infrastructure, more money and you will have a better environment. The honeycomb concept can help improve the design of housing but without necessarily having to spend more.

Figure 11

Figure 12

In mathematics, to tessellate means to cover a plane with a pattern without having any gap or overlap. For centuries artists and craftsmen have used tessellation as a tool to create visual effects on surfaces. Tiling is the most common form of tessellation, and in its simplest form the tiles are regular polygons. The Muslim craftsmen in Spain in the 15th century created beautifully complex visual effects by tessellating a small basic tile pattern. Intricate and complex designs can be built up from basic tile patterns in a simple way by this process. Looking at the example shown (13), we may think it a difficult task to lay the multiple shapes of tiles. The nine pointed star, the four pointed, the spear head, the leaf like, etc. But in fact the seemingly complex pattern is built up simply by tiling a single basic square pattern. In tessellation planning this creative power is applied to town planning, where the colours are not merely decorative but represent functional space.

Figure 13

Figure 14 We start with a simple hexagonal tile is designed to comprise houses, the plots of land they sit on, an access road and a communal green area. A small number of houses, 16 in this case (14), are arranged around a small park in a looping cul-de-sac, like friends sitting around a table. The neighbourhood is bounded by a hexagonal perimeter at the back of the houses. There is only one entrance road. These factors help create a sense of belonging to a place and to the group of people that reside in the place. This tile is tessellated, by translating and rotating this basic pattern, to form a courtyard community in the shape of a hexagon. This hexagon can be tessellated to form a cul-de-sac community of 42 homes (15), and further tessellated to form a block community consisting of over 300 homes bounded by a distribution road (16). From these elements a layout for a township on any given shape of land can be produced. Figure 15

Figure 16

In the example shown, the 150 acre site is tiled with the hexagonal blocks (17). Then the tiles are trimmed at the edges. A road hierarchy is created by introducing a main linear road that traverses the whole site, secondary connecting or looping roads that all branch from the main road. All houses are in cul-de-sacs or clusters that are accessed from the main or secondary roads, making the plan easy to understand and navigate

Figure 17

Tessellation planning is used to create Honeycomb Housing, which is a new, dense urban form that is able to capture the best social and environmental features of traditional rural communities. Using the tessellation concept, a neighbourhood more functional, complex and interesting than rows of houses is achieved while, at the same time, land-use efficiency is improved. Shared streets In honeycomb housing the network of roads comprises looping cul-de-sacs and short connecting roads leading to distributor roads (18). This pattern slows down traffic naturally, rendering it safe for pedestrians and children playing, giving the cul-de-sac the air and feeling of a “shared street” (19). The short connecting roads with no access to houses provides space for visitors’ parking.

Figure 18

Defensible space The honeycomb layout produces a hierarchy of private space, semi-private space and public space, where residents are able to exercise influence over the environment just outside their homes: visitors know when they are entering a semi-private domain. The environmental design assists in providing natural surveillance of the external spaces; every house lies in a cul-de-sac, which naturally produces defensible spaces (20). Furthermore, back-lanes from where 30% of breakins in Malaysia originate, are completely eliminated.

Figure 19

Figure 20

Communal space for all The spaces outside the home (21) are made conducive to the growing-up process by making them safe for smaller children, with ample play amenities. Football fields several minutes away from the home do not serve the needs of preschoolers or young primary school children, who need closer supervision. The communal garden in front of every home is also accessible to the less mobile people in society: the elderly and disabled. It is this socially friendly and safe environment that existed in the kampongs (22) that is now so much lacking in our modern urban areas. Figure 22

Figure 21

Contour housing Building long rows of terrace houses cheaply requires hills to be cut and streams to be filled. Honeycomb housing units have compact footprints that allow more level changes to be placed between the blocks (23). In this respect their shape is very much like big detached houses, and it is evident from existing townships that the typical developer flattens large expanses of land for his terrace houses, but lets the bungalows go up and down to better suit the original contours.

Mitigating the heat island effect The road shoulder along terrace houses with its underground cables and pipes is not suitable for trees: but big shady species can thrive in the small communal gardens of honeycomb housing. The clearing of trees to create concrete jungles is the main contribution to the heat-island effect. The canopy of big trees, far larger than the actual size of the honeycomb parks shades the roads and hard landscape (24). Evaporation from leaves will further cool the external environment.

Figure 23

Biodiversity The islands of big trees together with smaller trees and shrubs around the homes can become microhabitats for small animals, birds and insects. Suitable species of introduced butterflies, birds and small mammals will gradually adopt these as their natural home and thus increase biological diversity.

Figure 24

Tessellation Planning, without incurring any cost penalty, allows new townships to break free from the mental gridlock that produces rigid rows of housing. To most architects, designing yet another terrace house is a boring chore. Honeycomb housing represents a new and refreshing challenge for architects. It leads to new generic house-types. These new forms give architects more room for creativity. Wide frontage detached homes The honeycomb detached house comes with wider, more articulated frontages, compared to the bungalows in rows (26-28). Figure 26

Figure 27


Figure 28


Detached frontages Linked units like the duplex and triplex give the impression of being detached units when viewed from the entrance of each house (29-31).

Figure 30



Figure 29

Figure 31


Semi-detached frontages The quadruplex and sextuplex units give the impression of being semi-detached units (32-34). These two building types are the honeycomb alternatives to the low and low-medium terrace house. In the equivalent honeycomb layout, every house is a corner unit, with a front yard and side garden.

Figure 32


1 3 2 4

Figure 33


Figure 34


A honeycomb neighbourhood comprising 5 units of quadruplexes and duplexes is compared with a terrace house arrangement of an equivalent 5 units. We then compared a honeycomb neighbourhood comprising 16 units of quadruplexes and duplexes against a terrace house arrangement of an equivalent 16 units (35). It is demonstrated in the table below (36) that the honeycomb layout is more land-use efficient. It is more efficient because the total area of roads have been reduced: in the 5 unit comparison the area of road reserve is reduced from 41% 0f the total area to only 26%; consequently, because the green area is maintained at 7%, the saleable house land is increased from 52% to 67%. In the 16 unit case, the road area of the honeycomb layout is 23% compared to 35% for the terrace layout; the house land is 70%, up from 58%

Table 36 5 UNIT HONEYCOMB HOUSE (SM) (%) ROAD 334 26 GREEN 93 7 HOUSE 861 67 TOTAL 1288 100 16 UNIT HONEYCOMB HOUSE (SM) (%) ROAD 879 23 GREEN 264 7 HOUSE 2721 70
TOTAL 3864 100

Figure 35 TERRACE HOUSE (SM) (%) 611 41 103 7 761 52 1475 100

TERRACE HOUSE (SM) (%) 1323 35 269 7 2190 58
3782 100

We next looked at comparing two theoretical sites. An efficient layout of terrace houses on an island site is compared with an equivalent honeycomb alternative. Here again, the honeycomb alternative produces less roads and more residential land (3739). In this example, the public green area and density (units per acre) are kept the same; consequently, the average lot sizes are 30% larger.



Table 39

Terrace Road Saleable land Green area Number of units per acre Average lot size 47% 44% 9% 15 units 1261 sf 33% 58% 9% 15 units 1658 sf 30% larger!

We have done several comparative studies to illustrate how honeycomb layouts are more efficient than conventional rectilinear grid layouts. We have done several comparative studies to illustrate how honeycomb layouts are more efficient than conventional rectilinear grid layouts. The study of alternative layouts at Demak Laut, Kuching (40-41) is one example.

Figure 41 TERRACE HOUSING In this example, there are equivalent number of units. The green areas and provisions for amenities are about the same. The terrace alternative yields only about 40% sellable residential land. This yield is quite common for any landed property development. However, the honeycomb layout can yield about 43% saleable land. The reason for this can be seen in the reduction in road reserve – from 418% to 35% (42).



Table 42

It is possible to build a mathematical model where distances and areas of a sextuplex honeycomb layout and an equivalent terrace layout are expressed in terms of variables x, y, and so on. Using Pythagoras Theorem and the Solution to Quadratic Equations, a spreadsheet model of the two alternatives is built up. We are interested in land-use efficiency, which is the ratio of sellable land to total land, and in density which is the number of units per acre. Both these output variables are made to relate to buildable footprint, which is the net land area in a house lot that can be built, taking into account the building setback requirements. This mathematical model shows that, within the range of practical limits, the sextuplex honeycomb form of housing is more land-use efficient and can provide more units per acre than the terrace (43-46).


Graph 45

Graph 46

Tessellation planning can also be applied to the design of apartments. For an alternative to the 5-storey walk-up flats, instead of long parallel slabs of block apartments, we have compact point blocks arranged in a hexagonal cluster so that a communal courtyard is created in the centre of the blocks. In addition, on every floor, the units are not strung out along a corridor, but instead, circle around a lobby area. The long narrow corridor is suitable only as a circulation space, but a hexagonal lobby having the same area can be a communal area. In the design shown(47), there is a small playground equipment placed in the centre; it could be an indoor garden or fountain instead. The apartments are designed to have windows facing the lobby, subjecting it to natural surveillance, and thus avoiding the public security problem of “blind” corridors which attract vandalism.

Figure 47

Figure 48

Figure 49

The design of the apartment in a hexagonal block need not be problematic. Though it is more difficult to handle for those who are so used to the rectilinear grid, it can produce efficient yet pleasant results. The example shows a 850 square feet apartment. There is a main entrance into the dining and living room. There is also a second entrance through the drying yard, into the spacious kitchen. All the service areas, kitchen, bathrooms and drying yard are grouped together for easy plumbing; the 3 bedrooms are accessed from a semi-private family area. The dining and living open out into a balcony with wide sliding doors.

Figure 51

Figure 52

TYPICAL FLOOR PLAN LAYOUT – 850 Sqft Figure 50 Figure 53

Almost everyone aspires to own a home, and for those that do, it is probably their biggest asset. The three factors that most affect the resale value of a home is location, location and location. It is not so much the bricks and mortar, or even the granite tiles or the architectural style of the house that make up the bulk of the value of a house, but rather the quality of the physical and social environment of the location. Location is more than just a simple geographical matter: Look at Bangsar Baru Flats, low cost high rise just next to the fashionable Bangsar commercial area in Kuala Lumpur, where the value of the properties are depressed.
Figure 54

Who wants to live in a slum? Homes that are comfortable, in a place a safe, friendly neighbourhood, seen as a private and exclusive location, set in mature and lush landscape will attract higher prices (54). Owners of honeycomb homes living in harmony, maintaining and improving the spaces outside their homes, creating a sense of place and belonging will not only enjoy living in a good neighbourhood, but will benefit from the financial appreciation of their valuable asset.

Table 42