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Ipoh-born achitect wins UK award

 | July 7, 2012

His project, Shelter @ Rainforest, is located in a remote part of Sabah.

LONDON: An Ipoh resident, Kenneth Yeh (photo, in red), co-founder of the Sydney-based architectural firm, “Marra + Yeh”, has been awarded a commendation in the 2012 Architecture Review (AR) House Awards held here on June 26.

Yeh, who founded “Marra + Yeh” with his wife, Carolina Marra, said that they were both surprised and pleased that their project, Shelter @ Rainforest, had been singled out by AR, the London-based journal. The AR, founded in 1896, is a leading critic of global architecture.

Shelter @ Rainforest is located in a remote part of Sabah, deep in the forest, about five hours drive from Kota Kinabalu. The project is a shelter for the manager of a forestry company and accommodates his family and visitors.

Yeh adopts a hands-on approach in his work: “We do a lot of research upfront to understand what is unique about the place and the people involved in a particular project. We then design a building that responds to the situation; it is not preconceived.”

Describing the preparations for his winning entry, he said: “It involved driving for many days in a 4×4, through the many small villages of Sabah to learn and understand the traditional buildings of the Rungus and the Muruts, how they have evolved through time, how they are used within the traditions of the local communities.

“Then we researched the history and the work of academics and explorers before us in order to gain an insight that we may not have seen through visiting these places.”

The project uses timber to create a low-cost house which utilises solar electricity, biogas and rainwater. A feature of the design is that indoor temperatures may peak at 26 degrees Celsius at noon, which is around 8 to 10 degrees lower than the outdoor temperature.

The AR entries for 2012 were judged by a distinguished international jury consisting of Brian Mackay-Lyons (Canada), Sofia Von Ellrichshausen (Chile) and Peter Salter (UK), and chaired by Catherine Slessor.

Slessor, who is also the editor of the AR, praised Marra + Yeh’s entry and said that the “project clearly stood out and the jury found it both impressive and convincing”.

Representatives from Japan, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and France attended the award ceremony held in the sky terrace of the Grange St Paul’s Hotel in London. Twelve winners were selected from 200 international entries.

Marra, the joint award recipient for Shelter @ Rainforest, said, “The AR has held architects to a pretty high standard for a long time; they had top notch judges and the competition is tough, so to be given an award is quite an honour.”

Yeh, who alternates between Sydney and other parts of Asia, including Malaysia, laments the difficulties of working in Malaysia.

“The two biggest issues we face are the lack of good workmanship and the general public’s misconceptions about buildings in general.”

The talented architect and designer also teaches Architecture, Urban Planning and Structures at Sydney University and The University of New South Wales. He has also given talks to the Heritage Societies and Trade Associations such as the Malaysian Timber Council.

“I also try to create good models in my work in Malaysia, for others to learn from and hopefully create works that are much better than mine.”


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