The solution to housing in the tropics without aircons........

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Honeycomb Housing

THERMAL COMFORT HONEYCOMB HOUSING PART 2 HONEYCOMB HOUSING MAZLIN GHAZALI THERMAL COMFORT HONEYCOMB HOUSING Honeycomb housing is a novel method of arranging multiple units of houses. Figure 1.1 Houses laid out around a central space to form a small neighbourhood. concept I have developed and called Honeycomb Housing is a novel method of arranging multiple units of houses. In conventional schemes, houses are laid out in rows as in the familiar, ubiquitous terraces, but in the Honeycomb layout the houses are placed in circular fashion around a central space to form a small neighbourhood of between 5 to 16 houses. The central spaces are linked to each other and to the main distribution roads by short connecting service roads. The central space — a kind of open courtyard — consists of a culde-sac looping around a communal garden (Figures The Honeycomb Housing and 1.2). All the houses face the garden like friends sitting around a table. The houses shown are commonly called cluster houses, but I prefer to call them quarter-detached houses (quadruplexes) because there are four houses under one roof, with each one being a corner lot. Two of the houses face the same courtyard; the other two face a different one. Can you see what we have done? We have transformed monotonous terrace houses with small front yards into what appear to be semi-detached houses with generous gardens. The real magic is that we can do all this at no extra cost to the buyers. The cul-de-sac 1.1 Chapter 1 PART 2 95 honeycomb housing Figure 1.2 All houses in the neighbourhood face a communal garden. arrangement is, of course, not new. Neither is the concept of quarter-detached houses. However, when the quarter-detached houses are arranged in a hexagon around a central space with a cul-de-sac they form a pleasant neighbourhood unit. Moreover, the pattern can be expanded to form a much larger neighbourhood made of interlocking units in the shape of a Honeycomb (Figure 1.3 and 1.4). The basic Honeycomb neighbourhood resembles the cul-de-sac, but up to now the cul-de-sac has been used as a specialcase arrangement for either small sites or small parcels of land within a bigger site. The Honeycomb housing concept can apply the basic cul-de-sac arrangement to whole precincts as is shown in the site layout (Figure 1.5). It is strange that such a housing 96 Figure 1.3 In the quarterdetached block, two houses face one courtyard; the other two face a di erent courtyard. layout is not already well known. It is, after all, based on a hexagonal grid and these are common in the fine structure of inorganic forms, for example those of gems and snowflakes (Figure 1.6). It is found, of 1. honeycomb housing Figure 1.4 The neighbourhoods can be arranged in an interlocking pattern. Figure 1.5 A Honeycomb Precinct 97 honeycomb housing course, in the bees’ honeycomb. On the other hand there are few, if any, examples of rectangular shapes in nature. This suggests that polygonal forms other than the rectangle are somehow more efficient. Nature is efficiently organized. Without realizing it we have imitated nature. We have discovered a more efficient housing layout contrary to the ‘common sense’ view of the industry that nothing can be more efficient than terrace housing in rows. This is borne out by a comparative analysis of the terrace house layout versus Honeycomb housing. We have found, in case after case, that the Honeycomb housing layout is the more efficient of the two Figure 1.6 Snow ake in terms of land-use. The Honeycomb layout accommodates more housing units per acre of land than the terrace house layout. To architects and planners brought up with the T-square and Set-square, and now hooked on computer grid-lines, this result appears startling.

Softcopy(64 MB pdf)is also available for download at only US$5.00 only

Advance praise and reviews…

"Housing should, like the new Honeycomb Housing Concept, emphasise on the need for community living and enable people to have a feeling of neighbourliness."

“The Sarawak Ministry of Housing will be introducing the Thermal Comfort Honeycomb concept in the Ninth Malaysia Plan.”

“This book is the result of many years of patient research at Universiti Putra Malaysia in collaboration with industries. Thermal Comfort Honeycomb Housing is a novel invention now poised to spread rapidly throughout Malaysia, improving the way we live and opening up great opportunities for the Malaysian Housing Industry especially in building towns and cities for other developing countries.”

“ Besides the authors themselves, the Government should take credit for this completely new Malaysian housing technology, a product of long term Government funded basic research at Universiti Putra Malaysia combined creatively with a very enterprising Malaysian architect, a Government scholar trained in England. If adopted enthusiastically by the Malaysian Government and Developers, Thermal Comfort Honeycomb Housing can become world class.”

“An environmental breakthrough… starting from energy efficient and land efficient hexagonal housing cells this book shows how new Honeycomb suburbs, towns and even cities can be built up… but without destroying the environment in the process.”

“When I was told about the Honeycomb Housing scheme and its effect in cooling the house and enhancing the environment, I was a little apprehensive. However, as I began to listen more attentively and also witness the research presentations supported by facts, figures and statistics, my thinking and believe in the system began to change.

Now, as I further hear the testimony of developers who believe that the system of design will result in savings to land space, and, also an innovative idea in housing design, I will have no hesitation to recommend the Honeycomb Housing system. The scheme when incorporated into a housing development project is bound to add value to the housing project.

I am pleased to note that the Sarawak Government will be the first State Government in Malaysia to embrace the Honeycomb Housing system in their State Housing Projects.”


“A biologist and his multi-disciplinary team of architects and engineers use Surveys, market analyses, onsite measurements and computer simulations to develop an improved, energy efficient and environmentally friendly housing standard that cater well to the Malaysian market demands with respect to functionality, special layout, thermal comfort and costing.”

“I have been associated with this project from the early stage of its development and I am very happy to note that by leaps and bound the project is now being considered seriously towards the implementation stage. When I was first introduced to the “HONEYCOMB HOUSING” project I did not hesitate to give the concept a second consideration. In my mind, a conclusion was made that this will be the answer to the “greening of the desert land” and “a cool home” for the Arab World. I am hopeful that with the progress made thus far, it will not take too long for the Honeycomb Housing concept to be introduced in many parts of the world in the not too distant future.

I am pleased to have been associated and assisted in the development of the project. The great advantage as I see it is the benefit to maintaining a cool and green environment, supporting ecology and the survival of plants and animals in the midst of human lifestyle. Due to this contribution, I will endeavor to make a special effort to recommend the system to Governments in the Middle East and the Gulf Region for its effective implementation.”


The monograph Thermal Comfort Honeycomb Housing: The Affordable Alternate to Terrace Housing, by Mohd Peter Davis, Mazlin Ghazali with Nor Azian Nordin is neither a casual work, nor one to be dismissed lightly. It is a happy collaboration of two highly qualified professionals who are attempting to offer practical solutions to one of man’s woes—i.e., the lack of affordable and comfortable housing.

We have all seen, and maybe some of us have experienced, the discomfort, even the terrors of high-density urban living. One encounters the terrace house here in Malaysia or the high-rise structures ‘poxing’ large urban areas throughout the world. We sooner or later come to the conclusion that the solution of Le Corbusier’s “Unité” theory to man is impracticable, sociologically dangerous and a waste of money—generally the taxpayers! Is there a solution to high-density housing?

The work reviewed, is divided into three parts: Part 1 – “Thermal Comfort” by Mohd Peter Davis, Part 2 – “Honeycomb Housing” by Mazlin Ghazali and the third part “Building the Future” by Mohd Peter Davis. “Part 1” is the more technical of the parts, but, nonetheless readable in its sometimes chatty approach. Numerous tables and graphs are found in this section. They may become somewhat daunting to the uninitiated. But, don’t let that stop you! Things of value are not always achieved easily! The material contained within this part is meaty and offers solutions to a number of problems encountered when one lives in the tropical latitudes. We are taken from the pre-eminent, ecologically suitable kampong house to obiquitous, ecologically problematical “terrace house”. The focus is upon creature comfort—i.e., “Thermal Comfort”—and suggested ways of achieving it.

“Part 2 – Honeycomb Housing” by Mazlin Ghazali is dedicated to a design solution revolving around the availability of suitable land, the high cost of such land and the cost of a single family dwelling. Planners have long searched for solutions given these parameters. Malaysia has a burgeoning population and a finite amount of suitable building sites. The solution has been the unsuitable terrace house with all its inherent problems. Mazlin Ghazali has arrived at what seems to be an eminently suitable solution—i.e., the honeycomb plan. In this design he has tackled the parameters with élan.

Less space is dedicated to suitable high-density housing, if such a thing exists at all. Also, as applicable as the honeycomb solution appears to be, one wonders if it is appropriate to the varied topography of much of Malaysia. In Malaysia, the wanton destruction of forests is seconded by the pulling down, terracing or levelling of hills and ridges.

Nonetheless, Thermal Comfort Honeycomb Housing: The Affordable Alternate to Terrace Housing, by Mohd Peter Davis, Mazlin Ghazali with Nor Azian Nordin is a welcome addition to the problems of housing, not only in Malaysia, but wherever the “housing boom” exists. Whether or not zoning authoroties wish to apply this creative solution remains to be seen.

Upon first reading the text, I am inclined to suggest that the title of the book be changed to “The Sustainable Alternative to Terrace Housing”. In an era where many parties are looking at ways to achieve sustainable development, this research document may be one of the answers that those involved in human settlement issues in Malaysia are looking for. The book is written out in simple logical terms that even the layman in the street would understand. Davies’ account of his research which was based on his need to live in a much cooler conditions (being a foreigner!), but with reduced energy costs, is one basic need which many of us Malaysians also want, and yet never knew how. His discovery based on basic needs, and then set out to prove by his experimentations, and told in simple terms will be very much accepted.

The thermal cooler home is then transcribed into spatial form by Ghazali who then thought out the best way to lay out these houses within a much more conducive physical environment. Therein was born the honeycomb concept of a residential layout. Although this c oncept has yet to be implemented, I feel that it has merit in its claims to offering a better environment for residential areas vs. the common features we see everywhere of “barrack” style of terrace housing. The honeycomb layout also claims to achieving the same if not higher density. Certainly, having more spaces for greens and central nodes for tree planting would further reduce the local temperatures.

For want of any better and more innovative patterns of urban housing, I think that this concept is worth further exploration as well as implementation so that the subject of the elements of sustainability of housing will be proven.


The book, as far as I know, is one of the very few of its kind to explain the fundamental principles of thermal comfort in the tropical climate to Malaysians of many backgrounds. It attempts to explain the complex scientific facts into easy to understand language of the layman. Since there are so few books around to explain some of the principles of design in architecture to the public this book deserves a thumbs up by virtue of its very existence. The book also explains much information about housing and a few important issues related to that subject matter. The work by two academics and an architect is highly commendable since Malaysians have been stuck with a single alternative to affordable housing that is the terrace typology which acts more as an oven too many of us rather than a nesting place signifying coolness and security.

Aside from the books by the renowned architect and academic, Dr. Ken Yeang, who attempts to explain the rationale behind his many experiments and designs of the bio-climatic high rise or skyscrapers for use as offices and apartments, there is no book to date to reach out to the public conscience on affordable housing in a thermal comfort zone. The simple rules of thumb set out by the scientist Peter Davis are useful not only to architects but also quiet easy to understand by those without the technical training. Unlike Dr. Ken Yeang’s academic books on thermal comfort, this book is written in the first person in order to set up an ‘interactive’ atmosphere almost conversational in tone to impart the serious scientific formulas and principles. I would categorize this book in the same group as Professor Mario Salvadori’s structural explanations in ‘Why buildings Stand Up’ and Professor Eugene Raskin’s ‘Architecturally Speaking’ where he expounded about the important field of Architectural Psychology. Malaysia has too few books in this genre as professors in the local universities in the professional fields do not feel that writing for public awareness is a noble endevour to create a more aware and civilized society. The same goes to professionals like engineers and architects who spend most of their time canvassing for projects and project delivery. There are too few people like Architect Mazlin Ghazali and Academic Peter Davis in this country.

There are two main parts to the book. The first part is an experiential exposition by the scientist Peter Davis in his struggle to come to terms with the house of his dream in the tropics which resulted in many experiments and academic studies. The second part of the book presents Architect Mazlin Ghazali’s solution of honeycomb housing as a serious challenge to the accepted idea of terrace houses. In the first part of the book, Peter Davis walks us through the intricate ideas and principles of thermal comfort with graphs and tables of temperature data in order to drive home some simple facts about living in the tropics. I find much of what he says invaluable to many of the basic suspicions I have had about the effects of ventilation and the problem of attic overheating. His discovery of a special roofing system to lower the attic temperature and the savings that we as a nation would benefit is something that we must seriously consider. Apart from the thermal comfort knowledge, there is also a sprinkling of information on house financing and costs that is useful to the layman in their first purchase of a house.

The second part is about how Architect Mazlin Ghazali discovered the honeycomb house idea. The author went through great pains rationalizing the form of the honeycomb shapes but I believe this may have been a bit too much. It would have been better if the author had simply stated that there are many forms that can serve as an alternative to the terrace house concept. I am not convinced that the honeycomb shape is the best for Malaysian housing but it is certainly a strong and novel way to tackle various issues such as clean and defensible spaces. The second part seems more like an extended ‘tourist brochure’ but its content serves some purpose of conforming to the public issues about design and may show a housing that actually has a community and a center. As a designer, I can appreciate the proposal but also as a designer I can see the possibilities of other forms of buildings as alternative to the terrace house. Anyway, for me, terrace houses has yet to be exhausted in their designs to address many issues such as privacy violations, cultural needs, crime and child safety. Here at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, we are experimenting with various terrace house forms that may address the said needs.

To sum up, I must give my highest recommendation that this book be read by all especially by policy makers, developers and architects. It should also be taken up by anyone who has yet to or already owns a house so that they can benefit from the many tips and ideas presented in the book. Once again I applaud the efforts of both scientists and architect for their vision and crusade. Lastly, for those who may dismiss the book as a mere sales pitch, I must remind them that the book could even be considered as a badly needed lifeline to our ailing housing condition. If there ever was a time for us to re-look and rethink our housing policies and architecture, all I can say is…we’re overdue for an overhaul.



Mohd Peter Davis, Visiting Scientist at the Institute of Advanced Technology (ITMA), Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Bukryman Sabri of the Faculty of Human Ecology, UPM, have undertaken a series of consumer surveys.

You can browse the random suvey done at Johor Jaya in March, 2006 at Research > Surveys > Johor Jaya or,

download a pdf file (3MB).

They also completed an opportunity survey done at the premises of State government offices in Kuantan, Pahang in July, 2006 and you can download the summary ( pdf file 60KB) or,

the full report (pdf file 240KB)

Another opportunity survey was done at the premises of State government offices in Johor Bahru, Johor in September, 2006 and you can download the summary (pdf file 9.6MB)

Tessellar > Neighbourhood

Lewis Mumford'The City in History', 1961 pp499-501
Michael Southwoth and Eran Ben-Joseph‘Streets and the shaping of Towns and Cities’ Washington DC: Island Press,2003; p73
Charles Mercer 'Living in Cities', 1974
Clarence Stein ‘Towards New towns for America’ University Press of Liverpool p41
Michael Southworth and Eran Ben-Joseph ‘Streets and the shaping of Towns and Cities’ Washington DC: Island Press,2003; p73