Case Study of Architect Koh Sheh-Ren

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Ar. Koh Sheh-Ren, graduated from University Malaya and has been working in C’arch since graduation. Other than construction projects, she was also involved in a conservation research project sponsored by UNESCO (LEAP); Community Participation in Waqf Rehabilitation, Kapitan Keling Mosque and surrounding areas, George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Observation and analysis of her buildings have been done to convey an understanding of the architect’s architectural theory, to comprehend personal attributes that contribute to the construction of architectural theory. One of her projects, Garden Manor has been chosen to conduct the analysis. The Garden Manor project, is a residential project comprises a total of 41 units of 3 storey and 4 storey strata linked villa. It is chosen to study about three external contributing factors which are, architectural theory, climatic condition and material & technology.


First of all, the architectural theory or the concept of Garden Manor is, to create something different rather than a typical linked house unit. The typical Malaysian linked houses always have a deep and narrow footprint, due to the commercial pressures to maximise the density. The limited spaces or external façades for front and back cause a dim and poorly ventilated space in the middle of the house. “Architecture is not about facades, it is more than that”. The building challenges the typical terrace layout convention with two solutions. First of all, have a shallower and wider floor plan which provides a brighter, wider and more spacious aspect to every floor. Next, the insertion of open decks adjacent to each party wall creates an additional third external façade for natural lighting and ventilation. The resultant façade presents each home as a detached unit. The design of the Garden Manor is very unique. It uses fenceless concept but with gated and guarded enclave, hence security is very tight within the area. Each home is able to fit minimum of four cars under shade. Residents are pampered with luxurious clubhouse, that includes facilities like swimming pools, gymnasiums and many other facilities.

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Secondly, the climatic aspects are well considerated due to the design of the building. The façade is very well designed using glass wall for natural sunlight. The house physiognomy challenges the typical terrace layout by providing 3 external facades. It has open decks and wider spaces for ample natural light and ventilation. Lots of openings and tall windows surrounding the house allow the building to have brighter and well ventilated spaces. It offers unique and seemless living space for the family. The warmness and attractive aesthetics enhances the natural connection to the land.

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Thirdly, the materials and technology further enhances the design of the building. The materials used are glasses, a palette of fair-faced concrete and aluminium screens finishes which provide comfortable tropical homes in the same time achieving the required development with the density of 12 unit / acre. Wide frontages, with detached walls in between houses creating 3 external facades. White paints and tiles help to create wider space. Glass panels and openings allow natural lighting creating unique spatial experience for the user.

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Theory of architecture is not the history or the pass events of architecture. History has to deal with buildings and the different styles of architecture which have already arisen throughout the time. History is just a description of the architectural facts. Theory has attempted to provide explanations for all the facts. It looks for reasons why the buildings look in particular way and why the architects would have chosen to design their buildings in such ways. Reasons of why the architectural styles are changing over time to time and the attitudes and assumptions of architects which have influenced their mind during some periods and led to those changes. It also looks at the sources for the ideas of the architects during the design of their buildings. There are examples of movements, changes, influences, ideas and theories of the architects which changed the architecture course over time such as the way it looked and also the styles that were used. That has made the buildings look different to what they were before. How architecture practice is influenced by introducing new perceptions of similar events, a new way of looking at reality and representing that reality in built form.

In order to understand what is the theory of architecture, we should first look at what architects do in designing buildings. The main role of architecture is to translate social institutions into built form by translating the complex relationships of an institution into the language of architecture. The relationships are between the different activities which taking place within the institution. Architects give every of these activities a physical space and all these spaces are arranged according to the functional relationships between the groups of activities within the institution. Therefore, we are not just designing façade of the building. We do not just design walls that make up a form. We need deeper thinking process or planning for every stage of design especially the planning stage. We should design façade that is able to reflect the identity of the building and the spaces. Many aspects that we should take into considerations and we also have to collaborate with others. In order to achieve good collaboration and communication, we study about the requirement of the client, the user or owner, and as well as the function of the space. For example, Garden Manor is a high end development project which targets the upmarket. Therefore, these buildings are expected to be bought by those with status, as well as to be suitable retirement home for retirees who wish to have a quiet, peaceful and elegant lifestyle during their retirement.

Next, after we study the requirement spaces of the building, site visiting is also a very important step and process. Different types of site analysis will be conducted to have better understanding of the behavior of the site. Evaluation of potential of the site can also be done in relation to the development program and the environmental impact. The important factors of the site are the location, orientation, sun path, wind direction, topography, vegetation and surrounding buildings and people. The site analysis identifies the environmental and program development constraints and opportunities. After the site analysis and study about the site, we should be able to build buildings within the site context without neglecting the issues on site. Other than the restrictions of the site, constraints from the client also virtually help to create creative solutions to problem. Because building contains various activities and they are built in various locations, they are necessarily different to the others. They will respond to all their particular context like place, time, technology & programme. Individual building represent very particular individual circumstances.

For instance, Garden Manor is located at Sierramas, Sungai Buloh which has been known for its natural peaceful surroundings in a secured environment with flourishing landscaping and streetscaping. Garden Manor is strategically located and it is a tempting natural retreat from the inner city life. Give in to our craving for a leisurely living environment with our family. It is simply just a pleasure to come home to. Garden Manor offers a continuous, clean and uncluttered living space for the family. The buildings are arranged on tree-lined streets. The warmth and inviting aesthetics enhances our natural affiliation to the land. Nestled amid the surrounding trees and undulations of the land, each building succeeds in creating a private, yet open-plan family environment. Pedestrain paths link these buildings to the clubhouse and pool for easy access. Communal living is seamlessly harmonious with our personal touches infused into the ambience of the homes at Sierramas. After the site analysis, they understand the sun path and wind direction on site. They understand the potential of having tall windows and openings to bring in natural sunlight and air for ventilation.

Buildings are physical things and are made of materials. Their basic function is to provide shelter for human beings against a hostile climate despite how complicated they are. As physical enclosures they also provide a psychological sense of security to their inhabitants. Material refers to all the physical substances which are assembled and create the interior and exterior façade of the building. Nowadays most buildings are constructed from a massive amount of materials, each with very specific practical demands and complexity of assembly requirements. For example, an assembly of exterior wall contains materials that help to prevent rain and wind, and also thermally insulate the inhabitants from outside temperatures. It structurally supports the entire building and the connected enclosure system, providing ideal interior and exterior finishes. Besides, windows, doors, vents, and other openings as well which connect to the interior and exterior of the building. This shows the complexity and importance of the material selecting process in designing building. These decisions are based on a number of carefully considered issues including symbolism, appropriateness, physical properties, and technique.

Climate is also a very important factor to be considered in selection and assembly of materials. We often see buildings that have not taken local environmental conditions into consideration, by either replicating the same prototypical design, or by designing a building for a specific site that ignores climatic issues. The effect is the building performs poorly and fails to keep inhabitants comfortable without expenditures of excessive energy, close complete dependence on mechanical systems to rectify poor construction decisions. Some materials carry specific connotations within particular cultures and regions. We often refer to the enduring qualities of stone, or the ephemeral nature of glass or paper. In some cases, the material associated with a desired symbolic expression is not available or too costly, and another material is substituted to replicate that material and achieve the desired effect. In Garden Manor, the fair-faced concrete, glass and aluminium screens finishes create a feeling of tropical homes. The entire building is fully tiled with high quality tiles, while bathrooms are furnished with high quality sanitary ware and mirrors.

In conclusion, architectural theory acts as a important function between what architects think they are doing or what actually they do or what they should be doing. The theory assesses how well a task has been done providing the task of architecture is correct and accurate representation of its environment. Theory identifies the problems occurred whenever the architecture fails to represent its own environment successfully. These are semantic problems where the identity of institution that cannot be understood or predicted by merely observing its architectural form. Theory of architecture also analyses the causes of these problems and sometimes in some cases it offers solutions. Theory applies the same kind of critical thought to the entire global level of architecture, and also to the whole of architectural production. It refers to the stylistic choices available currently and asks whether they are suitable to represent the current environment. It provides explanation, historical background and context to critical issues in architecture and to current problems. It questions, why things are the way they are now. This is theory’s critical role.


C-arch,. (2014). Garden Manor, Kuala Lumpur C'ARCH ARCHITECTURE + DESIGN | Architects Malaysia. Retrieved 20 June 2014, from

Koh, S. (2014). Personal Communication. C'arch.

Propwall,. (2014). Garden Manor, Sungai Buloh. Retrieved 21 June 2014, from