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EMMA House, Malaysia, by FOTA Design

Climate, culture and contemporary living in Malaysia.

Climate and culture come together in this family home in Malaysia, full story in Habitus 01. FOTA Design’s approach translates a traditional way of living for a contemporary family, in response to the ongoing conversation on the ‘new Malaysian house’.

Text by Chu Lik Ren
Photography by Grazia Ike-Branco


The Emma house is Lisa Foo’s maiden built project, yet it is designed and detailed in a way that it would have endured the highest scrutiny even if this had been her last testament.

While there may be some qualifications about the boundaries between restraint and excess and its extreme polarities this house undoubtedly holds, it is undeniably the work of an assured and persistent vision, and leagues ahead of what passes for conventional architecture in this part of Kuala Lumpur.

The site of the Emma House (named after the initials of its 4 inhabitants) is within the upper-class enclave of Damansara Heights, a hilly residential area on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur where houses are often deemed good investments, so they frequently change hands.

But change and impermanence were the last things the owners Edwin and Aileen wanted when they acquired the property and approached Lisa to design a house. On Lisa’s part, she had been equally careful to clarify why the owners had chosen her, screening the kinds of architecture they each like, and how receptive they would be to experimentation.

“We don’t go out much, so our house is really where we spend most of our time, and a place where we would want to be most of the time,” says Aileen. Its design process was intensive and exhaustive. “We met with the architect every week for over a year,” says Aileen.

Even today, more than a year after its completion (at the end of 2006), this collaboration has continued. The choice of a chandelier over the living area, for example, is still discussed between client and architect. “They take their time to make their purchases, and they would still seek my views on how appropriate some fittings will be,” says Lisa.


FOTA Design