Dama zAmya

Dama zAmya is perched atop a hill on Phuket Island, with magnificent views to the north of Ngam Island and Pa Yu and Kung Bay in the foreground. Remote and isolated, yet only 10 km from the International Airport, it is approached by a narrow, winding 2.1 km road that climbs steadily upward through a rubber plantation from its junction with the coastal highway.

Wildlife, landscape and travel photographer Gary Dublanko and his wife Dea Zoffman own the eco-friendly dwelling. Dublanko specializes in African wildlife and landscape and travel photography in Southeast Asia. The couple have lived in the tropics for more than a decade, and they acquired the piece of land on a secluded hillside bordering Khao Phra Thaew National Park (a non-hunting area) in 2007. Dublanko decided that sustainable living offered a perfect counterpoint to his former career as an oil industry engineer, and an ideal ethic for the tropics.

The couple’s desire for a fully selfsustaining house led them to seek out John Bulcock, a British architect who works out of Kuala Lumpur. Bulcock received his training at the Hull School of Architecture in the UK, which at the time was considered a radical institution led by Michael Lloyd. It followed a structure based on the AA London model. Hull had a very strong ‘alternative technology’ base, as ‘sustainability’ was called in the 1980s. After graduating, Bulcock set up his own practise, but six years later decided to travel and he arrived in Malaysia via India. In India he worked for a year with Balkrishna V. Doshi, who was an important mentor. It provided a link with two of Bulcock’s architectural heroes Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn for Doshi is one of the few living architects who worked for both of the modern masters. Upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur, Bulcock swiftly found employment, and he soon came to the attention of an international audience with the publication of his design, in collaboration with Hans Carl Jacobson, of a regional headquarters for the Danish firm Novo Nordisk in 2000. He subsequently set up his own consultancy in Kuala Lumpur in 2002.

‘At the start of the process, we specified that the house had to be low maintenance and energy efficient,’ says Dublanko. Aft er a number of site visits, the architect presented the plans for their new house. ‘All our projects incorporate passive design, including orientation to minimize the area of exposed heat absorbing hard surfaces, roof overhangs, rainwater harvesting, and landscape as an integral design element for shading and cooling,’ says Bulcock. Accordingly he studied the sun path and the wind cone for the location and sited the house accordingly. Further cooling strategies include roof surfaces that are either vegetated or pebbled, creating garden spaces for entertaining as well as providing additional insulation for interior spaces. ‘For ten months of the year we don’t use air-conditioning,’ affirms Dublanko. ‘There is abundant air flow and the house cools down quickly at night. On still days, a fan is utilized.’ Banana and papaya trees flank the house, together with shady travellers’ palms, so that in every sense the owners endeavor to be self-sustaining.

‘My approach was to design a house that would work with the natural contours of the site,’ explains Bulcock. ‘The steeply sloping site falls 21 meters, so the intention was for the house to hug the slope as it steps down. This has resulted in a series of subterranean and cantilevered spaces. Not only did this reduce the impact on the site in terms of cut-and-fill, but it also helped to create a stable internal temperature. Furthermore, it opened the house to the environment.’ The house is constructed from concrete that also helps create a stable thermal mass.

The house is essentially two diverging, primary structures linked by the entrance veranda at the top of the site. Further down the slope, a 25-meter swimming pool and timber deck also link the two major elements. ‘The spaces have been kept open as much as possible. The bathrooms are open to the elements. Only the bedrooms, TV room and kitchen can be fully enclosed. Full-height mosquito screens in the living areas allow the spaces to remain open without admitting insects and geckos,’ says Bulcock. Arriving at the house, a vehicle court gives access to a broad flight of steps leading to a veranda that extends to the open-plan kitchen and dining area. Th e principal living area is at a lower level, with direct access to the pool deck and thence to the master bedroom suite that looks southeast to the distant forests and plantations. Looking south along the entrance veranda, there is a small lily pond.

Because of the remote setting, at the start of construction there were no water, electricity or sewerage connections. Even now, only electricity is connected. Rainwater is collected from the roofs and channeled into an 80,000-liter underground storage tank. During the dry season, water from a 72-meter-deep well supplements the tank. All wastewater is treated on site by an Aerotol septic system.

Materials include fair-faced concrete, terrazzo, merbau wood and bamboo screens. The owners selected natural earth-tone pigments for the walls. Th e floors and interior doors are made of merbau recycled from a 40-year-old house nearby. There is extensive clear glazing, but wide overhanging roofs shade the glass, and windows are located to permit breezes to naturally ventilate the interior. ‘It is important for me,’ says Bulcock, ‘that buildings are “honest”.’ As such, I favor natural materials and materials that do not need finishes and that have their own integrity, for example, off-form concrete, fair-faced brickwork ... also bamboo and rattan as they have low embodied energy. I use a small palette of materials that create simple, calm and uncluttered space.’

After two years of construction, during which time the owners took on the role of building contractors, the finished 560-square meter house named dama zAmya, which means ‘a peaceful retreat’ in Sanskrit is ultimately a brilliant exposition of building in the tropics.

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