tropical house

Tropical House for Orang Asli Design Competition

Submission: April 26, 2019
Registration: February 27, 2019
Language: English
Location: Malaysia
Prizes: Please see details below
Type: Open


The Tropical House for Orang Asli Design Competition is part of the KUALA LUMPUR ARCHITECTURAL FESTIVAL 2019 (KLAF2019: TOMORROW)’s programme in collaboration with Epic Society. Epic (Extraordinary People Impacting Communities) is a social enterprise that creates platforms that inspire, mobilise and empower people for personal and community transformation, with a vision to make collaborative social impact accessible to all.

Epic was established in 2010, where they began their journey with Epic Homes, a movement that seeks to build relationships between the urban and rural divide through the activity of building homes for underprivileged communities, founded by John-Son Oei, co-founded by Loh Jon Ming, Jayne Kennedy and Jasmine Ng.


The Epic Homes programme is designed to develop support networks by bringing together rural and urban folk through the act of building homes, leading to the development of cooperative, resilient and sustainable communities.

This competition calls for the design of houses for the Orang Asli of Malaysia.

Who are the Orang Asli?

Orang Asli is a collective term (which means original or first peoples in Malay) for some 18 ethnic groups of less than 180,000 in total who are widely regarded as comprising peninsular Malaysia’s original inhabitants. They are generally divided into three distinct groupings: the Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay. While perhaps half of the Orang Asli live in or close to forests, may be involved in hill rice cultivation or traditional hunting and gathering activities, others such as the Orang Seletar and Mah Meri live near the coast and fish. Still others, such as the Jakun, are involved in agriculture with some continuing a semi-nomadic lifestyle, such as the Negritos.

Over the last few years, through shared experiences in Orang Asli community projects, Epic Homes have developed friendships, mutual respect and admiration for their sense of community mindedness, resilience and rich culture that they’ve cultivated through generations.

Why are the Orang Asli losing access to their safe homes?

With the urban fabric seeping rapidly into rural landscapes, logging and extracting forest resources on the rise along with land encroachment, the Orang Asli community are constantly battling a rapid changing of culture and loss of access to natural resources, forcing many into the urban lifestyle. What was once a largely nomadic self-sufficient community is now transforming into permanent residents of their land. As a result of many factors, including losing access to forest resources, many Orang Asli now have to get secular day jobs for money to survive instead of living off their land and it’s resources. Many of those working in secular jobs have to work 6 to 7 days a week, some also having to take up additional odd-jobs to make ends meet. This results in a lack of time to maintain, fix and rebuild their homes and community infrastructure. It also takes away the opportunities for traditional knowledge and skills to be passed down to younger members of the community, often leading to disrepair and unsafe living conditions. This is the challenge we seek to address.

What are the options available now?

The options that are available now, in the best case scenario, involves pulling together the families and community to work together to rebuild or fix their homes within the time and resources that are available to them. In less ideal situations, they may have to take time off work to gather materials and build their own homes, hiring within or outside of their community to progressively fix and build their homes slowly as they save up. Lastly, they can request assistance from the government housing schemes which are limited in resources and design, providing little options for customisation and personalization.

How can this Design Competition aid the current situation?

We believe the situation can be improved through a step-by-step facilitated collaborative approach between all stakeholders, moving forward to develop in the way the local communities wishes, without compromising their livelihood. We believe a good first step is for people to have the power of choice.

The KLAF2019 International Design Competition aims to widen access to designs, providing potential options for the Orang Asli. In the past, we have had village heads and residents asking us to visit their village to share ideas and resources for housing. Ideas and designs that emerge from the KLAF2019 International Design Competition will be shared and discussed with them for further exploration. Dialogue and discussion will also be organised with various stakeholders such as relevant government bodies to help advocate for more alternatives to our current housing for low-income rural communities. This we hope will lead to a bigger discussion on development, partnerships and how we as a country can continue to mobilise our resources for each other.

Epic Homes have spoken to some of the families and village representatives whom they have worked with for many years regarding this competition and its intention, and they look forward to the value this competition can bring. They will be hosting us for visits into their villages at selected times to be announced soon, to share deeper insight into their culture, preferences and challenges. We strongly advise against visiting village homes for your own research as these are private residences and personal or family spaces.

We hope that this will provide an opportunity to showcase how we as a country can collaborate, using the resources available to one another, for one another.

Go to the competition’s website