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Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Rudinara: The Story of the Handmade House (Review)

Random Reviews - 3

Rudin Salinger
(Marshall Cavendish Editions, Kuala Lumpur. 2007)
The Penang Bookshelf Price: RM60

I was attracted to this book because I’m not much of a fan of air conditioning or bricks and mortar and wanted to find out how a modern house could be made by using traditional methods.

The book starts with a page of vacuous blurb from The Malaysian Timber Council, which was a bit off putting, but was then redeemed a page later by a useful review of Malaysian timber and the recommended uses for individual varieties of wood. There’s reference to some of these woods in the course of the text, so this is a handy reference.

We are then into the main body of the book, the most striking feature of which is the wide and fairly instructive selection of photographs. They cover not only the clearing of the plot and the construction, but also include lots of detail of the house itself. The owners have immaculate and simple taste which you can see in almost every feature of the building and its contents.  These illustrations together with some sketches would be the parts of the book most likely to inspire architects and others who would like to attempt something similar themselves, even if on a smaller scale. The main glaring omissions from the photographic collection are pictures of basic living areas such as bathrooms, toilets, bedrooms and the prayer room. So in that respect they are confirm this as a coffee table book rather anything approaching a handbook.

This is a pity because the book isn’t helped by the text. At the beginning I admired Salinger’s simple and clear style. Maybe this style was developed during his years as a teacher and academic in Malaysia with students who don’t have English as their first language. His style does make the book very easy to read.  It was also helpful that whenever he used Malay terms, some of them technical, he would provide an English translation. 

However after a time one realised that while this style may well be suitable in the author’s role as an experienced educator, he’s not much of a story teller. I was looking for more zest and enthusiasm or even expressions of despair at the obstacles encountered.  The construction of the house was a monumental achievement, well deserving of its international award. Occasionally one gets glimpses of the struggle when the author describes juggling his finances to get this marvel completed or the difficulties in finding, manoeuvring and preparing the huge pieces of timber used. Generally, though, the text raised more questions than answers.  For example at one stage we’re told how the construction ‘interprets rather than imitates Malay culture and reflects (the owners’) Islamic faith.’ This may well be true, but the text doesn’t explain how. The reader is left to guess.

So the book is brilliant at whetting one’s appetite for more environmentally friendly architecture, but doesn’t give much of a clue as to how others might follow the pioneering trail blazed by the author and his wife. The last chapter gives an inkling that maybe dissemination didn’t occur to the owners at the time of building. Probably after they moved in it slowly dawned on them how much interest the building would generate in others. They now open the house to visitors, both architects and the general public, so that there is a better chance that the lessons learned from the building’s construction will not be lost and may possibly be replicated elsewhere.

A more complete picture might emerge if the book were read in conjunction with The Malay House by Lim Jee Yuan or by contrasting the book with Tropical Style: Contemporary Dream Houses in Malaysia 

The Penang Bookshelf is on Google+ and also has a page dedicated to books on Malaysian Architecture there.


zara said...

Thank you, I have just been in search of details and facts roughly this topic for years and yours is the biggest I have found so far. zara

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