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Home Energy and Architecture The Rafflesia House by Zoka Zola - Competition Winning Zero Energy Design in Malaysia

The Rafflesia House by Zoka Zola - Competition Winning Zero Energy Design in Malaysia

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In 2007, eight designers were asked to submit two designs for an international competition for Zero Energy Housing, on six sites in the middle of Sentul Park in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. From sixteen designs six designs were chosen to be constructed.

The project is envisaged as one of the the first showcases of Sustainable Zero Energy Housing in the world. The competition brief called for houses that work in harmony with the environment, are made from renewable materials, create their own energy, and recycle water.

Beside requirements that the houses are zero energy, the competition called for innovative and extraordinary designs that contribute to the legacy of contemporary architecture.

The South China Morning Post said: “This project will become as important of a permanent exhibition for sustainable contemporary architecture as the Weissenhofsiedlung Exhibition of 1927 was for the modern movement in architecture last century.” (Nov 16, 2007)

The Rafflesia House by Zoka Zola - Competition Winning Zero Energy Design in Malaysia

Competition Winning Zero Energy Design: The Rafflesia House by Zoka Zola

Chicago-based Zoka Zola Architecture + Urban Design is one of the winning design teams whose proposal “Rafflesia House” was selected for construction.

This is how Zoka Zola describe their project:


Our wining design (unintentionally) looks like the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world and a native to the rainforests of Malaysia. (Rafflesia used to be Malaysian national symbol, but it is now replaced by Petronas Towers.) The Rafflesia develops from the bud into a flower over a period of nine months. The blossom is pollinated by flies attracted by its scent, which resembles that of the carcass. The flower lasts for only a few days. Rafflesia challenges traditional definitions of what a plant is because it lacks chlorophyll and is therefore incapable of photosynthesis. Rafflesia is a parasite. It did not begin its life as a parasite, but evolved this lifestyle. Biologists do not know what the Rafflesia’s function is in its ecosystem.

Site PlanThis mystery incites one of the most elementary questions: What is the function of the humans in the world’s ecosystem?

Rafflesia House is a study of the human habitat that is an integrated part of its tropical, urban, and site-specific ecosystem.

We searched and re-examined the ideas of the right balance between the connection of the building to the outside and the shelter the building provides from the outside elements: plants, creatures, rain, sun, wind, or heat. We designed this house with an interest to understand real human needs relieved from burdens of pre-assumptions, but with an intent to house the whole human complexity.

The building sits on 12 columns to allow other species to develop around it.


Floor Plan


View from NW


View of courtyard towards entrance


View from dining to terrace and living area


Master Bedroom

The design of the house responds to the local wind patterns. The winds in Kuala Lumpur are on average of low speeds, while the prevailing wind direction changes from month to month.

Concave and convex walls enclose the house. The convex parts of the building envelope accelerate the existing air movement and direct it to the concave parts of the building enclosure. The concave walls catch the wind and thus prevent it to simply circumvent the house. At the concave parts of exterior walls the wind penetrates into the interior of the house through its open windows and doors. By the same principle, at the house’s courtyard the concave exterior walls direct the wind towards the interiors of the building.



Kuala Lumpur climate chart 


Wind diagram for the site

The wide courtyard is well ventilated because the building is raised up from the ground, and additionally it is permanently open to winds on two opposite sides.

To minimize the shielding of air movement by the building itself, one half of the house is higher up than the other half.

Air space between the top and the lower roof insulates the interior of the building from heat generated by the sun. Its height is 0.5 m tall and < 6 m deep, and therefore it is a well naturally ventilated space. It is also used for the discharge of interior air with fans in the interior ceilings, thus freeing the roof for the installation of solar panels.

Exhaust Fans
Ten large, silent fans above ceiling grills in each and every room can be individually turned on to increase the air-movement-velocity. These fans push the air out of the room, thus pulling the fresher outside air into the room, and allow an increase of the air circulation and speed of air movement.

It is worth mentioning that fans are low energy consumers, and therefore they can provide desired thermal comfort consuming much less energy than air-conditioning.


One of many possible scenarios for natural ventilation, assisted ventilation and air conditioning

Rafflesia house can be air-conditioned at seven independent zones. Each zone is air-conditioned when needed to a temperature desired by its users.
Here follows a scenario how the seven zones might be used at a particular time: A pregnant woman cools her bedroom to 18°C, another person prefers to sleep in their bedroom with open windows and fan assisted ventilation, while the third bedroom is not used but naturally ventilated. Kitchen /living /dining spaces are not used and therefore the air-conditioning and fans in those areas are turned off.

The house is designed to be the most enjoyable when breezes from all directions fill up its interior. Therefore we predict that inhabitants will not use the air-conditioning routinely.


A Zero - Energy House is achieved.
All the energy needed for living in this house will be provided by photovoltaic panels on 92% of the roof’s surface. This amount of solar panels would provide USA comfort levels of 23.8°C and 60% of humidity for 60% hours in a year. This energy demand is likely to be considerably smaller, but at this point incalculable, because it depends on the number and lifestyle of users and their individual cooling needs.

Competition Facts:

Main competition project requirements:
zero-energy-house; minimal footprint on its environment; extraordinary and innovative architecture

Space requirements for the houses
150-180 m2 houses with 3 bedrooms

Areas of Zoka Zola’s scheme
Interior space: 145 m2; exterior space: 60 m2

Communal facilities
security facilities; parking and charging stations for electrical buggies from local renewable energy source; back water treatment plant

Time schedule
Construction was scheduled for 2008 (currently on hold)


YTL Developer

Winning Designers
Zoka Zola Architecture + Urban Design (Chicago), Atelier Ten (London), Grant (Bath), KplusK (Hong Kong), MAD (Beijing) and Graft (Berlin)

Jury Members
Paul Sloman of ARUP; David Nelson of Foster + Partners’ Paul Tange of Tange Associates; Stephen Pimbley of SMC Alsop; Tan Eng Keong president of PAM; Ng Sek San of Seksan Design; Dato Yeoh of YTL; Tan Sri Dr. Yeoh of YTL

Images: Zoka Zola


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