Talks & Interview

Malaysia's Extraordinary House

In Collaboration with:
Norman Foster Foundation 2024, Article by Ken Yeang
Our architecture, besides fulfilling their design functions, can be regarded as life-size experiments in our endeavours to seek solutions that address the current environmental crisis. The work is nature-based and founded on the science of ecology. Why ecology? The reason being the future viability of life for all species (including humans) on the planet is linked to sustaining the resilient ecological health of the planet.

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The Merdeka Award - Dato' Dr Ken Yeang
Dato' Yeang received his first qualifications in architecture from the Architectural Association School ('AA') in London. His work on the green agenda started in the 1970s with his doctoral dissertation at the University of Cambridge on ecological design and planning.

Adopting an ecology based approach, he successfully applied those principles to architecture and urban design, a pursuit that spanned over nearly 4 decades of his professional life and delivered over 200 built projects. His contribution to architectural design is also acknowledged internationally through numerous awards for his built work.

International Public Lecture Series
Crisis in Climate, Crisis in Design - Ken Yeang
Dr. Yeang began his work on ecological design as a student; his doctoral dissertation “A Theoretical Framework for Incorporating Ecological Considerations in the Design and Planning of the Built Environment” (1975) became the basis for his eventual practice. Understanding that architecture and ecology had yet to be merged, he developed a set of design principles centered around the idea that a building should operate in cohesion with its biosphere. Today, his work is differentiated by an ecosystem-based approach that performs beyond conventional green-rating systems.

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Shape Your Future with Ken Yeang - Full Interview

Shape Your Future” is an editorial series focusing on the 1.000 solutions that are saving our planet. We feature: scientists, pioneers, creatives, humanitarians and more. Aired: 12.30pm (EST) or 6.30pm (CEST).
Ecoarchitecture and Ecomasterplanning: The Work of Ken Yeang - January 2018
Lecture by Ken Yeang. Yeang will discuss an approach to green and sustainable design based on the science of ecology. He will show how ecology and the ecosystem influence the design and planning of the built environment while offering a theoretical descriptive (non-stochastic) model for ecological design. Yeang’s work will illustrate the ideas and principles that he presents.

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Episode 13 - Pioneering Ecology Based Architecture with Ken Yeang
In this episode, Sustainable Futures sits down with architect and visionary Ken Yeang to discuss the the practice of ecological design and how it can and must be used to enhance global resilience and combat climate change. Ken has been a pioneer of ecological design and hyper-green architectural design practice, believing in the imperative to design with nature from the ground up. Join us for a conversation on the power of natural systems, the growth of ecological design, and hear about many of the stunning and verdant projects Ken has had a hand in over the course of his illustrious career.

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Top 10 Most Extraordinary Homes | House Transformation

A journey through the extraordinary, the avant-garde, and the downright mind-blowing. Sharing ideas & inspirations for interior design & architecture. Get ready for a visual feast as we present the top 10 most extraordinary homes in Malaysia.
Interview by Pamela Buxtion (in RiBAJ 2022)
Interview of Ken Yeang by Pamela Buxton in “Hindsight (RIBAJ 25 March 2022).: “Ken Yeang talks about his five-decade-long career, creating his own experimental passive house in 1985 and how it was only in the early 2000’s that clients started asking him for green buildings”.

Q1. Knowing what you know now, did you make the right decision to be an architect?
A2. Most definitely. As an architect now for nearly 50 years, I have enjoyed most moments despite the ups and downs of the economy where the life of as architect can be one of feast and famine. But if I was reincarnated, I don’t think I’d want to come back and go through all the palaver again. If I knew as much as I do now about green design, I would have wasted less time on trivial aspects and would have done everything much better and greener.

Q2.,What sparked your interest in architecture?
A2. In my teens at Cheltenham College I had a keen interest in art and spent a great deal of time painting. Architecture seemed an obvious subject to study at university.
I was also greatly influenced by my uncles, who at that time, in the 1960s, were developers in London. Two of them had studied architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic.

Q3. How important was your time in the UK to your development as an architect?
A3. After Cheltenham College, I trained at the Architectural Association and did a doctorate at Cambridge. I was only 17 when I went to the AA and was the youngest in my year. I really enjoyed it and found that I could do it reasonably well. Those who influenced me greatly at that time were my first-year master, Elia Zenghelis, who was a Modernist through and through, and my 5th year master Peter Cook. I was also greatly influenced by Charles Jencks, who became a close friend.
When I worked one summer at Louis de Soisson Partnership on the Brighton Marina, my immediate boss was Eva Jiricna. Overseeing us was Nathan Silver. I did some illustrations for his book on ‘Adhocism’, which he wrote with Charles Jencks.
During my time there, the English sense of humour became second nature. At that time it was Kenneth Horne, Steptoe & Son, the Carry On series and others, though its hilarious subtleties were difficult to explain to others elsewhere such as the USA or the Far East.

Q4. When did you realise you were drawn towards ecological design?
A4. If you went to the AA Members’ room and stayed long enough you’d meet just about everyone in the architectural world. One night I was introduced to John Frazer, who was doing research on the ‘autonomous house project’, an idea first mooted by Buckminster Fuller. He asked me if I’d work on the project there and then, and I agreed. However, six months into the project I realised that what we were doing was essentially engineering without adequate engineering support from industry (back then in 1972). I felt that the bigger picture of ecological design need to be first addressed. So I obtained leave to be a research student to do a doctorate on ecological design and planning, and attended lectures on ecology at Cambridge’s Department of Environmental Biology. After my doctorate, ecological design and its sub-set bioclimatic design became my life’s agenda. The research habits also stuck, and our practice today is very much research-driven. But It was not until the early 2000s, that I started having clients asking for green buildings. It took 30 years! Architecture is really an old man’s game. Our current work is on developing various experimental built systems in ecological architecture and infrastructures.

Q5. You’ve been in practice for nearly 50 years. Has it been a good time to be an architect?
A5. The business of architecture is totally susceptible to the ups and downs of economic cycles, with the troughs occurring every nine years or so. It can be a struggle during times of recession. Like any business, Pareto Principle (of the 19th-century economist Vilfredo Pareto) applies indicating that the top 20 per cent get the bulk of the business and live reasonably well while the other 80 per cent are scrambling over the remainder. But only the top 2 per cent gets the cream and can become reasonably wealthy, and often through progressive acquisition of properties during the boom times. I do okay, but now I want to move up to that 2 per cent.

Q6. What was your breakthrough project?
A6. My first was an experimental passive-mode, low-energy house in Kuala Lumpur that espouses bioclimatic principles, and which has a number of climate-responsive experiments in it. It was completed in 1985 and became a benchmark for a lot of our other bioclimatic projects. It’s actually my own house where I still live – I call it the Roof-Roof House. I subsequently advanced the bioclimatic principles to the high-rise built form in the Menara Mesiniaga tower, completed in 1991 near Kuala Lumpur. The principles of mixed-mode low-energy design were later applied to a building in the temperate climatic zone, the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital Extension in London, where we incorporated an energy-saving glass flue-wall device in the facade.

Q7. What project are you most proud of?
A7.,We regard ‘our latest as our greatest’. One of our recently completed buildings is the Suasana in Putrajaya, Malaysia, which has a faceted façade like a jewel. We used glass-panels with fritted patterns as a double skin instead of the conventional horizontal sunshades, where the building consumes 30 per cent less energy than a comparative similar building. We also created ‘constructed habitats’ within the builtform to enrich the local biodiversity. Right now I’m at the design stage on a mixed-use complex near India. Here, we’re planning a broad swathe of green eco-infrastructure that traverses across the mid-level of the entire building podium in a nexus with the ecology of the site.

Q8. What has given you the most satisfaction in your work as an architect?
A8. Besides being hyper green, I regard the purpose of architecture is to engender happiness and pleasure to the lives of the people who use or visit our buildings. Achieving this in some of our projects and having it affirmed to us afterwards by the users is probably the most gratifying aspect of my work. It simply justifies the raison d’etre of why I am an architect in the first instance.

Q9. What has been the biggest obstacle to overcome?
A9. When we first started in the mid-1970s, it was extremely difficult to get clients to accept a green architecture. The only way was to design buildings that were climate-responsive (bioclimatic) as passive-mode, low-energy structures that could be armatures for later addition of ecological features. We also designed mixed-mode buildings with partial MEP systems as low-energy buildings. By the time clients started asking for green buildings, we had better engineering support from industry (in the late 90’s). Our early believers and supporters included Battle & McCarthy, and friends such as Paul Hyett, Paul Finch and Dr James Fisher.

Q10. Have your priorities in practice changed over the years??
A10. No. Ecological design has been consistently our primary focus and design agenda. We believe there are four sets of ecological infrastructures that need to be bio-integrated into a designed system: nature (the ecosystems and the biogeochemical cycles); human society (its socio-economic-political-institutional systems); the built environment (artefacts and technologies) and hydrology (water management and regimes). We need to synergistically bring all these systems together into a whole builtform.

Q11. Is it easier, or harder, to get high-quality projects built now than when you started out?
A11. It has become more complex and onerous, as there are numerous other aspects such as achieving near net zero energy and carbon, near net zero wastes, and maximising positive ecological impacts, etc. As Kermit the frog sang in Sesami Street, ‘it’s not easy being green’.

Q12. What do you think has been the secret of your practice’s success?
A12. I am not sure, but I believe there are three factors. The first is that I greatly believe in ‘focus’ in that we cannot be too many things for too many people. The second is that having business acumen is absolutely vital. We are never taught how to run a practice as a business at architectural school, and so in the early years of my practice, in the 1970s, I took night classes in business management. This does not guarantee success, but it provides a systematic basis for operating a practice as a business. Today the application of what I learnt is different in the digital world, but the principles remain the same. The third factor is in developing effective human relationships, not just externally to the business but internally within the company.

Q13.,Looking back on your work over the years, who have been your biggest influences?
A23. There are a few: Professor Ian McHarg, the landscape architect and planner who invented the ecological land use planning technique; the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead who advanced the philosophy of the organism; and Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a systems scientist who developed the general systems theory.

Q14. Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
A14: If I were to live my professional life again, I’d do an MBA before starting practice as this would give me an edge on others already in the field who did business intuitively. It was not until the early 2000s that I attended a short course at Harvard Business School. It was only a week’s course, but it radically changed my thinking about practice and my outlook on the world.

Q15. Do you think the profession has taken too long to get to grips with the need to design sustainably?
A15. It is not the profession per se that is at fault but the way architects have been taught – schools are taking too long to adapt their curriculums. It is crucially vital that architects learn ecology so that they become conversant with the processes of the natural environment’s systems that take place in the ecosystems and in the planet’s bio-geochemical cycles. Ecology needs to be taught at all schools of architecture; it affects all building site planning, the choice of built and energy systems, the selection of materials and handling of waste, water conservation and hydrology etc. ‘Architects’ Declare’ is a very good movement and is expanding internationally. But human social, economic and political systems need to change radically if we are to live more sustainably.

Q16. Do you have a dream project you’d still like to achieve?
A16. No specific project, but before I start pushing up daisies, my dream is to achieve as much as I can in my ecological agenda of ecomimesis (the emulating, replicating and augmenting of ecosystem attributes) to remake our built environment into constructed (human-made) ecosystems. I’m also interested in cybernetic building – applying smart systems to ecological design.

Q17. What is your most treasured possession?
A17. Life itself is my most treasured possession; to be able to live, to discover, to invent and to advance the field of ecological design for the benefit of humanity, and of all the species and their environments in the planet.

Ecoarchitecture and Ecomasterplanning: The Work of Ken Yeang

Yeang discussed an approach to green and sustainable design based on the science of ecology.
The UK Guardian newspaper named him as one of 50 individuals who could save the planet (2008).
Saving the World by Ecological Design | DR. KEN YEANG | TEDxNitteDU

“Everything in nature is connected”
The UK Guardian newspaper named him as one of the 50 individuals who could save the planet (2008)
(Sep 19, 2018)
Shape Your Future with Ken Yeang - Full Interview

“Shape Your Future” is an editorial series focusing on the 1.000 solutions that are saving our planet.
(Sep 23, 2019)
A Green Building Should Look Green, Which Means Hairy!

The well known architect, ecologist and planner reinvented the high-rise typology as "vertical green urbanism" and is known for his authentic ecology-based work and bioclimatic skyscrapers. Filmed in mid February, 2015, Linda Velazquez met with Ken Yeang at his London offices and greatly enjoyed his intellect, ecological aesthetic, world philosophy, and sharp wit.
(May 11, 2016)
An interview with architect Ken Yeang, on CNN's 'Just Imagin

Ken describes his vision for the future of buildings - and how we might live in and organise our cities in 2020, to make them greener.
(Dec 18, 2007)
Rendezvous with architect Ken Yeang

A brief talk with Malaysian revolutionary architect Ken Yeang on his invention of eco-architecture.
(Dec 27, 2018)
Ken Yeang on Designing for a Resilient Planet | 'On Climate Crisis' Masterclass Series

Yeang classifies ecological design into five infrastructures and explores the idea of remaking our built environment as human-made ecosystems, highlighting the need for behavioural changes in our communities to seamlessly integrate within natural systems.
(Jul 27, 2023)
Ecotopia: A Masterclass with Dr. Ken Yeang

Dr. Ken Yeang is an architect, ecologist, planner and author from Malaysia, best known for his ecological architecture and ecomasterplans that have a distinctive green aesthetic. He pioneered an ecology-based architecture, working on the theory and practice of sustainable design.
(Jun 4, 2021)
Ken Yeang - Ecoarchitecture: Projects, Theory, Ideas, Subsystems

Ken Yeang studied at the AA and received his doctorate from Cambridge University. He is principal of Hamzah & Yeang (Malaysia) with offices in the UK (Ken Yeang Design International/Llewelyn Davies Ken Yeang Ltd) and in China (North China Architectural and Engineering Company). In 2008 The Guardian listed Yeang amongst their ‘50 people who could save the planet’, describing him as the ‘world’s leading green skyscraper architect’. Yeang is the architect of several major buildings in Asia including the IBM Building (Malaysia), Solaris (Singapore), the Genome Research Building (Hong Kong), and in the UK, the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital Extension. He is the author of more than a dozen books on architecture.
(Oct 9, 2015)
SUTD Master of Architecture Guest Lecture by Dr. Dr. Ken Yeang

SUTD Master of Architecture Guest Lecture by Dr. Dr. Ken Yeang
(Aug 31, 2022)
Ken Yeang – Designing the Regenerative City

Yeang’s unique ‘ecologically responsible’ architecture is can be seen in Singapore, China, Malaysia, and elsewhere. Now you can hear more about it in this live studio session. Ken will join us live, so be prepared to put your questions to him as the conversation unfolds.
(Nov 24, 2017)
In Person Dato' Dr Kenneth Yeang

Dato' Dr Kenneth Yeang is the 2011 Merdeka Award Recipient, in the Environment category, for outstanding contribution to the development of design methods for the ecological design and planning of the built environment.
(Sep 12, 2012)
What’s a project by another group or individual that you think is pushing the boundaries of sustainable design?
Ken Yeang, HON, FAIA, is one of my architecture heroes. His biophilic design, Eco-architecture, and ethos in practice are inspiring. Yeang’s work has a firm basis in the science of ecology and an understanding of culture and place.