50 volunteers, 2 houses, 3 days. This coordinated energy burst, in the form of volunteer-fuelled house builds, was organized by Malaysia-based non-profit organization Epic Homes. As an architect, I was curious about the social impact that architecture can yield, as well as participate in the building process hands on. Epic Homes provided the perfect platform. I signed up as a volunteer for build #83, which was an open-to- public house build for villagers whose home was swept away by floods two years ago. At 5am in the morning, a bus drove us from Kuala Lumpur to the scenic and forested Gua Musang village approximately four hours north. The campsite was simple, consisting of accommodation in tents under the open sky, or one of the timber houses
completed in previous builds.
We were ferried from our campsite to the build site on a lorry, jostling down bumpy roads to the site. Each time hanging branches overhead approached, swathes of the volunteers would duck in unison, laughing at the leaf slaps and heady collisions. The volunteers came from diverse and international backgrounds, which included florists, digital media consultants, architects, engineers, pharmaceutical corporates and students. Situated deep within the forest without reception, the experience was both a retreat and an adventure with a group of like-minded enthusiasts.
On the first day, we were given a crash course on how to handle drills, hammers and saws, harness ourselves safely and climb scaffolds. Each house build team was organised into four sub groups in charge of the structure, walls, flooring and roof. The roof – clearly the most complex and challenging aspect of the build- was tasked to the Orang Asli villagers, who deftly treaded the inclined roof beams above our heads without fear of falling, and finished the work in record time. A concrete floor slab had been cast in situ before we came. Piles of wood were measured and cut to size. Steel structures were carried and bolted together. For eight hours each day, we busied ourselves with cutting, sawing and drilling, referencing a little booklet with diagrams similar to an IKEA assembly kit. It was gruelling work but truly rewarding to see the house take shape from the ground up. Lunch consisted of delicious meals cooked by the villagers, taken within an elevated bamboo pavilion with a roof woven in dried leaves.
The houses built this time were 2-storey structures composed of steel structure, timber flooring, lightweight fibrous wall panels and a metal sheet roof. With each iteration, Epic’s architects and designers try to improve upon the typology of housing, to better the way the villagers live. Despite the satisfaction of seeing our efforts materialize, the best part of the experience was when we heard the gleeful pattering of little feet as the children ran up the stairs, exploring the new house. They stuck their heads out of the daybed verandah and grinned. For Mex, Amini and his daughter, the home would be a well of relief for a more hopeful future.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
Find out more at https://www.epichome.org/
As published in Cubes Magazine, Issue 82. By Felicia Toh.