Nestled up on a lush hill in a secluded, quieter part of Damansara Heights is the couple’s H-Residence, a house that must be straight out of the ‘Architectural Digest.’
There is just something about an architect’s home that you can spot from meters away. It’s always simple, contemporary, makes the best use of every inch of space, and welcomes you with a warm cozy feeling. The same can be said for the H-Residence. As you step into the entrance, the calming sounds of water serenade you to mindfulness. The living room space welcomes you with large floor- to-ceiling windows that open up to the wide and magnificent views that surround Damansara Heights, bathing the room with natural sunlight.
In Conversation with The Peak
Upon entering, you are instantaneously transported to an interior that matches that of Hollywood Hills. True enough, the American style and warmth comes from Ar. Hud Bakar’s wife, Nadiah Rodriguez, whom he met while studying Architecture in the US. At the time, Nadiah was a student studying Interior Design herself. How Hud became an architect is far from chance. It was all thanks to his persistence and determination that landed him a scholarship to pursue his dream.
“I was offered a scholarship from two GLC companies and told them I wanted to be an architect. They said, ‘No! We don’t offer scholarships in architecture.’ Then I said, ‘Why don’t you create one?’ To which they replied, ‘no, we cannot, as we don’t hire in- house architects.’ I said, ‘If you don’t want to offer me a scholarship in architecture, then I will wait for another GLC, or government scholarship offer from JPA instead.’ They said if they don’t call you, you’ll miss the opportunity altogether. I replied, ‘It’s OK, I will take the risk.’” Determined to be awarded a scholarship in Architecture, Hud continued to pursue his destiny, landing an interview with JPA.
They presented him with a list, from A to Z of all the courses he could take, except for Architecture. During his time, architecture was recognised as an arts subject and scholarships were only given to science-stream students. Hud was a top-scoring Victoria Institution science student who wanted to be an architect. He explains, “since I still insisted on pursuing architecture, JPA tested me by asking me to design a hotel. I went back and bought drawing pads, designed, and presented them to the selection committee. I can’t remember what I designed at that time. I presented it to 15-20 people, they commented and said, ‘you still want to do architecture?’ I said yes. They asked me to go back and amend the drawings, just to discourage me. I amended the drawings and presented it to them. At the third time, they said, ‘you are so stubborn!’ So that’s how I got my architecture scholarship.”
Later on, Hud was keen on pursuing his master’s degree at one of the world’s best universities and got accepted into Berkeley, one of the top five architecture schools in the world. He came back to Malaysia and asked JPA for an extension on his scholarship. They denied. “No. You already have a professional degree, and we want to save scholarships for other students who are pursuing degree.” Still persistent, Hud said, “it’s a missed opportunity for a Malaysian to turn down an offer from a top-five university in America.” I was literally begging them to give me a scholarship until finally, they agreed. Upon graduation, Hud spent a couple of years working in the US before returning to Kuala Lumpur to join an architecture firm. A few years later, Nadiah joined him in Kuala Lumpur in the 90’s and they got married.
Nadiah Rodriguez is the Director of ACID Kuala Lumpur, an Interior Design Consultancy Firm, while Ar. Hud Abu Bakar is the Principal and Design Director of RSP Architects Kuala Lumpur. They have worked on some projects together, where Hud oversaw the building and Nadiah the interior design.
“If you’re an Interior Designer, make sure you marry a doctor or a lawyer. Don’t marry an architect. Because when we end up working on a project together, sometimes that becomes the bedroom talk. And sometimes it’s really not good to bring work home. When we do not have time to meet outside, you end up discussing a project at home when you’re already in your pyjamas. ‘Lucky clients’,” Nadiah explains about the pros and cons of working together as husband and wife.
Both of them enjoy what they do and you can see how they push each other to be the best versions of themselves, an important trait for any power couple building a future together.
“The only thing that keeps us going is our shared love of design. It’s like a hobby. Once you think of it like a hobby, you change the whole ‘work’ perspective,” says Hud.
On the question of timeless design of a home, “there are many facets to a home. One is the design itself. When it’s timeless, I for one, do not go after a certain style. For instance, Victorian style, French style, or any specific style. I believe that design must respond to where you are, who you are; your culture and climate; where it is hot and humid. In Malaysia, our lifestyle and weather is Malaysian, hence we must respond to this. Design to me does not need to try to be someone or something that is not there.”
“My home is designed from who and where we are. Another important aspect is that a home has to reflect your personality and what you like. A warm-hearted person’s home will also reflect the warmth of the character and personality. Another thing is size, the size should cater to your needs, rather than your ego. I believe when building your own house try not to overdo things. Oftentimes, when you’re younger, when you do your house, you have a bigger family and many kids who live with you, hence you end up having a huge house. However, things change over time, and you may find later on that you don’t need such a huge space anymore.”
“My advice is to design a house, not just for today, but make sure you think about tomorrow and just maybe, design somewhere in between that makes it comfortable. To me, a house is about comfort, not about showing off to people. I think the house should be reserved for your own life, not for others. Therefore, I believe every one of us, if you look deep into your heart, we probably want a small house rather than this huge house that is not friendly,” explains Hud.
THE MERDEKA 118 TOWER
Hud is the Executive Architect responsible for the Merdeka 118 Tower, the second tallest building in the world. The tower stands at 678.9 meters tall. The tower symbolizes and represents our late Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Declaration of Independence, when he raised his hand to the sky and declared the words, “Merdeka, Merdeka, Merdeka!” The building is an abstract representation of the silhouette of that historical moment, the architectural spire reaching for the sky as Tunku’s hand did, an image that all Malaysians identify with. Along with the main Merdeka 118 Tower, there will also be a shopping mall, hotel, galleries, other buildings; residences and apartment within the vicinity.
“I was schooled at Victoria Institution. It is just behind The Merdeka 118 Tower. And I think to me it’s even more meaningful because, coming from that high school, that site used to be my playground after school. Now I’m building the second tallest building in the world at that very same spot,” Hud shares.
The Merdeka 118 Tower is a world- class megastructure project. “What people don’t realise is that it has taken me almost 10 years working on that project to get it to what it is today. Everything that you see built has a myriad of thoughts and processes have been worked out behind the scenes. So, this project has taken that long for me and like I mentioned, it’s a huge task but an even greater honour for me to be part of it,” Hud explains.
“Being the 2nd tallest building in the world which costs a few billions, it is expected for us to set a dedicated team to undertake this project. The level of knowledge that you impart and the experience that you gain are tremendous. Apart from the concept and some design development by Fender Katsalidis, the overall architectural drawings and supervision are done by RSP KL.” explains Hud.
Ar. Hud is thankful to be commissioned as an architect for such a spectacular building. The building is currently in its final stages and is expected to be mainly completed by the end of 2022. The 118-storey building houses 83 storeys of office space, 12 storeys of hotel space, 5 storeys of hotel residences, and two observatory floors. This will be the highest observation deck in Southeast Asia.
60 out of the 80 storeys of office floors will be reserved for Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), the developer of the project. The Merdeka 118 Tower will also be home to Park Hyatt Hotel Kuala Lumpur.
Some of the notable unique features of The Merdeka 118 Tower apart from its height is the glass lift, which is located on the north facade of the building. It allows you to travel from ground level all the way up on the outside of the building as opposed to inside a concrete core, which most buildings of this height have. Of course, there are also multi-zone lifts located at the core of the building.
At the very top of the building there is a 2-storey viewing deck, offering the public the opportunity to go all the way up and experience its shear height that allows you to look out towards Kuala Lumpur and beyond. In addition, there are a few levels of public spaces at the very top, reserved for restaurants, shops and some entertainment spaces.
“Being that tall, one is expected to see some unique architectural and engineering structures. We have what we call a Belt Truss. At that height, you need to prevent the building from twisting. The truss is like a human wearing a belt. This belt truss is to hold the body of the tower for rigidity and to prevent it from twisting due to external factors such as wind or its own weight. In turn, this belt truss needs to be anchored to the core of the building,” explains Hud.
“They are connected via a huge diagonal beam, anchored to the centre of the building. This huge diagonal beam will be visible on a few floors, hence it is something unique to be experienced,” Hud adds.
“Another unique feature is in the basement. There is a ring of thick reinforced concrete wall called a cofferdam. It is built for the safety of the building and to prevent any vehicles to be parked right below the core of the building. This is designed to avoid any unfavourable incident which may cause harm to both the public and the tower.”
Hud is such an accomplished architect with many projects to his name. When asked what does it take to be a good architect he says, “I think to be a good architect you have to live your life around design. It’s almost like a religion. It’s not something that you can just do at work and forget about it when you are off work. Maybe for other professions, you can do that. To be a good architect, you must be a well-rounded person. You must be good in all areas, not just in your technical expertise. Architecture is also a business. You must be aware of all kinds of things in life, for example you must know about places and travel, politics, culture, technology and many more. You must mix around with all kinds of people because your clients come from all kinds of backgrounds. From politicians, tycoons, normal people, humble and not so humble people. So, you must adapt to them and be able to communicate and understand them. That’s what I meant about being rounded. It is important to mix with people from different kinds of background as you need to know their likes and dislikes. Once you get to know them, then you will understand better. So, in a way it’s quite demanding to be an architect. But it’s very fulfilling and typically architecture and design is something you can do up until your golden years.”
Notable Projects: ACID KL
Nadiah Rodriguez has worked on her fair share of extravagant projects. “If you’re talking about extravagant, like lavish, almost really an attention seeker, it would be two clients from India. One is a seven-storey residence, and the other is 13-storey. It did not get the approval, but we worked on the 13-storey house design. The owner even had a ballroom and of course, his office in there. His children had their own units. And I love how the male and female areas are separated. It’s almost like in Islamic countries, women are one side and men are on another side. But here in this case, the wife got one whole floor for her guests. And it’s really quite palatial, but feminine. And then the men’s side, it’s also quite palatial, but very masculine. It’s almost like when you go into the men’s floor, you can smell the leather, and you can smell the cigar.”
Notable Projects: RSPKL KL
To date, through RSPKL and ACID KL, Hud and Nadiah have completed six sizable projects together, while there are three currently on-going. Among them are the Paradigm Retail and Office Development, Hilton Kuala Lumpur, 9 floors of Khazanah Nasional Berhad Corporate office at Menara Mercu UEM, MACC HQ, MITEC and the upcoming branded and lifestyle residences at 8 Conlay for Kempinski hotel as well as Merdeka 118 precinct for Oakwood Premier.