Little Giraffe Book Club

For the past five years, the Little Giraffe Book Club has been housed in a container at a park in Cheras, Selangor. Recently, the community library decided to expand out of its limited space and establish a new premise—an old house in a Chinese new village.

Old houses have historical roots that are lost when they are demolished and rebuilt. The team behind the project wanted to preserve and showcase the beauty of old houses. This house was chosen because it had public parking next to it, which was important for a community space. The team infused new elements, such as a new steel structure, while maintaining the historical marks and original space characteristics.

The preliminary design divided the house into two parts—half of it is used as a library area for children to read, listen to stories or watch performances, while the other half is set aside as commercial space to generate revenue for the sustainable operations and maintenance of the library.

The food stalls from the outer area is connected to a dining area. The original living room is transferred into a small public space that creates a buffer area for visitors to move around without interrupting activities in the library. This public space is available for performances and for artists or commercial businesses to set up booths and sell merchandise. There is also an office in the attic.

In November 2016, the team presented proposals to leaders in the community, and renovation works began in February 2017.

The whole project started with just RM5,000, which was only enough to buy basic tools and some materials, but through internet fundraising and the help of residents, people and companies started to donate money and materials. Hence, the whole design had to be revised and adjusted at different stages according to the materials the team acquired. Initially, there were only two full-time volunteers and one intern involved, but as the project went on, others joined the team.

The main objective of this project is to encourage community involvement, hence the team minimised the difficulty level of the construction works to ensure volunteers of all ages can participate. A modular ‘box’ concept was the main element of the project, because it is easier to ‘build a box’.

The design consideration for the whole space was to allow visitors to choose a relaxing way to enjoy a good book or conversation. Hence, the team decided to use movable furniture, such as benches and wooden boxes, which function both as bookcases and seats, instead of more formal sitting arrangements with tables and chairs. The team also collected and recycled discarded wood materials from factories to be used as decorative materials.

Some big challenges included a house structure that was infested by termites, a leaky roof, an original skylight window that had been sealed, and the limited built-up area of the original house. The team had to add on several design details to solve these problems.

The termite infestation area extended from the wall to the main structure, so the team chose to use a steel mesh wall to replace the wood structure and the windowsill. This had three advantages: lower costs, natural ventilation and a green wall for plants.

The lower part of the house columns had mostly decayed. To maintain the original structure while increasing the overall stability, the lower part was removed and replaced with metal structures and stabilised with reinforced concrete. This method prevented another termite infestation, while maintaining the original appearances of a historical new-village house.

A nearby steel factory ensured that the team could replenish materials quickly when needed. The metal structures were painted with dark green anti-rust paint, creating a stark contrast between the original wooden structure and new steel structures.

The whole project was completed within six months at a total cost of RM40,000, excluding the team’s salary and materials sponsored by hardware shops.

Project Name: Little Giraffe Book Club
Location: 114, Jalan 15, Batu 11, Cheras, Selangor
Completion Date: 22 July 2017
Site Area: 390 square metres
Gross Floor Area: 224 square metres
Client/Owner: Little Giraffe Book Club
Architecture Firm: Akar Studio
Principal Architect: Lee Soon Yong
Project Volunteers: Loke Chee Yung; Chua Ban Chuan; Joden Pu; Lee Soon Yong
Images: Lee Soon Yong