It’s no surprise that “Crazy Rich Asians,” the John Chu-directed romantic comedy, was number one at the box office this weekend. The long-awaited film—the first major Hollywood production with an all-Asian cast in 25 years—took in $34 million since opening five days ago to much acclaim. Set primarily in Singapore, the movie tells the story of an Asian-American woman, Rachel, who travels east with her boyfriend, Nick, to meet his family. To her surprise, Nick’s family is ultra wealthy—and painfully traditional—and as it turns out, he is one of the island’s most eligible bachelors. Everybody loves Nick but despises Rachel—her crime being an American raised by a single immigrant mother—and so chaos ensues.
The film's villain is Nick’s cold and conservative mother, Eleanor. A real estate tycoon, Eleanor and her family have many residences, one of which is an airy villa situated in a lush jungle setting. The house, actually located in Malaysia, was designed by the Kuala Lumpur-based 29 Design, a firm co-founded by American architect Stephanie Maignan, who formerly worked at Weiss/Manfredi in New York. Maignan and her partner Amanda Teh established the studio in 2005, quickly taking in a stream of commissions for high-end private residences.
In the film, Eleanor holds a Bible study in the house’s breezy living space. According to Maignan, one of the main goals for the residence, designed for a Dutch family, was to eliminate the barrier between inside and outside. In fact, much of the house is exposed to the elements, giving the effect that one is isolated in the tropics.
Located on a thirty five degree slope, the house, known as the Be-Landa residence, had its share of design and construction challenges. “We couldn’t even see the site because it was so steep,” says Maignan. The team kept as much vegetation on the slope as possible to help prevent severe landslides and drilled over 60 steel micropiles into the ground to reinforce the slope. Adding to construction woes, a monsoon hit just before the scheduled groundbreaking.
Maignan stacked three pavilions along the site’s incline. The living room, on the lowest level, stands completely on stilts and is accessed by a bridge. Half of the second floor is also raised above grade while the highest level is a flat pavilion that sits on the ground. The colors and textures of the jungle inspired a muted palette of mostly local materials: white and black timber, including the tropical hardwood Merbau for the underside of the roof and flooring; polished concrete for the outdoor areas; and pebble wash finishes.
Overall, the house’s multiple layers and exposure to the outside environment lend a sultry extravagance—perfect for its Hollywood debut in what is sure to be one of this summer’s favorite blockbusters.