D3: Possible solution to affordable housing in Malaysia?

 D3: Possible solution to affordable housing in Malaysia?

A brainchild of the Construction Research Institute of Malaysia (CREAM), D3 is a housing design system that is being developed to help address the affordable housing shortage issue in Malaysia.

Dr Zuhairi Abdul Hamid, CREAM’s Executive Director shares with REENA KAUR BHATT on what are its current initiatives and how it can help close the demand-supply gap for low to medium cost homes, especially in urban areas.


The current affordable housing construction industry somewhat displays relatively low-quality consistency, as measured by the amount of rework required on completion. D3 seeks to remove the rigidities of prefabricated homes, which utilizes the convergent design system; the current mass housing architectural strategy. It is a rigid structure, where service spaces such as the kitchen and bathroom are built internally by interlocking space, making said service spaces difficult to interchange.

D3, on the other hand, makes use of the open plan design concept. This proposed analytical design system takes into account the beginning of the housing unit’s design and construction process, the unit’s sustainability and its adaptability in future development. Internal space is adjustable according to the dwellers’ requirement through adopting an open plan design.

The dwellers are able to choose the interior components to tailor the design to their individual lifestyles and budgets, and can easily modify these initial parameters as the need arises. The application of D3 can bring forth efficiency in terms of cost, construction time, space and energy usage.



The D3 system utilizes the Industrialized Building System (IBS) construction method – a construction technique in which components are first manufactured in a controlled environment (on or off site) before being transported, positioned and assembled into a structure with minimal additional site works.
Assemblage of components is easy and simple, where altering or replacing components is much the same. The construction system is a kit-of-parts solution to the affordable housing problem that does not require a highly skilled workforce or special machinery.
Therefore, a building that adopts the D3 design system is constructed at a faster pace and could be arranged in multiple manners, thus achieving high densities in the most comfortable and spatial designed environment. This not only saves costs significantly due to the compressed construction schedule but also allows the home to get into productive use sooner.
The sustainability aspect of D3 focuses on providing spaces to be used for a variety of purposes over time, be it the changes of the household’s demography or changes in resident’s living satisfaction. Since this kind of functional change is possible by merely switching of the independent units within the configuration through a simple process, the function of the housing unit can be cultivated and adapted to take into account different family types:
(1) A dynamic family which is likely to have more children in future, and thus requires a high degree of space flexibility to cater for continuously changing and increasing needs;
(2) A  stable family which is not going expand anymore and thus requires a relatively lower degree of space flexibility;
(3) A stagnant family which is expected to live in the same dwelling for a long time and thus has sufficient opportunity to benefit from flexible building elements, which provides for lower lifecycle cost of such elements.
A D3 home can also be converted into a café just by incorporating a larger kitchen and more toilets. Adding on a laboratory / playroom / computer room coupled with a unit space for teaching could form an educational institution. Thus, a D3 unit can change its function from residential to commercial, without ever needing to change the basic unit.


Energy efficiency is prevalent in D3 homes as it incorporates passive design strategies, where cross ventilation is optimized by having an elongated unit shaped with minimal partitions or interior walls. This not only allows for easy passage of air but also encourages good lighting of the interiors, as well as flexible use of space.
Other design features include the parallel arrangement of windows and the placement of high louvers on the internal walls of each bedroom will ensure adequate airflow throughout the house. By setting back the exterior walls 2.1 metres from the peripheral of the dwelling, the walls of D3 units will not be directly exposed. Hence, solar radiation is effectively controlled with the large thatched upper floor ceiling that acts as an overhang.
With careful planting of vertical greenery, the open porch can function as a buffer corridor that aids in air circulation. This would be a boon in our tropical climate and help reduce the dependency on airconditioning as well.


The most critical challenge in getting the D3 system off the ground is the low adoption rate of IBS in the country, even though the technology is not new to the local construction industry. It was first introduced in 1966. The conventional method of construction, where reinforced concrete frame and brick, beam, column, wall, and roof are cast in situ using timber frameworks while steel reinforcements are fabricated off-site – is still a common practice in Malaysian construction industry.
This is mainly because of the negative perception of the public, who mostly feel that IBS homes are not as sturdy – due to a few ‘bad apples’, where a number of buildings using prefabrication in the past were judged to be of poor quality.
CREAM is currently fine-tuning its D3 design system to comprehensively meet the nation’s current and future housing needs as well as limit further dramatic increases in housing costs. Also in the pipeline are collaborations with private developers to introduce D3 homes to the public.

This article was first published in the iProperty.com Malaysia June 2016 Magazine. Get your copy from selected news stands or view the magazine online for free at www.iproperty.com.my/magazine.  Better yet, order a discounted subscription by putting in your details in the form below!