Aemulus at the Runway

Commercial, Online Exclusive Feature / 2020

Aemulus at the Runway

December 4, 2020

John G N Bulcock has 36 years of experience working as an architect, planner and landscape designer on a wide variety of projects in Europe, Turkey, India and Southeast Asia. His experience encompasses architecture as well as architectural, master, urban and sustainable planning. Since 1994, he has been commissioned to carry out a variety of projects in Malaysia, India, China and Southeast Asia, including residential, industrial, commercial and institutional buildings, as well as sustainable master planning of resorts and townships. Low-energy and sustainable design is central to his philosophy and approach to architecture and he has received a number of awards for his work. John is currently the director at Design Unit Architects Sdn Bhd. In a Zoom conversation with FuturArc’s content editor, Carissa Kwok, John spoke about how Design Unit has been keeping during this pandemic and their focus.

“We had some projects on the drawing board and could continue to work from home with online calls/emails, etc. As such, we still managed to get quite a lot of design work done, but of course, our site work was at a standstill. We are quite a small company—small by design as we are passionate about architecture and passionate about keeping control of projects—and we do not take on too many projects at one time as we spend a lot of time on each one, e.g., concepts, detailing and site supervision. For the Aemulus project, I was often on-site two to three days a week to ensure the construction proceeded correctly, particularly as much of the work is fair-face construction,” John said.

Design intent


Aemulus is a 50,000-square-feet manufacturing office for an electronics company specialising in electrical testing equipment. The site overlooks the Penang airport runway, which becomes the focus of the project to which views and contact are maximised. Conceptually, it is an elevated brick box that ‘separates’ to allow entry into a reception hall overlooking the runway. The space between the two brick boxes, reception and circulation, becomes multifunctional over three levels.




The architects used local common clay bricks to achieve an overall distinctive tone with the bricks’ texture and inconsistent colour. Common bricks have the advantage of being inexpensive and requiring low maintenance, a trait that is shared with the fair-faced concrete that have been used for the columns and flat slabs in Aemulus. The architects favour the poetic effect when natural light falls on the bricks and concrete; the façades come alive and changes with the angle and strength of the sun.


Brick façades have been incorporated for all but the open runway elevation, which have brick fins and perforated brick walls to provide shade from solar heat gain and glare while creating a beautiful internal ambiance with natural light.


The brief focused on encouraging staff interaction and chance meetings; quiet spaces for contemplation; and larger spaces for collaboration—the challenge was how to interpret this into a functioning building. The main atrium and circulation thus become a multifunctional space for large and small gatherings and impromptu meetings. The client fosters a creative mentality and their creativity comes from this interaction.

“The brief from the client immediately interests us. It was clear that a hierarchy of creative and breakout spaces was required and we could tell this was a client that we could build a strong, meaningful relationship with,” shared John G N Bulcock, principal architect.

“As with all our work, we like to bring people together in nature. This is crucial to us as we believe it is fundamental to connect to nature in all its forms for our psychological well-being,” he commented.

Surrounding landscape


Located in an industrial area, the architects were excited by the site and possibilities of a connection to the runway.

“Something that I have never understood in Malaysia is how often buildings turn their back on features such as rivers, and here at the runway, we found a similar situation where surrounding buildings turned their back on the runway,” observed John.


The architects considered the runway elevation as the front elevation, i.e., the main elevation, even though it does not face the main road. As the architects did not intend to take cars round the building to the front of the main triple-height lobby facing the runway—they wanted this to be a green space—this meant occupants had to enter from the ‘rear’ of the building, i.e., the elevation facing the main road. This created a challenge as the lobby/atrium was at the opposite side of the building from the actual entrance.


The architects solved it by creating a ‘tunnel’ through the building—occupants enter the building via a ramped brick ‘tunnel’ where the walls, floor and ceiling converge. The main entrance door is deep within the building, taking occupants from the dark tunnel out into the bright atrium where they have a visual connection with the runway.

Passive designs

“We always design passively first and then work closely with our engineers regarding the active design,” shared John.

In Aemulus, the architects minimised the areas to be air-conditioned as much as possible and naturally ventilated all circulation spaces including the main triple-volume lobby, where cooling is assisted by two large industrial fans cooling the interior. A continuous narrow ventilation slot under the main roof of the lobby exhausts warm air.

The siting and orientation of the building protects against direct sunlight. Angled brick walls shield the glazing in general, an overhanging roof canopy provides additional shade, and the roof is well-insulated. Eight skylights are situated along the office areas at the top floor, providing additional daylighting into the interior. Natural light is also diffused from the lobby area into the fully glazed offices. Furthermore, double-glazed low-E glass is used for all external glazing, VRV air-conditioning has been installed, and lighting and electrical appliances are energy-efficient. Planting and landscaping are used as an integral design element for shading the building.

In addition, rainwater harvesting is also implemented in Aemulus.

“We like to make a feature of discharging rainwater from our buildings, allowing it to flow freely from the roof where possible. In this project, we channelled the rainwater down using hoppers and as it nears the ground, we let it free-flow into catchment drains. This heightens the awareness of a tropical climate, with rainwater flowing off the building almost like a fountain. We also like the psychological connection where we actually see the flowing water captured and recycled for landscape use,” stated John.


“Keeping the intended concept within the budget was a challenge as the client had a strict budget. Another issue was that the contractor did not have any prior experience in fair-faced construction so they had to prepare a number of mock-up columns, brick walls and slabs until we were satisfied with the results. The contractor had a good attitude and were prepared to do what was necessary to achieve the desired results,” shared John.





Project nameAemulus at the Runway
Location25, Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, Phase 1, Bayan Lepas
Certificate of Practical Completion (CPC)June 2020
Site Area6779.10 square metres
Gross Floor Area9405.51 square metres
Building HeightFour storeys
OwnerAemulus Corporation Sdn Bhd
Architectural PracticeDesign Unit Architects Sdn Bhd
Principal ArchitectsJohn G N Bulcock (RIBA); Chin Kuen Cheng (APAM)
Interior DesignerDesign Unit Architects Sdn Bhd
Civil & Structural EngineerPerunding YAA Sdn Bhd
Mechanical & Electrical EngineerHPM Consultants
Landscape ArchitectLandarc Associates Sdn Bhd
Quantity SurveyorGKG Konsultant Kos
Main ContractorMLG Design & Construction Sdn Bhd
Images/PhotosLin Ho Photography
Other Building Consultants / Services / Suppliers / OthersISEO Asia/MTB Group (Ironmongery Supplier);
Igreen Office Furniture Sdn Bhd (Furniture Supplier);
Johnson Suisse (Sanitaryware)

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