Suburbia Projects shares: 4 introductory architecture, design and culture books for all types of readers

Founded in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 by the husband and wife duo, Ashran and Naadiya of Suburbia Projects also co-head architecture and design firm, Studio Karya.


Happy World Book and Copyright Day, readers! On this special day, let us introduce you to Suburbia Projects, a homegrown literary brand spearheaded by two architects, Ashran Bahari (Ash) and Naadiya Hani.

In reflection of how Malaysian art and design publishing houses are only known to a certain niche of readers and practitioners of the field, we are glad to be in their presence, not only to learn about the brand’s beginnings but also receive some recommendations on the topics or books to start with if you’re curious about art and design.

We quote Naadiya to best explain the the retailer-slash-publisher’s foundations: “Suburbia Projects is an architectural brand based in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. We started off with only architecture-related publications, however we have slowly received enquiries on an expanded list of topics, which are still tied to architecture and design. In 2024, we are heading towards being more inclusive in terms of [the sharing of] ideas.”

“The discussion [on the business of books] did not come alive for a mere year or two. We have been talking about providing this selection since possibly 10 years ago,” says Ash.

Unconventionally refreshing: Ash and Naadiya continuously make an effort to bridge academia and commerce. Even before coming into the book business, architecture firm Studio Karya’s practices serve its niche – it has delved into writings, competitions, speculative and self-initiated projects, to name a few.

Suburbia Projects is formed out of need: “We were architects who could not go on site during the Movement Control Order,” Naadiya explains, “So we pivoted to architectural publications.” She tells us that the duo has always dreamed of owning a bookstore and that seemed like the perfect time to do just that. “This is something that falls within our area of familiarity,” comments Ash, “Building a house essentially requires the same set of steps of bringing a book to life. The only difference is that we are engaging with editors, literary consultants and book designers instead of engineers and quantity surveyors.”

They pay close attention to the building blocks of publishing because aside from content and format, look and feel (paper weight and type, cover design, binding etc) are just as crucial. To this Naadiya adds, “We want to bring in books that you could not get in Kinokuniya and Basheer Graphic Books, which might just be the two bookstores which carry specialized titles [of art, architecture and design] here in Kuala Lumpur.”

From the get go we have been told how Suburbia Projects’ focus lies in theoretical publications and writing, “Shifting the [public] attention away from picture books, the type most people are used to when they think of the genre,” she says. A different approach from coffee table books and monographs driven by beautiful pictures, Ash says, “We carry the books we would love to read ourselves.”

“We quickly started looking for writers in our immediate circle of friends,” she recalls. The duo’s first published title under the Suburbia Projects brand is educator-architect Nazmi Anuar’s Background, Frame, Platform, a collection of essays spotlighting ‘forgotten’ architecture, thus making way for meaningful spatial connections.

Exploring the multitude of ways for the propagation of ideas, Naadiya admits that they both, “Still are figuring things out as we go. If you look at our books from the first to the latest feat,” she says, “You’ll see that they take on different formats, materiality. The designing process changes with every title and we are thankful to have supportive partners and team members.”

Ravishing in-house reads.

Original titles housed by Suburbia Projects include the playful, for children and adults’ Somewhere In The Kuala by Lisa Goh and William Chew, a recipient of ThinkCity and PNB’s 118 Merdeka Grants Program;, Kedah: A History In Drawings, a celebration of heritage published in partnership with Taylors University, edited by Keith Tan Kay Hin and Nurul Alia Ahamad; as well as a series of inspiring interviews collected in Small Practices: In Conversation with Malaysian and Japanese Architects by Malaysian architect and educator, Noorul Fadzlee Khamis.

Reading about what goes on behind the building of a building may not be everyone’s cup of tea, nevertheless, we can never discount the importance of knowing and learning about our heritage and culture through the sites and structures that contain them. We quickly arrived at the topic of identity building when Naadiya reminisces, “Following the launch of Somewhere In The Kuala, we organized a walking event with Kerja Jalan where we had schoolchildren excited to learn the bouts of the city, navigating around Central Market and Jalan Tun H. S. Lee. We stopped to look at everything in the two-hour walk, which reminds me of the time Ash and I were in the presence of kindergarteners during our trip to Villa Savoye in Paris, France. Our schools very rarely organize visits to heritage sites – they may go to the National Museum (Muzium Negara) but not historical spots.”

It takes two to getting to know home – people who are interested to learn and folks who are willing to share about them. In the same spirit, Ash highlights the fundamental reason of documenting history through our buildings (a shout-out to local builders, no matter your portfolio!). Capturing the ‘imperfections’ or work in progress in our cities and beyond will help the nation, the builders and people who benefit from the buildings, to grow.

Where do you start if you’d like to learn about the place you live in? Suburbia Projects recommends this list of books:

Books recommended by Ash and Naadiya for all sorts of readers.

1. Fatimah’s Kampung (Kampung Si Fatimah) by Iain Buchanan

Naadiya: This book to us is a must-have read, however sadly it has been out of publication by the Consumers Association of Penang and it has been out of stock. This book talks about the displacement of folks from kampungs and the migration to cities, losing heritage and natural resources along the way in the name of development.

2. Our Architecture by Tajuddin Rasdi

3. Architectures of Social Segregation and Urban Exclusivity by Migrant Marseille

Naadiya: We reference this book all the time as the issues highlighted in the book are also faced by us. We can be hostile towards migrants; however, they have become part of the cities we live in.

4. Building Merdeka: Independence Architecture in Kuala Lumpur, 1957 – 1966 by Lai Chee Kien/Galeri Petronas

Happy reading!

Find out more about Suburbia Projects and browse their books here. The architectural publisher is also on Instagram.

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