Cubes – Faber Terrace

Issue #73 April/May 2015

HYLA Architects devise an ingenious way of mitigating an irregularly shaped site in faber hills estate, resulting in a house with delightful moments of connectivity.

Faber Hills Estate is a residential vicinity in the west of Singapore marked by similar two-storey, terracotta-roofed terraces and semi-detached houses. Many of these homes have resisted change, which explains the rare homogeneity as well as the laid-back charm of the neighbourhood.

It also explains why a recently completed house designed by HYLA Architects along Faber Terrace stands out all the more. The design, though markedly different from the surrounding houses, by no means offends the atmosphere of the area. On the contrary, its simple form and dark-toned material palette have it receding quietly into the estate’s lush environs. A distinct, half-gabled form caps its corner location elegantly, the shape extending along the site’s length and articulated by a facade of timber screens held up by a straightforward charcoal-grey steel I-beam structure.

Han Loke Kwang, the founder and Principal of HYLA Architects, comments that the screen takes care of the glare and heat from the harsh tropical sun and also grants privacy – a particularly important consideration as there is a considerable amount of frontage to the road. This screen extends over a terrace at the front of the house, creating a pleasant, voluminous, semi-open space. The latter faces a small front garden where a single tree is planted as a visual anchor as well as a climatic filter against the western sun.

A delicate filigree of variably spaced timber slats lends liveliness to the facade. Some slats are upturned and others can be opened to allow the upper-level interior spaces to connect with the front terrace. Accoya was the timber of choice for its anti-warping quality.

While this screen is a key datum in the design of the house, it is in the interior planning that there is most ingenuity. The house sits on a trapezoidal site, with the front tapering to a narrower rear. “What we did was design a very simple rectangular plan parallel to the site boundary [along the length of the site], and then we pushed splayed spaces for circulation and service areas to the party wall side. So the bathrooms all have a splayed layout and the bedrooms are very rectilinear,” Han explains. This decision, while practical, also accords the bathrooms and triple-volume staircase air well a unique and somewhat spirited personality. On the front facade, this section of the house is expressed as a more opaque volume abutting the party wall.

The first storey is defined by a simple, free-flowing space containing the double-volume living room, dining and open kitchen. A double-volume bookshelf that divides this space from the stair core accentuates the loftiness of the living area, while putting the knick-knacks of the occupants – a young couple with two children and a helper – on display.

Also on display, facing the stairwell, are many framed photographs. It uses an inventive wall system incorporating commonplace adjustable shelving hooks that allows for versatility in changing the display as and when desired.

The stairwell acts as an artery connecting various spaces vertically and laterally. Bridges cross the space linking niches at the front – a family room on the second storey and the wife’s study on the third – to the other rooms. Encased by glass balustrades rather than opaque walls, these spaces open up to the activity at the stair well. They prove valuable for staying attuned to the activities of the two young children.

“I’m always looking to create spaces that overlook each other, that create conversations between different zones in a house,” says Han. He continues, “That is very important, especially in Singapore because land sizes are so small so the more you have these views between spaces, the more open and spacious the whole house feels.” Meanwhile, the staircase layout is splayed, following the trapezoidal shape of the plan, hinting at an Escher-like character. This high volume is dramatically washed with light from the skylight above.

The bathrooms, while irregularly shaped following the trapezoidal layout, are decently sized. The master bathroom in particular is an exercise in packing a bundle of requirements – a separate WC and shower, a sunken bathtub, and a garden – into a modest, wedged-shape plan without the feeling of claustrophobia. Sandwiched between the walk-in closet and gym, one of the owners highlights that this layout functions perfectly for watching the kids play in the bathtub while she works out in the gym.

This liveability is exactly why the couple had selected HYLA Architects to work on their dream home. She explains, “The big design idea is one thing; my husband is big on spaces that are also functional. This is quite a simple and elegant design, not something flashy and outlandish that you will get sick of after a while.”

“It’s important for clients to feel comfortable and for the design to incorporate their input,” says Han. Additionally, it is equally important for the architect to rein in the clients’ desires should they gear toward an unsuitable outcome. For instance, here, the clients had dreamed of a glass house without curtains or blinds – not an ideal proposition for the tropics. The screened facade is partly a response to this, as is a dense canvas of planting on the first storey along the house’s length. These elements filter the light nicely into the house. “It’s not just stark, white light all the time,” notes the owner.

This house has led to a third commission in the vicinity (the owners of this house had come to know about HYLA Architects through a house he had designed nearby), attesting to Han’s dexterity in creating sensitive design for everyday living.

Writer: Luo Jingmei
Photographer: Derek Swalwell