Cubes – Room Without Roof

Issue #93 October 2018

Finding Balance

Winner of The Living Space category at the INDE.Awards 2018, Room Without Roof by HYLA Architects is a construct of beauty and balance that perfectly serves a multi-generational Singaporean family’s need for connection and privacy.

Room Without Roof, by HYLA Architects
Words Yvonne Xu, Photography Derek Swalwell (courtesy of HYLA Architects)

When I arrive at this house in Singapore’s east, architect Han Loke Kwang invites me first to view it from across the road. We cross the quiet street and look upon the grey, gable-front form. “It is as a child would draw a house,” Han comments. The building’s monolithic silhouette would have registered as a solemn semantic statement of the house as an icon, except the punctures it bears indicate a more contemporary and innovative spirit. Han has played with offsets in the size and positioning of the front portals. “The form is symmetric but the openings are asymmetric,” he says.

“These openings reveal the concept of the house – but not totally.” The home falls in line with what Han calls his ‘courtyard houses’ – designed to enjoy exterior spaces while simultaneously finding privacy. Outside the house, one gets a suggestion of its spaces, but not of its activities. We see the car porch on one side, and an intriguing atrium-like space on the other.

Han explains, “I’ve been [working on] houses with external spaces that are a key part of the overall design. The external spaces are usually enclosed in some way – some enclosed on the top, some are open.” Apart from internal views, Han’s design and placement of such courtyards also affords the greater house free-flowing air and plenty of natural light, as well as a level of privacy in the exterior spaces.

In the case of Room Without Roof, a pool has been placed in the courtyard. The pool abuts the guest room on one end, continuing down the length of dining and living areas before extending out toward the landscaping. The enclosing brick wall and peripheral garden provide privacy, while the atrium remains open overhead, giving the residents a nice connection to the tropical weather- rain or shine. Still more important to the family is the relationship of the pool atrium to the rest of the house, including the upper levels that look into it. Consideration was also given to the needs of a multi-generational household. Says one of he owners, “Essentially, the new house had to be future proof as we are largely an ageing household; I needed a lift and the interior to be elderly friendly.”

My visit to the house yields more surprises as we explore its interior. Entrance to the living areas is a gentle incline of steps, as the house is raised almost a metre (following building guidelines for this low-lying area). The living and dining areas share a span of space, which, having no columns and adjoined by the voluminous courtyard atrium, feels remarkably spacious – quite the perfect setting for big family gatherings.

On more placid days, one enjoys the house in quieter ways. The breeze, welcomed through those large front openings, passes over the pool and into the living area. The marble underfoot feels cool on this incredibly hot morning. Stepping out to the courtyard, one is presented with even greater enjoyment of the architecture, particularly of the latticework and the brick construction, both of which partake in the daily play of light and shadow.

Privacy and personal spaces for individual family members were also key considerations. Mini-courtyards are enjoyed from the privacy of bedrooms. A junior master suite occupies the entire attic level, planned for a son who has just started his own family.

Room Without Roof is a wonderful design of relationships in both spatial and familial terms. While beautifully built and detailed, the success of the house is in large part due to how it serves the family, particularly in the ways it addresses the needs for connection and privacy.

A Regional INDE.Awards Winner
In 2018, for the second year in a row, The Living Space category of the APAC-wide INDE.Awards was won by a home in Singapore. The 2018 Jury described Room Without Roof as a project that “Breathes new life into the traditional courtyard typology.” Said the owner, “Han has completed a beautiful house for our family. We are living here comfortably.” And that’s a testimonial as simple and solid as a brick house.