d + a – Toh Crescent

Issue 088 2015

A few thoughtful design ideas by HYLA Architects in 34/36 Toh Crescent addresses the perennial issues of privacy in cluster housing developments.

The cluster (or strata-titled landed) housing typology has garnered increasing demand in recent years, due to their mix appeal marrying the status of landed property with the facilities and 24-hour security of condominium living. Despite their advantages, Singapore’s land scarcity has developers squeezing as much as possible into a plot. This almost always results in houses distanced by the mere width of lap pools, meaning that residents have to live with the awkwardness of neighbours privy to their every move. This, or perennially drawn curtains.

With overbuilding a problem in such typologies, URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) has put out new guidelines since August last year to reduce the number of units in cluster housing developments and increase the proportion of common spaces from 30% to 45%.

Yet, even before these guidelines came to be, Han has considered such issues in the design of the 10-unit cluster housing development at 34/36 Toh Crescent and offered alternative solutions. Situated within a landed property zone in the east of Singapore, it offers the
compactness of the typology in the 2,000m2 plot while addressing the issues of privacy so often skirted over but so paramount in dense living.

‘One of the things I thought about when designing 34/36 Toh Crescent is that a lot of cluster housing development units are designed like landed housing on their own rather than address the community that it invariably is,’ says Han. ‘There is always the blurring of private and public spaces where the common areas are looked into by the houses’ living and dining areas. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that. You don’t find that in resort developments, which are very private but if you want to enjoy the common facilities you come out; the two are separated,’ he adds.

Keeping the original sloping profile of the land, Han raised the entire first storey to allow for a basement car park. While bringing more light into the basement via skylights and clerestory windows, this also grants more privacy to the development from the main road.

The 10 units are arranged in a U shape around a common area where the modestly sized swimming pool is located. Accented by three Frangipani trees, the pool cascades following the land’s profile, as well as defines three different zones with according depths for baby, toddler and adult swimmers. In a subtle move of raising the pool, Han has also created a hybrid of pool and water feature that suits the compact site well, and which is also safer for young children who might be playing in the area.

The doors of each unit open into this common area, defined by a smoky grey, metal-clad canopy. From here , the internal programming is arranged for increasing levels of privacy. The first zone is an entrance foyer with a small courtyard on one side and the powder room on the other; these act as buffers to the cacophony of the common area; the second zone contains the open kitchen and staircase where open risers and landscaping from the private courtyard shower a dappled filigree of light and shadow play into this transition zone as well as down to the basement; the last zone is the living and dining area that looks to a private landscaped area. Dracaena trees are planted in this garden and when fully grown, will reach two-and-a-half stories to accord full privacy from the neighbouring plots.

‘By not having the living and dining area [of each unit] looking into the swimming pool area, I can create a courtyard feel to the latter,’ says Han. This is accentuated by the solidarity of the granite walls fronting each unit to the pool, decorated by a smattering of small, square-shaped openings that bring in natural light and ventilation in a screened manner. The opaqueness of these walls also better define the common courtyard space, Han adds. ‘If
you have all the doors and windows of each unit facing the common area, it becomes messy because everybody has their own interior design and tries to camouflage [their private space] with their own landscaping; there’s no line between the private and public.’

Upstairs, there are two bedrooms on the second storey: a master bedroom and junior master bedroom, each with their own ensuite bathroom, and one bedroom on the attic storey facing an open terrace. Two smaller bedrooms are contained in the basement, together with the maid’s room, laundry room and external wash area that opens directly to the car park. All the units have the same layout save for the two units at the end of the plot that vary slightly, with one containing a plunge pool.

Another way that Han mitigates the level of privacy for each unit is to have most of the bedrooms face away from the common pool area. Only the junior master bedroom faces this space, and it is skinned with a timber bries soleil layer. From this room, a small balcony
protrudes to provide residents a platform with which to engage the community.

In terms of massing, Han has applied a strategy of careful proportioning of the front façade to create a less obtrusive scale of the two-and-a-half storey units. This is created by the setting back of the staircase curtain wall, and the definition of a one-storey line around the public pool area by the granite walls of the units’ private courtyards. An intimate feel to the common pool area is also created with this effect.

A matrix of different materials make up each units’ façade, each with a role to play in terms of function and aesthetics: grey granite walls define the first storey walls, blending in with the edge walls of the pool to establish a public zone; the timber of the junior master bedroom’s bries soleil-layered window fronting the pool screen views and shade while making reference to the locale’s tropicality; the aluminium for the staircase curtain wall screen with a geometric pattern lends a sense of movement and play to the elevations and also a sense of modernity. ‘The idea is that the composition will make up the space, and also contribute to a simple colour scheme,’ says Han of these touches. Additionally, from the main road, the two elevations are finished in off-form concrete. Although this dilutes the purity of the general material scheme, it is on its own a pleasant textural feature defining the development’s entrance.

Overall, Han’s strategy for 34/36 Toh Crescent is clear and considered. A quiet calm resonates through the development, as does a curated engagement with the natural environment. It is Han’s first cluster housing project ,and he brings into it the same amount of thought
and detail that goes into his many house designs.

Writer: Luo Jingmei
Photographer: Derek Swalwell