d+a – Capricorn Drive

d+a Issue 015.2003 – Aug/Sep 2003

Looking Out Boldly
From the front, the two-storey corner terrace house on Capricorn Drive looks like any other spruced up terrace house, with its white washed brick façade and pitched roof. However, a sharply cantilevered second storey at the rear indicates that the design of this house is not a conventional one.

Instead of typically extending the site on the ground floor, Han Loke Kwang of HYLA Architects, in this extension-and-renovation project, had expanded the floor area by adding to the second storey, cantilevering the additional room using a Vierendeel truss. As a result, the architect had not only added 72.22m2 to the house but also sidelined the drains and sewer lines that ran through the back of the site.

Originally, the first storey contained a series of rooms, with the kitchen located centrally. To create a more free-flowing space, the architect tucked the peripheral rooms to one side such that three main volumes occupy the ground floor – the living room, dining room and kitchen. Without the demarcation of physical walls, there is now fluidity in the spaces – the living room in one bigger area with the dining area. An L-shaped configuration of ceiling-to-floor cabinets not only hides storage and utility rooms but also segregate these from the kitchen.

Such quality of purpose also applies to a structural feature. In another distance, the spine of the cantilevered ledge above extends down into the kitchen as double as a utilitarian shelf that resides beside the kitchen’s stove counter.

The semi-open concept wet kitchen opens through full-height sliding glass panels into an outdoor terrace at the back. The kitchen, generous in size as it is in modern stainless steel fittings, belies a hint of the occupant’s interests, who have already started a nascent herb garden just beyond the terrace. Fittingly, the terrace is the perfect venue to entertain guests, being sheltered by the overhang of the cantilever shelf of the master bedroom above and fanned by the cool north-south breeze.

The slope out back falls away sharply to provide an unobstructed view of the undulating crest of orange pitch roofs below. This view of suburban scenery, interspersed with ribbons of greenery of nearby parklands, is unfortunately interrupted by a web of old electrical power lines. However, instead of obstructing the view, the lines seems to frame it into mini-triangular vignettes, layering it with an architectonic dimension and quality!

On the upper floor, the high ceilings and original layout of the front rooms have been kept, and the renovation is mostly to the back of the house where the master bedroom suite is, with attached bathroom and walk-in closet. As a glass box screened by slender timber slats, the master bedroom gets sweeping views out in all three directions.

The bedroom, furnished with only a bed that is essentially a timber frame with a mattress, brings to mind images of Japanese minimalism. However, the ribbed timber and glass skin that wraps around the room sieves in sunlight to result in a sensual dance of light and shadow. But do not be fooled. The bedroom is not as risqué as it sounds! The timber slats are angled in such a way that they overlap when seen from below, to keep prying eyes away and also to help modulate the amount of sunlight that enters the room, as Han explains.

This interplay of translucency also extends to the adjoining master bathroom, which is canopied by glass and steel, with ferns and palms strategically placed to simulate the sensation of bathing outdoors.

In this house, the transition between old and new is quite seamless, save for a glass-enclosed lightwell that negotiates between the original structure and the new extension above. Textured throughout with grainy ceramic sandstone tiles and smooth cool polished wood, a palette of neutral colors and warm lighting were used to soften the edges and permeate the spaces with a homely feel. And to connect thematically the two different exterior facades, the solid brick walls at the front verses the timber-and-glass composition behind, a side elevation was sliced with glass panels that not only serve to enhance the protrusion of the upper storey but also to draw more light into the dining room.

Writer: Lisa Teo
Photographs: Albert Lim