d+a – Nursing Home @ Senja

d+a Issue 031.2006

Lasting Impressions
‘Buildings are not idiosyncratic private institutions: they give public performances both to the user and the passer-by. Thus the architect’s responsibility must go beyond the client’s program and into the broader public realm. Though the client’s program offers the architect a point of departure, it must be questioned, as the architectural solution lies in the complex and often contradictory interpretation of the needs of the individual, the institution, the place and history.’ — Richard Rogers (

Institutional buildings, such as schools or nursing homes, get the distinction of being ‘designer architecture’ when done by established firms with a vision to accomplish something architecturally significant other than just a bland building serving basic utilitarian needs. This brand new nursing home by Pacific Healthcare Holdings on Senja Road in Bukit Panjang, designed by HYLA Architects, certainly has all the appeal of a ‘branded’ building – graphically detailed facades, lush courtyard, deeply recessed colour-coded balconies staggered in a perfect linear pattern. In quick summary, it is a very elegant, very modern building that sits in attractively, modestly, with the heartland neighbourhood. Then, as you study it in quiet admiration, your eyes try to get past the sad reality of metal bars that cage up all the openings. This is, after all, a nursing home for the aged and infirm. This is HYLA’s second project of a nursing home, the first being at Bukit Merah (2004), also by Pacific Healthcare Holdings.

The Senja Nursing Home has 265-bed wards arranged in two four-storey wings, with resident day spaces and service cores located in the centre and rear. Each floor is brightly coded in primary colours that are aesthetically pleasing but rationally, as visual aid to identify the floors for the very old. All the wards, similar in scheme to class-C wards with eight beds to each room, each have toilets and showers. These ablution facilities are stacked in intervals such that the openings from ward to courtyard are between the toilets, alternately each floor.

Unlike welfare-aided homes built from generously donated funds and subsidies, this home is ‘a purely private commercial development’. So, ‘while there are no frills like chapels or very large grounds to walk around in, it must have maximum beds possible to comply with the Ministry of Health’s requirements, with a certain standard or level of care… there are 265 beds here and space must be maximised for this. The site is only 2000m2, it’s quite small, and gross floor ratio is 1.8,’ says Vincent Lee of HYLA Architects.

The typical functional spaces, eg, the physiotherapy areas, common dining rooms, etc, are placed at the west- and south-facing side of the plan. This way, the courtyard captures the morning sun but by afternoon it is in the shade.

All the wards are naturally ventilated, with fans running all the time. With all the side top-hung windows open and the fans turned on, cross ventilation is well taken care of in the wards, which are also facilitated with a common lounge each floor. These open lounge areas are railed up, for all practical intent and purposes, but they are visually connected with the central landscaped courtyard and have deep overhangs for shade and comfort.

On the lower floor level is a car park that may be later converted to day spaces for callisthenics or such activities, says Lee. It was built to LTA requirement but yet, has all the potential to be a multipurpose space in due course.

By having the main openings of the two blocks facing the same side, westward towards an open field, the ‘colourful’ aspects and architectural features of the building – eg, the recessed balconies – present a more visibly pleasant side to the street and public.

The two street-façade treatments on the gable end of the two blocks, in contrasting materials of concrete and aluminium slats, as well as contrasting vertical and horizontal stripped patterns, functionally conceal the fire-escape stairwells – and are features that most visibly and creatively distinguish the building. Each panel of the concrete-pattern façade is made up of strips of three different finishes; and each strip is manually measured and placed on site. Kudos must surely go to the workmen, and supervision of the contractor, who went through pains to make sure the entire composition does not have a single piece out of place!

Writer: Troy
Photographs: HYLA Architects