Singapore Architect #269 – 19 Lorong 24A Geylang

19 Lorong 24A Geylang

Singapore Architect Issue No. 269 Jun 2012

SA 12th SIA Architectural Design Awards 2012
Special Category E3 Conservation

The architect’s vision is impressive in its boldness, serving to set this conservation effort apart from the rest. Interestingly, the architect seemed to have been inspired by constraints faced, coming up with rather convention-busting design strategies.

The centrepiece is a patterned steel cage staircase spiralling up to the attic floor. It is at the front and dead centre, and softly tilts because of the off-alignment of the ground and attic floors. The second centre piece is a similarly patterned metal screen with a bulge on the upper floor to fit the contour of the bathroom accessory. The centrepieces define the project expressively.

The success of the design is a testament to the architect’s commitment to the craft. His daring to go all the way with a vision this bold is refreshing and thoroughly deserving of an award.


The client’s brief was simple, he had an extremely tight budget, he wanted at least three rooms, and he wanted something artistic. Besides this, the usual constraints of URA’s conservation requirements needed to be met. The approach then was to use the minimum of elements to fulfil the brief and meet the statutory and budgetary requirements. A central spiral staircase was inserted into the main building, which created a vertical spine and subdivided the spaces that were required. A new two-storey structure was added at the rear to enclose the rear court and at the time create two more rooms. Finally the rear court was partially roofed with glass and aluminium trellis, thereby providing light and ventilation to the entire house.

There is maximum reuse and conservation of materials, structure, and elements due to the severe cost constraints. All new elements are distinctly articulated and expressed separately from the existing party walls, structure, and facades.

What is often forgotten about the conservation house typology is the simple honesty and unpretentious pragmatism that lie behind the elaborate decorative facades. This project attempts to complement this aspect with a modern interpretation and intervention that has a raw, industrial, and sculptural directness. It expresses the architect’s values of simplicity, honesty, clarity, strength, and dynamism. A restricted palette of steel, glass, and aluminium is used with complementary tiles in different shades of grey. The result is dramatic, surprising, and free-spirited, which hopefully echoes the vibrancy and exuberance of the street life outside in Geylang.

By maximising reuse and minimising intervention with its miniscule budget, this project seeks to conserve natural capital. With its bold approach in an otherwise neglected district, it respects and rejuvenates the urban infrastructure. Its freeform and flexible planning enables adaptability and multiple reuse. By respecting he existing typology of the shophouse, it shows how something new can have harmonisation with Place. It is truly a modern interpretation of how tropical and comfortable the shophouse has been and can be with the wellness of the inhabitant at its heart.

The original shophouse consists of features like the five-foot-way and a rear court, but the forecourt and the distinctive central airwell are absent. The main living area on the first storey is tucked behind the main hall at the front of the house. Hence, the length of the house is subdivided into the various zones by a quarter-turn staircase, located somewhere in the centre of the main living space. As the only source of light is from the front windows and the window to the yard behind, the amount of light that reaches the middle of the house is greatly reduced.

In the proposed intervention, while retaining and restoring most part of what defines the original Chinese Baroque shophouse, new elements have been introduced to the existing shophouse to improve its condition and spatial quality. At the first storey, the primary intervention involves the replacement of the existing quarter-turn staircase with a central spiral staircase, as well as the addition of a rear wing, thereby creating an airwell. By doing so, it allows the open plan of the first storey to be bathed in natural sunlight, which enters the shophouse from the front, skylight above the spiral stairway, central airwell, and from the rear court.

The second storey plan is further extended with the addition of a rear wing. Three bedrooms now occupy the second storey, interspersed with three bathrooms that serve each of the rooms. Each room receives natural light and ventilation from at least one elevation.

Another intervention capitalises on the generous second storey floor-to-ceiling height of old shophouses, with the addition of a roof mezzanine. The space here overlooks the master bedroom and Bedroom 3, and receives ample natural light via the new jack roof above.