Singapore Architect – Jalan Angin Laut

Singapore Architect Issue #282
Bridge Over Water

The start of architecture often begins with rationalising its existing conditions from the site, henceforth formulating a certain level of control in its design parameters and indication towards a congruent holistic product. It is not so much as to what can be captured from the site, but what it lacks that can point to a design approach. The apparent problems of the site become the intangible force that cults the architectural form and spatial configuration needs for the house.

Located in a densely packed suburb on the eastern side of Singapore, the house sits on a linear and narrow plot of land sandwiched in between two rows of semi-detached houses and a mere ten metres from the main road. Needless to say, the view from the house is not a visually arresting one. To overcome the obvious spatial and viewing limitations of the site, the architect took up an interesting approach of creating an internal diorama of views and experiences. This deliberate move cultivated a consistent design, piecing together a coherent and alluring spatial experience for the dwellers.

The house appears to be well hidden from sight when approached from the front road. Once past its main gate, one is received by a flight of glass stairs that leads up to a timber door, subtly conjuring an air of mystery. Upon passing the gateway, the scale becomes suddenly magnified in the transition from the car porch area to a double-volume space. The glass steps continue beyond the door as a connecting element in the form of an arched glass bridge that extends across a tranquil pool. When combined, three distinct elements—double-volume space, the pool, and the glass bridge—create a floating sense of lightness in movement and an airy atrium space defining a prominent threshold space.

The proportion of the designed house is juxtaposed by its towering four-storey neighbour, a property that is of a much larger scale. The issues of daylighting and overlooking thus became key challenges. To maintain privacy, the façade adjacent to its neighbour’s high wall was designed with minimal perforations and just a strip of skylight tracing along the length of the wall. In contrast, the other façade is kept fairly open, allowing for natural light to infuse the space with the side benefit of providing natural ventilation into the pool area. A void space was strategically and carefully carved out on the third storey above the pool, with landscape plantings outlining its edges. For the visitor standing on the glass bridge, this void helps to frame a view to the sky and provide an illusion of space.

Landscape planting along the two perimeter boundary walls establishes a natural border for the linear pool area, while softening its harsh straight edges. The colour of water is further accentuated by the use of pixellated blue mosaic tiles as pool flooring. The pool deck, lined on one side, appears to emerge magically from the middle of the pool with the same mosaic tile material applied consistently to steps leading form the house to the deck.

The pool acts as a divider, splitting the house into two distinct entities. A connecting link way anchors the two masses on the third storey, keeping the first and second clear for the double-volume pool space. A spiral staircase, which appears to be floating in the midst of the pool provides a vertical link from the glass bridge to the second-storey guest room and third-storey gym that fronts the main road, while the rest of the living spaces are tucked into the deeper end of the site.

In deference to the constraints arising from the site’s width, functional spaces on the first floor are lined up on a linear axis with circulation stretching along the two sides of these spaces. When approaching the house from the glass bridge, the living area and dry kitchen are visually exposed, while the wet kitchen, guest room, and vertical circulation remains well hidden beyond the dry kitchen, which serves to demarcate this separation. Service areas are housed primarily in the basement with ventilation for the basement provided through a void that punches through the back of the first storey.

Houses near Mass Rapid Transit lines are often highly sought after in Singapore due to their convenient locations. However, what inevitably comes together with this convenience is the periodic noise from the moving trains occurring every few minutes. To alleviate the issue of noise, the family room sits directly above the living area, sharing the same view of the double-volume pool space, while the two bedrooms on the second floor are pushed closer to the back of the house to allow the fronting and space to dissipate the external noise.

The master bedroom, which occupies the whole of the third storey, is a space constrained to an even narrower width than the first two storeys for compliance requirements. A glass-enclosed landscape space that is open to the sky sits in the middle of the third storey, providing ample natural daylighting and furnishing the master bedroom with a natural ambience. Connecting the master bedroom to the gym is a narrow link way, which is received by a spiral staircase that leads directly down to the pool and common areas.

In exploring the intention of finding a suitable environment within a constrained site, the house is conceived inwardly with the pool functioning as the centrifugal force. The beauty of this house arises from its ability to mitigate the busyness of its site with a tranquil inner experience, which is probably what most Singaporeans living in such a densely populated city would yearn for.

Writer: Sheena Lim
Photographer: Derek Swalwell