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When architects work on private residential projects, common feedback from clients are that the architects has not fully addressed their requirements, with either too little or too much consideration for detail. This is especially so during the design stage when there is often an interesting interchange between how the client aspires to live and how the architect has interpreted the brief and proposes (and sometimes admittedly, imposes) his own ideas. it is thus refreshing to see what architects do when they design for their own dwelling – do they try to explore the ideas they were previously unable to, or do they approach the project as any other homeowner would?
One such opportunity arose when A_Collective designed the family home of one of their own. The detached house is home to the family of Tan Cher Ming, including his parents, his own immediate family and his sibling’s family. Needless to say, Tan took the lead on the project together with architect Lim Eng Kwee.
Situated at the corner of a busy road junction, Tan’s first move was to introduce a new massing from the original house, which Tan describes as having a “cuboid plan, with plenty of dark areas towards the middle. Furthermore the narrow strip of garden around the house was also not very usable.” To mitigate the noise from the road and bring in more light, the design team emploed an L-shape building layout where the building was used as a barrier from the road to create a more inward looking plot with a private garden in the middle.
The horizontal block that stretches across the entrance houses the combined living and dining room. The ground floor is kept as transparent as possible with the use of large sliding glass panels (about 2.5m wide by 3m high) and is flanked by a swimming pool in front and the private garden behind. Tan describes that the intention was for the living and dining room to have the “feel of being in a pavilion, surrounded by water and greenery.” This simple but effective strategy immediately addresses the issue of bringing in natural light and inducing excellent cross-ventilation.
Further elaborating on the effectiveness of increasing the exposed surface area of the house, Tan says, “Even though there was only a slight increase in the footprint, the new house feels much bigger than the old especially on the ground floor due to the increase of daylight and the high ceilings. Our intention was to let the new house breathe with plently of opening where light, air and views of water and landscaping are able to penetrate.”
As the house was meant to contain three families, the team also paid close attention to the composition of communal and private spaces. The ground floor is a continuous open space that links to the kitchen behind via a passage that eschews the dark, tunnel-like atmosphere typical of many corridors in older houses. This was achieved by placing an open U-shaped staircase on one side and large sliding panels on the other, which exposes it to light on both sides. Tan highlights that one of the key ideas was for “every room, even corridors, to look into the garden”.
With its prominent location in the centre of the house, the staircase is expressed as a floating structure, suspended from the three surrounding walls. The main perimerer wall that a third of
the stairs cantilevers from is finished in raw concrete with slots of glass to bring in more light from the exterior. Finished in Burmese teak, the earthy tone of the stairs is well complemented with the cool grey of the concrete wall and is washed with dramatic steaks of light that change according to the time of day.
The second floor houses three seperate ‘wings’ for the three families, with a bright family space in the centre linking all three rooms. This was a deliberate change from the previous house where the second storey had “long, dark corridors” leading to the individual rooms. Even the staircase landing is spared from being a mere incidental space, with glass sliding panels framing a view of the garden below.
Describing the difference between designing for private clients and one of their own staff, Tan states that it is “more straightfoward as we are able to realise the design in fewer steps than if we were designing for a client.”
Tan shares that almost all of the furniture in the house was designed by the team. While this is not always the case for their other projects, the team is always up for the challenge if a request is made. “It helps if the requirements of the client are in line with our vision for the project. It’s a passion we have that pushes us to incorporate all design elements, from the building facade down to the smallest detail like a wardrobe door handle, for instance.” says Tan.
This painstaking attention to detail is expressed very clearly in this project. Timber strips that clad the entire front block of the house are chamfered for a light finish while a timber dining table features elegantly detailed strips of steel on either end – especially useful for drinks.
Bringing to mind the notion of gesamtkunstwerk (German for ‘total work of art’), the firm’s attention to detail is rare in the midst of an increasing emphasis on pre-fabrication in the building industry. It also quells the common perception that bigger is better or more worthwhile. Tan notes that the team maintain that “good design is not limited to the size or extent of the element – it is more of an attitude that we work to cultivate within the office. Furthermore, as a design-focused practice, we are always fussy over the details of all our projects. In our eyes, there is no difference between the big and small detail”.