This project offers opportunities to reinterpret the ‘Good Class Bungalow’ (GCB). The GCB is a niche category of landed houses in Singapore, often associated with high-end landed housing for the privileged few. There are specific planning guidelines to safeguard the qualities of these houses. The minimum plot size has to be 1400 sqm.
The ‘site coverage’, which refers to the building foot print, shall not exceed 35% of the site area. Intended for a family of four generations, this project relooks at ways of enhancing the joy of tropical living, of enlivening communal living in a contemporary, tropical setting, where family members reside in a home of interconnected social spaces. This house is located along Cornwall Gardens, within an enclave of detached houses in a ‘Good Class Bungalow Area (GCBA)’, under the Bukit Timah Planning Area. The client had planned this site of 1494 sqm for the retirement of their parents, an ‘open home with as much foliage and water elements as possible, making it a cool tropical paradise for the family’. This, they hope to encourage their three children to ‘raise their families here when they grow up’. In addition, they had a preference for natural and darker shades of finishes, to be in sync with nature, and to cut down glare from the harsh tropical sun.
In response to the brief and the site context, the original L-shaped plan has been extended to a U, with spaces reorganised to meet the family’s needs. The objective is to generate a sense of privacy amongst the different generations and between the neighbours; and at the same time, a sense of communality and cohesion amongst the family members. The stringent site coverage control posed challenges in meeting the space requirements for housing four generations. However, during the design process, this became a key inspiration, prompting a series of voids and crevices to be carved out on plan, for the penetration of daylight into the spaces, for natural ventilation, and for the cultivation of a variety of tropical undergrowth and aquatic lives.
Fronting the road named Cornwall Gardens, the east façade is a two-storey envelope punctuated with openings greeting the street. Composed of charcoal logs that serve as filter from noise and air pollution, for the orient, it is believed that charcoal generates earth ‘qi’, and symbolises good fortune. Behind the exterior walls, the periphery was sculpted to accommodate living spaces that are designed with an I-Thou relationship with nature, i.e. the family and nature share the same breathing space.
Plants and water bodies are part of the overall planning, for passive cooling and for the general wellness of the environment. At the entrance foyer, an old retaining wall with a history of leakage has prompted the transformation of this area into a waterfall feature. Visitors are now greeted with sounds of cascading water, which can be enjoyed from all levels. Working with the sloping terrain, the resulting sections are spatial configurations resembling cave dwellings. Built-ups that contributed to the site coverage are utilised as planters for tropical fruit trees, to cool the ambient temperature, and to insulate the interiors. On plan, the site coverage has been expressed as a ‘green coverage’ of landscape decks and cascading planters framing the central pool space. These are also catchment areas for the rainwater harnessing system, where recycled rainwater is used for irrigation. The living spaces overlook this central space; the peripheries are interconnected planting verandahs in metal mesh. These semi-porous decks and screens allow visual interactions across the central space, with the interiors partially screened for privacies. The expanded steel mesh allows plants to grow profusely beyond the verandah space, to be enjoyed from within and without. The planting verandahs of the living areas flow to form a planter bridge of passion fruits. Finished with the same steel mesh, it bridges the two ends of the ‘U’, spanning 16m and 6m high. The climbing vines aid to provide an effective sun-shade from the setting sun, and a privacy screen for the two neighbours. Whilst high-tech and mass-production define today’s local construction idiom, craft is very much celebrated in this house. This also reflects the interest of the family members. Wall finishes are done in varying wash-pebbles and charcoal logs. The house signage, the family’s name in ancient Chinese oracle bone character, is engraved on one of the logs. The main door is done in radiating patterns from recycled railway sleepers to echo the split surfaces of the charcoal logs. The grab bars to the sunken deck are sculpted rebars to complement the vines.
Salvaged materials and objects from the old house form part of the new house’s schedule of finishes. Recycled wood were used for floorings and cabinetries. Old light fittings, window and door panels were readapted in memory of the old house. The outcome of this house exceeded the expectations of the family. They are pleased with the functional and aesthetical aspects, as well as the emotional and spiritual aspects in its outcome. The grandparents have since been staying with the family. The grandma, who suffered from dementia, has been cheerful and able to communicate with family members more often than before. This house has also become the gathering place for the client’s extended families, numbering fifties in one reunion. This house has suggested alternatives to redefine good class living in the GCBA. It alters the traditional palette of the GCB – from polished marble to rustic sleepers, from gleaming brass to industrialised barriers. However, it does not diminish the tactile qualities, or the experiential values of what terms ‘luxury living’. It suggests new definitions of good class living in the tropics, in the physical and spiritual sense – by living with and constantly in touch with nature. This house characterises the family, and reflects the spirits of explorations and of innovations on the part of the client, the architect, and the builder. It demonstrates the potential of housing a multi-generation family in Singapore, serving differing needs and aspirations, in a contemporary tropical setting.