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In Singapore, a house with a ‘flying wall’ gives a family much needed privacy

Architecture firm Park + Associates conceives a clever solution to block out unwanted views for the family of this detached house.

When Ng Bee Bee and Chong Tze Siong got married, their first home was a condominium apartment. They later moved into a semi-detached house. After three children – two sons and a daughter – they decided to build their own home.

“For many years, I tried to convince my husband that with our savings built up over the years, we should construct a home rather than split them into multiple investment units where we are not able to enjoy the fruits of our labour,” shared Ng.  

During a four-year-break from her busy career in engineering, she went on the hunt for a suitable plot. At the same time, she started searching for an architect. A mother in the parent support group in her daughter’s school was married to the owner of CTH Builders and recommended Lim Koon Park, founder of architecture firm Park + Associates. 

“We decided to engage Park because we trusted his quality of work after seeing a few of his projects and interacting with him. We also concluded that the builder must have a good working relationship with the architect, and both of them have worked together on several projects,” said Ng.

The chosen plot was in a quiet and friendly neighbourhood. “It was sizeable and had no direct sunlight, but yet was bright and airy,” described Ng.

The corner site abutted other house plots and a school with eight noisy exhausts that faced the home, which led to the idea of the "flying wall." (Photo: Daniel Koh)

Still, there were challenges. The corner site abutted other house plots and a school with eight noisy exhausts that faced the home. Ng contacted the school, which recognised that it was time to revamp the air-conditioning system. To Ng’s relief, they replaced the exhausts and turned them inwards.

“But initially, we were not sure if the school would comply. We told the architecture team about this concern. When we walk into the compound, we don't want to see the ugly exhausts,” said Ng.

This was how the idea of the ‘flying wall’ came about. It is a wall extending from the second storey of the square-shaped house, which is skewed in plan against the entrance. The wall buffers the interiors from views of the unsightly services of the school as well as the road out front through a strategic composition of transparency and opaqueness.

“Balancing between the client’s wish to maximise the site coverage and the need to maintain privacy from the school, the design responded through the exploration of an intervention that would significantly alter the perception of the unusually shaped plot and its negative spaces. This resulted in the introduction of a single, simple gesture where the interior spaces are [skewed] as an attempt to reshape the relationship of the house, its spaces and its surroundings both spatially and visually,” explained Christina Thean, director at Park + Associates.

The juxtaposition of the skewed box and the flying wall creates interesting pockets of spaces that create dialogue between the outdoors and indoors. The upward view frames the sky while the view downwards from the upper levels frames a balcony on the second storey, and a pool and garden on the first storey. On the balcony, the family can exercise or enjoy the outdoors in privacy behind the wall.

The plan was based on a nine-square grid (or “lo shu” grid) from feng shui spatial planning concepts. “This grid is divided into nine sectors, each with their own sub-sectors with specific requirements on the types of rooms and architectural features. Living spaces were arranged in order to these ‘sectors’, creating a peaceful setting where a transition is formed between interior spaces, water and landscape,” said Thean.

There are plenty of spaces from which to enjoy the greenery. The arrival sequence itself celebrates the garden. From the car porch to the entrance, the architecture team conceived a sheltered pathway flanked by landscaping. The pleasant trajectory is also a more elegant way of mitigating site levels, as building regulations had stipulated raising the first storey in case of flooding.

“This experience was designed with sequencing in mind, captured through the ascending levels, intimate scale of the entrance canopies and surrounding greenery,” said Thean.

The intimacy of the walkway transits into the drama of the living room’s double-volume space, overlooked by the second storey family area so as to continue communication across levels. It was important that the house allowed the close-knit family to bond, but also provide personal zones. Shared Ng: “We have a lot of conversation downstairs. Thereafter, the children will have their private time in their own rooms.”   

A pavilion opposite the dining room across the swimming pool is another space for the family to enjoy the outdoors. Sitting within the footprint of the flying wall, it encourages the family increased interaction with the pool. Large sliding doors ensure unblocked views from the common areas to the landscaping and pool, whose placement was determined by feng shui principles. “The ability of these strategies to seamlessly integrate and enhance the owner’s Fengshui requirements was an added advantage,” commented Thean.

It is a lovely view for the family when prepping food at the dry kitchen or having meals at dining area. In the former, the architecture team designed an eye-catching backdrop made from oak timber veneer and dark quartz. “The oak timber finish matches with the rest of the first storey spaces to maintain a minimal palette of materials,” explained Thean.

The swimming pool sits within the footprint of the flying wall, encouraging increased interaction with the pool. (Photo: Daniel Koh)

Light grey textured paint on the exterior maintains a restful palette. Oak, Bianco Venatino marble, light grey granite, quartz countertops and homogenous tiles were chosen for their ability to generate a feeling of warmth and tactility, Thean elaborated. Many aspects of the house’s design, such as the open plan first storey, centralised double-volume height and large glass sliding doors, make it inherently ecologically friendly.

The living spaces’ sliding doors are oriented towards the northeast prevailing winds, while the open plan and double-height of the common area promotes good daylight and airflow, as well as supports cross ventilation towards the southeast-facing windows at the staircase core, Thean pointed out. The placement of the swimming pool by the living areas also cools the surrounding air, thus reducing reliance on air-conditioning.   

The family has lived here for just over two years. “It is well-ventilated, bright and has a good balance of spaces. It met our expectations of easy maintenance and the first level is very [inviting] to meet for conversation with family and friends,” said Ng.

The house was an oasis for the family during the pandemic before Singapore opened up. “We were very fortunate to shift into this house just before the Circuit Breaker. The family had more space to enjoy and the walks in the neighbourhood with our dog Teemo was indeed a pleasure, and enabled us to get to know our neighbours better,” she shared. 

The family also picked up new hobbies in the house – mahjong and golf for the children, and Chinese painting for the couple. Ng’s interest in Ikebana also adorns the interiors.

“Occasionally, the men of the house love to practice putting and chipping in the garden. The gym and outdoor spaces have been well utilised for the family to exercise, even until now,” said Ng. Obviously, the house is a repository for many lovely memories. Agreed Ng: “We celebrated my 50th birthday in this new home. What a great gift!”   

Source: CNA/mm