House of Greens: This detached house in Singapore is a sanctuary for a family of nature-lovers
From the entrance to the rooftop, this house’s proliferation of greenery makes it the perfect tropical retreat.
The name House of Greens given by architect Lim Cheng Kooi perfectly describes this 7,600 sq ft detached house. The profusion of greenery throughout was driven by the family’s passion for and competence in landscaping. “One of the family members’ favourite past time is shopping for plants and gardening together. The wife is particularly good with plants,” said the founder of AR43 Architects.
“Our whole family enjoys greenery and gardening,” added the eldest son. The owners have three adult children – two sons who live in Singapore with them and a daughter who is working in New York. “Many of the plants were transported from our previous home out of nostalgia. The specific species were chosen for the foliage type, suitability to the local climate and speed of growth so that they are easier to maintain.”
The family moved because they wanted more space. They settled on the east of Singapore, as they were attracted to the amenities in this vicinity. “It also had rear access to a park connector, which we liked given our active lifestyle,” said the husband.
In the brief, they requested for a green sanctuary where the close-knit family can spend time together in. They also desired for the social spaces to be centred around the living, dining and family room, as well as designed around the landscaping.
The plot is unusually elongated and closely buffered by neighbours on both sides. Lim composed three concrete boxes along a linear axis tracing the length of the plot, with the middle block pulled outward to one side. The architecture combines that rawness of off-form concrete walls and aluminium panels with a timber appearance that clad the sides of the house, the roof and an impressive cantilevering canopy sheltering the car porch. The structure of the canopy is integrated into the concrete structure so that it maintains a light appearance while spanning eight metres to provide abundant shade. “As the land is on the axial of the north-west and south-east orientation, the front of the house has the morning light and breeze while the rear has a stunning view of the sunset,” described Lim. Large windows open the interior to the outdoors along its long axis while walls with little or no openings on the side elevations shield them from the neighbours and the harsh afternoon sun. “This orientation also optimises the natural wind flow within the site while the larger openings allow much better passive cooling and ventilation for the interior,” said Lim on the architecture’s biophilic qualities.
The most impressive part of the house is of course the multiple gardens that Lim has incorporated through the plan. This green journey begins when one enters the compound. The paths from the pedestrian gate and the car porch to the front door are lined with verdant landscaping of various heights and shapes. At the front of the house is a tiered pond that works as a beautiful sensorial prelude to the interiors. This feature cleverly resolves issues of a slightly elevated topography toward the north boundary and the need to comply with authority regulations for flood prevention. The part of the house that protrudes to the side contains the double-volume living room. It enjoys views of this water feature to the front of the house, and of a more intimate patio and garden to the rear.
“Spatially, we emphasised the landscape to be along the same axial orientation of the larger openings so the double-volume living room has a full view of the pond and lush greenery at the front garden. This pond that traces the living room’s perimeter visually extends the interiors outward. Strips of granite slabs seemingly float above the water alongside large Lotus leaves in the pond while water trickles down the front garden into a bed of pebbles,” Lim described of the picturesque scene.
“The soothing sound of water, waving leaves and stepping stones create a resort-like ambience and cosy arrival for the visitors,” he added. A large frangipani tree frames the side, its green foliage softening the béton brut of the off-form concrete walls.
Working with a landscape designer on the overall design, he took great pains to weave the architecture with the greenery. For example, a long slit window at the base of the living room extends the pretty view of the pond to the side of the house without compromising the inhabitants’ privacy. Feathery Cyprus Papyrus (or paper reed) plants in this water body can be seen from the living room. Along the side of the house, towering Polyalthia Longifolia trees with straight trunks function as a green privacy screen.
On the first storey, the living room, adorned with a cluster of Raymond II chandeliers from Moooi that look like spherical starbursts, opens to a guestroom via sliding doors. This section is designed to be future-proof. In their twilight years, the owners can move downstairs and use this as their bedroom. Currently, it is used as a sitting area. Large sliding doors open the room to the rear patio that is surrounded by lush planting. Part of the wall extends from the living room to block the neighbour from looking into this patio. Small apertures in the roof above this space add natural illumination without letting in heat and glare.
An outdoor dining set and an L-shaped bench at the edge of this patio make it an inviting spot to sit and enjoy the outdoors amidst the landscaping. At the rear of the house, Lim incorporated a herb garden where the family can grow produce to used in their cooking.
On the second storey, planters on two sides of the family room bring in green views. Large floor-to-ceiling windows not only illuminate the space but also provide a view of tree foliage from the landscaping on the first storey. The windows and doors to the master bedroom, junior master suite and spare bedroom for their daughter when she visits open to these planters. The second storey was designed such that the entire floor can be converted into a self-contained micro unit should the sons have their own families and continue to live here. A pantry attached to the family room serves this purpose. In the attic, there is another junior master suite, a study and a gym at the front of the house. “There is a sizeable rooftop garden at each end of the attic where the family can enjoy the sunset or a morning workout,” Lim pointed out.
The family appreciates how well designed the house is for tropical living. “Given how the architect has angled the house, and placed the windows and walls to consider the position of the sun, the main living spaces are bright and airy throughout the day. The durable materials chosen for the external façade also helps to reduce maintenance in this tropical weather where the humidity and [torrential] rainfall can age buildings faster,” the eldest son commented.
Aside from the living and dining areas, the family spend most of their time together in the garden. Despite this being a narrow site, the abundant landscaping, and the thoughtful weaving of nature and architecture cocoons the family in a green oasis away from the street and the hustle-and-bustle of work life.