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8 Singapore architects to know if you’re thinking of building or renovating your home

Building a new nest or refurbishing your existing digs? These are the go-to residential architecture and design firms to consider engaging.

8 Singapore architects to know if you’re thinking of building or renovating your home

A shophouse in Singapore designed by Brewin Design Office. (Photo: Brewin Design Office)

Since the coronavirus pandemic has kept us at home more often, the focus on domestic life has grown exponentially. We have come to realise how good lighting and ventilation, ample greenery and effectively planned spaces contribute to our sense of wellbeing.

If you are contemplating building a new house, or simply giving your home a makeover, here are eight of the best architecture and design firms in Singapore to consider. They are the names shaping the local architectural landscape through their thoughtful, original approaches to dwelling design.

WATCH> Inside Sheng Siong co-founder Lim Hock Leng’s 33,700 sq ft family home

BEST FOR: ELEGANT, MODERN TROPICAL DESIGNS

Architecture firm: K2LD Architects

Year founded: 2000

K2LD Architects' Ko Shiou Hee. (Photo: K2LD Architects)

Founded by Ko Shiou Hee and David Lee, each house in the Singapore- and Melbourne-based firm’s portfolio is different.

There are houses with soaring roofs that bring in the scenery, light and wind, as well as those displaying an experimental yet elegant approach to materials such as brick, aluminium mesh and green copper.

This house is designed as a two transparent volumes floating atop a solid masonry block to absorb the scenery of the surrounding greenery. (Photo: K2LD Architects)

Many of the houses read as precisely composed blocks following the founders’ modernist influences. Cleanly expressed volumes, planes and lines extend or dissolve to become screens, overhangs and pavilions, resulting in comfortable tropical homes.

In order to give the occupants superior quality dwellings, the firm spares no expense in sourcing for and acquiring the best materials, fittings and workmanship from around the world.

The Golden Box house is striking with a skin of butter-coloured metallic mesh that glows under sunlight. (Photo: K2LD Architects)

In one project, a Japanese landscapist applied for a passport to leave Japan for the first time in his life to work on a Singapore house’s gardens; in another, artists and craftsmen were flown over from America and Europe to install sculptures and doors respectively.

READ> Which condos in Singapore are most conducive for cultivating inner peace?

Architecture firm: RT+Q Architects

Year founded: 2003

RT+Q Architects has in its portfolio more than 120 houses to date. The award-winning partnership founded by Rene Tan and Quek Tse Kwang is recognised for refined and contemporary homes that are grounded in modernist and classical architectural theories, but adapted to the local context.

It views the modern house as “a refuge from the chaos of the outside world”, reflected in homes that employ quiet lines, tranquil courtyards and neutral palettes.   

The House of Harmony balances classical Chinese symmetry and modernist proportions in both the plan and elevations. (Photo: RT+Q Architects)

Each house by RT+Q Architects is painstakingly detailed. Common features include beautiful spiral staircases that enhance the sense of movement through a home, and luxurious, resort-like bathrooms.

Tan leads the firm with a “counter-intuitive approach”, hoping to inject surprises within the simple geometries of each home. For example, hidden doors hide circular shoe cabinets and bathroom counters break through exterior walls, transforming from object to architecture.

This home fulfils the programmatic complexity and passion for art collection for a multigenerational family. (Photo: RT+Q Architects)

Over the years, the firm’s architecture has evolved from simple, boxy forms to minimally expressed, pitched roof houses that pay homage to the tropical vernacular.

BEST FOR: ALL-IN-ONE DESIGN – DOWN TO THE FURNITURE

Design firm: Brewin Design Office

Year founded: 2012

Brewin Design Office's Bobby Cheng. (Photo: Studio Periphery/Marc Tan)

Design Director Robert Cheng spent 20 years abroad in London, New York and Paris before returning to Singapore to start his firm. This brings to his portfolio vast cultural and historic influences.

The firm is recognised for its minimal but richly textured interior and architectural designs that display finesse in detailing and execution. Some of his works include the penthouse show unit of EDEN – the bucolic condominium designed by British architect Thomas Heatherwick – and the Museum Library at the National Gallery of Singapore.

In the penthouse show unit of EDEN Residences, curved profiles of the furniture and furnishings echo the organic plan. (Photo: Brewin Design Office)

Cheng’s holistic approach includes not just designing spaces but also furniture.

“We have a deep passion for interior furnishing, which we use to strengthen an interior design narrative, sourcing pieces globally and custom-designing others to ensure each project is unique,” said Cheng.

The Repulse Bay apartment in Hong Kong features many custom-designed furniture pieces and up to six different methods of incorporating American white oak in the interior wood work. (Photo: Brewin Design Office)

Exposed to myriad art and design methods while studying architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in the USA, his furniture designs feature exotic materials and disappearing artisanal techniques, making them not just useful but also works of art.

BEST FOR: BRUTALIST DESIGNS

Architecture firm: ipli Architects

Year founded: 2001

ipli Architects' Yip Yuen Hong. (Photo: ipli Architects)

President’s Design Award-winner Yip Yuen Hong founded the firm with his wife Lee Ee Lin in their home. It has expanded but the boutique size of 12 ensures that Yip oversees every project closely.

The firm became known for its charming, modern iterations of kampong vernacular attap houses that Yip appreciates for their handcrafted sense of scale and proportion.

This house in Singapore is a semi-detached dwelling with two layers that replaces the deep roof overhang to protect inner habitable spaces. (Photo: Jaume Albert Marti)

“These houses had a sensibility that dealt well with rain and sun using big roofs, overhangs, etc. All the designs we do try to solve these issues of the context in which we live,” he says.

These days, the firm is synonymous with Brutalist houses, where thick walls and concrete and brick finishes evoke caves, although there are also explorations in brass, aluminium and copper.

In this Singapore house, a grand staircase is designed as a vertical figure eight and draws air from the bottom to be ventilated above. (Photo: Studio Periphery)

The abstracted forms may appear quirky but prioritise shelter and shadow for comfortable tropical living. Yip is also the architect of Martin Modern, the distinctive brick-clad condominium by GuocoLand that is currently being built, as well as the upcoming Midtown Modern in Bugis.

BEST FOR: EXPERIMENTAL, BIOPHILIC ARCHITECTURE

Architecture firm: Formwerkz Architects

Year founded: 2004

Formwerkz Architects' Seetoh KL, Gwen Tan, Berlin Lee and Alan Tay. (Photo: Studio Periphery/Marc Tan)

Fresh out of architecture school, Seetoh KL, Alan Tay, Gwen Tan and Berlin Lee founded Formwerkz Architects. Since then, they have created idiosyncratic houses that push the boundaries of how dwellings should look or function.

One features a vast ceiling of folding, origami-like ceiling plates. In another, 80 windows amplify internal and external connectivity. There are also homes that are less dramatic but highly poetic in their geometries.

The Cloister House in Johor Bahru’s key feature is its faceted, sloping timber ceiling. (Photo: Fabian Ong)

The firm’s preference for singular gestures and natural materials means the houses are elegant even if they are unconventional.    

“Our houses seek to elevate the inhabitants’ experience and sensitise them to the beauty that we often take for granted, that a house is more than a shelter or a collection of rooms; they can be imbued with much more,” said Tay.

This semi-detached terrace house in Singapore features a series of terracing planter boxes with foliage along the party wall. (Photo: Fabian Ong)

The firm is focused on exploring different ways of creating spaces that deepen human relationships and the occupants’ engagement with nature.

BEST FOR: REFINED, ARTISTIC STYLES

Architecture firm: Observancy & Architecture

Year founded: 2014

After gaining experience at reputed Singapore firms eco-id and WOHA Architects, Terence Chan started Studio Terre in 2006 to design interiors.

In 2014, he partnered with Lee Jun Xian to create Observancy & Architecture (O&A), which focuses on architectural works. The firm’s projects are known for being classy and streamlined. An avid art collector, Chan helps clients to curate furniture and art that harmonise with the spaces.

This Singapore house employs hardy brick tiles for the exterior for easy maintenance and a pared-down, elegant appearance. (Photo: Observancy & Architecture)

“We typically take on architecture projects with full-scope interiors, allowing us to craft and create ambiances that are aligned to the design intent across all scales [including landscaping].

“This rigour and cohesiveness allows us to refine design ideas and elements down to their essence, reducing visual noise and distractions in a house,” said Lee on the importance of a well-designed house in impacting effective living.

In this Singapore house, double-band windows in every room ensure plenty of natural light and cross ventilation. (Photo: Observancy & Architecture)

The firm’s strength in interior design means homeowners are assured of a house that not only looks good outside, but feels inviting on the inside.

BEST FOR: RUSTIC, VERNACULAR DESIGNS; REFURBISHMENT OF SHOPHOUSES

Architecture firm: Goy Architects

Year founded: 2015

Goy Architects' Goy Zhenru. (Photo: Goy Architects)

Goy Zhenru works regionally with Bali-based lead architect Dessy Anggadwei and Chiangmai-based lead architect Kulap Loetmanlikaphorn.

“Practicing regionally has enabled us to explore materiality in the region. We are able to work with the handicrafts and people whose home industries produce tiles and furniture, and discover unique products we can bring to our projects in order to showcase them to the world,” said Goy.

The Heng House upcycles antique Javanese timber doors and windows that give the interiors a rustic, playful atmosphere. (Photo: Goy Architects)

She is a firm believer in sustainable design and often draws from vernacular case studies. For the Heng House renovation, she sourced for timber shutters and doors in Indonesia, resulting in its rustic character. She also opened up the home internally as she believes passive cooling and natural light are important for living in the tropics.

(Photo: Goy Architects)

Goy is also a keen advocate of refurbishment and adaptive reuse rather than tabula rasa, as it helps protect not just the earth but also the history and culture of a place, as well as creates a sense of belonging for current and future generations.

READ> Post-pandemic, here’s what Singapore homes of the future will look like

Architecture firm: RichardHO Architects

Year founded: 1991

RichardHO Architects' Richard Ho. (Photo: RichardHO Architects)

After studying at the National University of Singapore’s School of Architecture, Richard Ho trained under Singaporean maverick architects William S Lim and Kerry Hill before heading to Austria and Milan to work for reputed architects Helmut Schimek and Aldo Rossi respectively.

He was awarded the President’s Design Award and President’s Designer of the Year Award in 2013 for exceptional contributions to the local architecture industry.

This project in Singapore won a URA Architectural Heritage Award in 2010 for its sensitive restoration to an Art Deco-style bungalow and the subtle addition of a new wing. (Photo: RichardHO Architects)

Ho’s body of work display acute sensitivity to history and culture of site and places, be it new houses or shophouses, of which he has refurbished many. “Working with historic buildings, we architects have to subdue our egos and let the original building speak for itself while avoiding stylistic cliches,” said Ho on his tempered approach.

His interventions are respectful of the conserved structures’ unique qualities but are also able to meld old and new seamlessly with careful, contemporary insertions that meet the occupants’ modern lifestyles.

This new-build Good Class Bungalow showcases the owner’s objects collected on travels. It also won an URA Architectural Heritage Award in 2010. (Photo: RichardHO Architects) READ> Staying at home more often? Here’s how to perk up your living space
Source: CNA/ds
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