A Singapore house with its own ‘waterfall’ and basement walk-in wine cellar
RT+Q Architects overcame the challenges of a steeply sloping terrain to build a well-lit home filled with art and infused with nature.
When RT+Q Architects was commissioned by a developer to build a three-storey bungalow in central Singapore, there were several challenges and considerations the team had to work around.
The brief was to create something “simple and beautiful, that would appeal to a wide spectrum of people”, said Koh Kai Li, one of the architects who worked on the project. Another requirement was a basement that would not feel like one. “We tried to let in more natural light so that the space would feel airy and bright.”
The architects drew on the 18th century concept of “the primitive hut” for inspiration, where the architecture eschews ornamentation and instead, goes back to basics and nature. “The idea was to have the architecture address man’s very simple need for shelter instead of any preoccupation with style,” explained Koh.
The steeply sloping terrain posed a challenge, as the site was 13 metres higher at the rear than at the front. There were also mature tembusu trees at the back that could not be removed because of conservation laws.
RT+Q turned this into a plus point by conceptualising the house as two staggered blocks with a connecting bridge and an elevated garden perched on a slope. Landscape stairs connect the basement level all the way to the rear second storey of the house. A large surface drain was built into the steps. When it rains, the surface runoff becomes a mini cascading waterfall.
Koh shared: “We wanted to create a meandering experience – when the occupants walk through the staggered planter boxes, they’ll be surrounded by plants and tall grasses.”
The 13,000 sq ft property was completed in 2021 and bought in the same year by a couple to live with their four children.
The family of six unanimously loved the house’s central oculus skylight, a three-storey circular opening that allows natural light to enter from the top floor and reach all the way to the basement. It was conceptualised as a way to let in more nature and light into the house, but the family has found another usage for it.
“The owners have told us that they use the oculus quite often to call each other during meal times instead of using the intercom system that they have,” shared Koh. “We were very happy that the owner found a new use for this space in the house.”
In this home for a family of six, RT+Q Architects designed a central oculus skylight – a three-storey circular opening that allows natural light to reach all the way to the basement – but the owners found another use for it.
The oculus, a feature of 18th century neoclassical architecture, is a motif that is echoed in different part of the house, including the powder room on the first floor. “We like the idea of having a circular powder room, because this creates a space that is grand as well as playful. It also acts as an element of surprise for visitors to the house,” said Koh.
Another favourite spot: The basement cellar with a relaxing lounge and a walk-in wine cellar. The homeowners, who are avid wine collectors, love to relax there after a long day or when they entertain their guests.
The family also like to hang out in the living and dining rooms, which look out to the front garden and the pool deck as well as panoramic views of the city. Full-height timber sliding doors let in light and when open, the garden becomes an extension of the indoor spaces, with a breeze wafting through. The couple and their children especially enjoy bonding by the pool while watching sunsets.
On the second floor are two wings. The master bedroom at the front features panoramic views of the city, while the bedrooms at the back have a private garden experience with the magnificent tembusu trees offering privacy and shade.
The house’s clean and modern style presents the perfect canvas for the homeowners to display their art collection. Among their favourites are pieces incorporating textures and elements of heritage and craft by renowned Singapore fashion designer and textile artist Benny Ong, who has designed outfits for Princess Diana.
Koh said that it was gratifying to see the family enjoy the house and its many interesting corners. “Knowing that the homeowners really enjoy every single space of the house, I think it makes us happy, knowing that we have achieved what we set out to do.”
Adapted from the series Remarkable Living (Season 4). Watch full episodes on CNA, every Sunday at 8.30pm.