This Singapore home of an architect is full of hidden surprises
Architect Rene Tan, co-founder of RT+Q, designed an open home for his family of three with restive spaces and delightful surprises. The building was recognised for its “wit and innovative consistency” in the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) Design Awards 2020.
For architect Rene Tan, co-founder of RT+Q, architecture can be fun for users to experience and engage with spaces.
So when he designed a home for his family in 2018, the blueprint was of a structure that could engage its inhabitants and inspire them to discover things that they would not normally expect.
The 4,831 sq ft semi-detached house, which Tan shares with his wife Woei Woei, daughter Lara, and two pets, has multiple free-flowing spaces and interconnecting rooms with hidden doors. A fair-face concrete shell acts as a shield to protect the interiors from the sun’s heat and heavy rain.
“The water and this layer of buffer insulates the house, it keeps it cool, and it protects it from the ravages of the weather as well,” explained Tan. Spice and vegetable terraces run along the length of the stairs, bringing the garden into the home.
The overarching idea in creating the spaces was to optimise the experience rather than just maximising land use, shared Tan, who was also inspired by modernist architect Le Corbusier’s use of colour and composition.
He shared: “This semi-detached property has a smallish plot, so the way we utilise the space is very important. We adopted a very free and open plan where people like us, as well as the cat and the dog, can walk and run around freely.”
Instead of brick walls, Tan opted for cabinetry to shape the flow of spaces and the way the family would move around. He was also keen to take on a playful approach, exploring the idea of surprises and discoveries.
The unusual building, which was recognised for its “wit and innovative consistency” in the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) Design Awards 2020, is full of delightful nooks and peek-a-boo features. Tan credits his team at RT+Q for seeing through his vision for the home. Architectural executive Natalie Mok, who was an intern at that time, had worked on the cabinetry details and design proportions, transforming Tan’s hand sketches and concepts through 3D-modelling.
A shelf of stuffed toys swivels to reveal a secret studio where Lara practises her violin or viola. A sliding panel in the bedroom reveals a working space or bathroom. Sometimes, the family can’t find their pets, especially the cat, for a few days, as the animals have found a new place to hide among the three-storey-high cubby hole shelves.
Tan said: “The thing that sets this place apart from other projects is the fact that it is essentially a house of rejects. A lot of elements that we have not gotten a chance to do elsewhere has actually appeared in this house.” Examples include the moving walls and hidden room connections, and how the closets of the bedrooms are connected ingeniously to the cone-shaped laundry chute.
Another prominent influence in Tan’s work as an architect is music. As an accomplished pianist with a degree in music and architecture from Yale University, Tan is inspired by the rhythm and melody of music when he designed his home.
He commented: “There are many elements that occur in both music and architecture. The most obvious would be rhythm, shape, proportion, and in particular with architecture, the idea of silences and spaces. “
He added: “The element of a surprise is important and the idea for the house to rediscover, and to even reinvent itself through time, enlivens the architecture and makes it interesting through time.”