A pair of A-line volumes define the façade and massing of this semi-detached home in Upper Thomson
Lee May Anne likes to say that her one-woman studio MAKK Architects has no signature form or style. Yet, even the most casual glance through her portfolio quickly reveals that her demur is an artful dodge that deflects the intellectual rigour and thoughtfulness, alongside a dash of playfulness, that have infused her work to date.
Exhibit A is this new semi-detached family home in the Upper Thomson neighbourhood for the owner of a landscaping company, the doyenne of a garden spa, and their young daughter.
On a street replete with renovated terrace homes, Lee’s design catches the eye, not least for the facade: an unexpected three-dimensional form anchored by the silhouettes of two mini A-line “houses” on the second floor that create the impression that they are little homes hanging, like the houses of Cuenca in Spain, off the side of a cliff.
Referencing Laugier’s Primitive Hut, Lee says, “The design is as much a celebration of nature as it is about integrating light, water, plants and wind into the architecture.”
Formally, the 432sqm home is oriented along a north-south axis, rising two-and-a-half stories to include a rooftop pool and basement entertainment den, but it is what Lee does with the internal volumes created by the facade that pique the interest.
It turns out that the two mini A-line houses are more than just quirky follies. They allow Lee to create interesting no-spaces – pockets of light and diffused shadow that break up what might otherwise have been a sequence of monotonous rooms.
“I don’t like dead-ends,” she explains. “I like spaces that loop around and connect as much as possible. Which is why I split up the volumes while keeping them interlocked so that the whole can breathe.”
To that end, the A-line volumes create, in effect, two separate wings to the house that are linked internally by floating aerial corridors, their bulk rendered almost translucent by the use of light timber and thin, white steel railings that extend all the way down to the ground floor like a modernist trellis.
“I didn’t want this to read like a staircase, which is why I turned the balustrades into a feature. This is how moments of interest occur,” Lee says. Meanwhile, a small flight of steps leads up to an attic level beneath the pitched roof that holds a small studio and gym.
For her, the idea of no-space is also an opportunity to address the issue of how to avoid allowing a house this big to turn into a heat sink. “I wanted the house to be as naturally ventilated as possible,” she adds, saying she shuns the easy way out of installing air-conditioning and solar panels.
Instead, she cleaves close to an ideal of passive cooling – Singapore’s notorious heat is softened by the koi pond and Accoya timber deck by the living room, indirect lighting and plenty of cross-ventilation as air is circulated up through high-ceilinged rooms.
Elsewhere, the judicious raising of various internal roof-lines creates generously proportioned clerestories that draw in both filtered light through tinted glass, and snatches of sky and neighbouring rooflines through clear glass.
And just to show that she is not entirely done connecting spaces, Lee reserves her bravura moment for a large glass oculus that looms over the second floor’s principal aerial corridor. Looking up, it takes a moment to realise that the shimmering blue is actually the seven-metre pool floating above.
The overall effect is one of permeability with the sightline and acoustics constantly shifting as you move through the house. “I wanted all the levels of the house to be connected in every sense,” Lee says.
Even a whispered conversation on the second floor landing can be heard on the ground floor, so much so that the owner complains in jest that he needs to retreat to the bathroom to have privacy.
The sense of weightlessness about the house is gently anchored by the profuse greenery, a happy by-product of the client’s landscaping business. The mood of a tropical retreat is set even before you step through the gate,
Lee replaced the traditional fence or wall with a series of closely-spaced, freestanding timber pillars that provide both security and porosity, while leafy plants – among them Chinese Evergreens, Calatheas, Monsteras, Alocasias and Caladiums – add privacy. On the balconies and terraces sit four different varieties of Plumerias, alongside Florida Fiddlewood, which the owners prize for their scent and colour.
To hear Lee tell it, designing and building this house was a labour of love, even if it was conducted in the midst of the pandemic. It probably helped that the client’s brief was simple to the point of abstraction: “pool and wellness”.
“Clients tell me their basic needs and wants, and I’ll do the rest. My happiest time is when I’m designing. It’s my time. And there are no distractions,” she adds, a quip that could just as easily be a handy semaphore for this most playful of homes.