HYLA Architects stacks two double-volume spaces in this Bukit Timah bungalow

HYLA Architects stacks two double-volume spaces in this Bukit Timah bungalow

HYLA Architects stacks two double-volume spaces in this Bukit Timah bungalow

“Is there a cave in the house?” Stand in front of this bungalow by HYLA Architects in Bukit Timah and this is a thought that might surface. Burmese teak-clad walls, the slender edges of a concrete shell and greenery are the main elements that pop on the front façade. These seem to wrap around what feels like a tall, empty space that gapes open like the jaws of a yawning hippo. 

In fact, it is the double-volume communal area on the second floor, measuring 4.8m in height, that encompasses, from front to back, the swimming pool, living room, dining area and dry kitchen. “I wanted something grand, powerful and strong,” says Han Loke Kwang, the founder and principal architect of HYLA, who intended for it to counterbalance the crowded estate that the 533.4sqm plot sits within. 

This bag of surprises does not just end there. Beyond it, to the rear, is another double-volume space, this time a landscaped internal courtyard. Half a floor up, it is perfectly framed by a cutout in the dry kitchen wall, lined with Pietra di Savoia Grigia large-format tiles. It reaches up to the roof of the house, capped by a skylight and grid-like aluminium trellis. The intention? To allow natural daylight into the back of the house. 

Bungalow in Bukit Timah by HYLA Architects, living room
Looking back from the living room, a landscaped internal courtyard half a floor up is visible, the view of it perfectly framed by a cutout in the dry kitchen wall.

Concrete views 

What is particularly brilliant about this design is that you do not expect anything like it when looking at the house from the road. It is intentional, of course. Said road is busy, being bookended by a supermarket and lined with cars illegally parked by people doing their grocery run. For the residents – a family of four and their two helpers – getting home must feel like a chore in itself. 

Bungalow in Bukit Timah by HYLA Architects, front facade
This bungalow by HYLA Architects in Bukit Timah gives the impression that there is a cave inserted within it.

Han therefore wanted to mitigate that by providing them with a dwelling that would erase all the associated annoyances that come with that journey. It does not help either that a canal runs along the road and the sides and rear face other houses. Other than the location, there is really little else to shout about at this address. 

This is where design comes in to make a positive transformation. Explains Han, “We came up with the concept of a one direction house that faces the front. That’s the reason why we elevated the living room onto the second level, so the residents can see the plants growing along the length of the pool and sky above. You almost don’t see anything else when in the living area, and we think that is the best way to enjoy their home.” 

Bungalow in Bukit Timah by HYLA Architects, swimming pool
Elevated onto the second floor, the living room is fringed by a swimming pool and landscaping, allowing the residents to forget that they live along a busy road.

Layering on the unidirectional idea, he introduced the concrete shell that wraps the house with a front-pointing design. “Because it is heavy and strong, I added perforations to give it a bit of lightness and also serve as a way to let light into the spaces it flanks,” he elaborates. 

Han’s love for the material is evident through the way he keeps it exposed in the living area too, making up two of its walls. “I like using the same material inside and out,” he shares. Similarly, on the ceiling, the same Burmese teak used on the façade is applied there. 

Double double volumes

At the back of the house though, the tone becomes more intimate, as befitting of the private spaces made up of bedrooms and studies. Travertine covers the walls of the internal courtyard to the stairwell and corridors. “It’s a warm counterpoint to the concrete, like a grand finish to the space,” he muses. 

A pause must be made by the planter, where two Evertamia trees stand. Han was particularly fussy about finding the right ones to complete the composition of this space. Among the considerations were the height, size, crown and adaptability to the light conditions. 

Bungalow in Bukit Timah by HYLA Architects, internal courtyard
At the planter in the internal courtyard, two Evertamia trees stand, chosen for their height, size, crown and adaptability to the light conditions.

The house goes up one more level, the attic, where the master suite, an additional bedroom and study are. It feels slightly confusing already but Han is quick to reassure that it falls within the maximum permissible height of 12m.

“We set a double-volume courtyard on top of the double-volume living area so it feels really high,” he explains. “We like to play tricks with the height. Sometimes, I even have to check if I designed a house correctly.”

Bungalow in Bukit Timah by HYLA Architects, internal courtyard
The internal courtyard is topped by a skylight and grid-like aluminium trellis.

Back in the living room, Han points out another interesting feature that he calls the “reverse bay window”. There are two, one on each side of the concrete wall, positioned horizontally and vertically. Instead of having them stick out of the façade, as they usually do, these intrude indoors, and are paired with planter boxes. “They are to introduce a bit of light and some articulation into the space,” he adds. 

Given its cavernous nature, such elements also serve to break up the space. It must also be added that the sense of vastness is further accentuated by how low the first floor is. For instance, the height of the car porch is less than half of the upper floor, measuring only 2.2m. 

Bungalow in Bukit Timah by HYLA Architects, living room
The vertical “reverse bay window” devised by Han to introduce a bit of light and some articulation into the vast space that is the living room.

The ground level is thus best left behind and time should mostly be spent in the immense living area. Says Han, “The swimming pool hides what is happening on the road and what you get instead is this big, massive space behind forming a contrast against a very dense residential area.”

This is one cave we’d be happy to live in.

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