Discover how AR43 Architects masquerades this semi-detached house as a bungalow

Discover how AR43 Architects masquerades this semi-detached house as a bungalow

Discover how AR43 Architects masquerades this semi-detached house as a bungalow

How do you design a semi-detached house to look like a bungalow? That was the challenge put forth to Lim Cheng Kooi, Founder of AR43 Architects, when he received the commission to design One Tree Hill House, located in the heart of the prime District 10. “That is everybody’s dream, isn’t it?” he quips. 

Among the reasons for this brief was the owner’s hope to enjoy resort-style living, while in an urban setting minutes away from Orchard Road. Fortunately, there were several factors that worked to Lim’s advantage in making this possible. These included a sizable plot area of 6,000sqft and a long, two-sided road frontage of 44m, courtesy of the site being tucked in a bend. 

To achieve the illusion, Lim focused on breaking up the massing both horizontally and vertically. Viewed from the side, it appears as if the second floor is made up of two cuboids, with one extruding more than the other over the lower level and providing shade for it. “Separating” them is an external courtyard with a Leopard tree growing in it, giving the appearance that there are two blocks. 

“Both boxes appear like they are reaching to the east, where the sun rises,” says Lim. “We made one longer than the other so that it is less imposing. They also follow the profile of the land, which is a little bit tapered towards the back.”

Two of the three exposed sides of each cuboid are crafted with concrete formwork made from wood planks, lending them a distinct identity. The third side is covered with motorised vertical louvres made from aluminium but with a teak finish. By night, when the house is lit up internally, it appears like a lantern. 

The same material is used to clad the façade walls of the attic, the burnt caramel tones contrasting starkly against the concrete colours of the second floor. While there is a sense of continuity, it also clearly sets apart the top floor from the rest of the building. 

One Tree Hill House by AR43 Architects - Night view of the semi-detached house when the interiors are lit up
When the interiors are lit up at night, the house appears like a lantern.

Another technique Lim used is found at the front, where he recessed part of the facade perpendicular to the party wall. This divorces the house from its neighbour and makes it look like it is standalone. 

The end effect is a residence that indeed feels like an oasis. Combined with the landscaping, it is evocative of an urban resort. “The client was quite enlightened. He agreed not to maximise the floor area to ensure we would have a few interesting spaces to have the feel of a sanctuary,” explains Lim. 

For instance, the living room is almost surrounded by nature, because of a 15m lap pool running the length of the front and a Jacuzzi set at right angles to it. On the other side is the courtyard where the Leopard tree grows. The deep overhang from the second floor lends it substantial shade. 

At the front of the house, the pedestrian gate opens to reveal a bridge over the swimming pool. Beyond that, the lower section of the party wall is covered with plants – something that the junior master suite on the second floor gets to look into. 

It does beg the question of where the main entrance is and where the cars are parked. At this point, Lim reveals one of the challenges he encountered in designing this house: how to get into it. 

Following a period of study, he concluded to shift the main entrance to the opposite end of the frontage and dig a basement that would partially be a carpark. To his surprise, the environment and land transport authorities rejected both on the basis of the fear of flooding. 

“We ended up going to their website and looking up the rainfall record for the last 10 years, which showed only incremental rainwater increase. In any case, we had already made provisions by including a rainwater holding tank with a pump that would take care of any flooding,” says Lim. 

With the approved plans, he went ahead to build his design that includes the naturally ventilated basement. Additionally, it also has space for a family room that overlooks a pond. There is even a yard that opens to the sky for laundry and other back-of-house conveniences. 

One Tree Hill House by AR43 Architects - Basement
In the basement, sliding doors open to reveal a family room that overlooks a pond and green wall.

On the upper floors, the second level is occupied by four en suite bedrooms, while the attic contains the master bedroom and rooftop gardens. There, in one corner of the bathroom, is a spot of pure indulgence. 

A rectangular bathtub handcrafted entirely from American walnut in the US sits on a granite dais and is backed against the travertine wall. Costing a whopping $70,000, it embodies a standing invitation to sink in and relax, complete with a view of a Bonsai tree on the terrace. Complementing it is a stunning matt-black finish, freestanding cascade bath spout from Dornbracht, itself a $10,000 piece.

One hopes the owner will have the time to use and enjoy it often. As he soaks and ruminates, perhaps he realises that, regardless of semi-detached or bungalow-lookalike, Lim has done a stellar job in the design of his home.