Guz Architects crowns a bungalow in the Farrer Road neighbourhood with a well-landscaped pavilion

Guz Architects crowns a bungalow in the Farrer Road neighbourhood with a well-landscaped pavilion

Guz Architects crowns a bungalow in the Farrer Road neighbourhood with a well-landscaped pavilion

For better or worse, we live in a time when increasing urban density, diminished resources and climate change are challenging architects, including those practising in Southeast Asia. It leads them not just to rethink their approach to green design, but also to convince reluctant clients to join the cause – if, for no other reason, than that incorporating climate-appropriate features is a sensible and, in the long run, cost-effective thing to do. 

For over 20 years now, Guz Wilkinson of Guz Architects has been grappling with this very issue, always searching, in one house after the other, for ways to harness the natural elements to cool, shade and even power. His latest project – a 10,400sqft manse in the Farrer Road neighbourhood of the Botanic Gardens that is shoehorned into an oddly narrow triangular plot – is yet another salvo in his ongoing quest to create homes that quietly connect occupants with nature, but without being overtly evangelical about the process.

It helped that from the outset, the client’s brief was a fait accompli. “They like greenery and gardens, and breezes blowing through a space,” Wilkinson says, “So that suited our style for a very open house, which seamlessly transitions between interior spaces and the exterior.” 

Farrer Road bungalow by Guz Architects, entrance
The 10,400sqft bungalow in the Farrer Road neighbourhood of the Botanic Gardens is shoehorned into an oddly narrow triangular plot.

More than a box

This explains the way the home deliberately turns its back to the main road to focus, instead, on an internal courtyard comprising garden and swimming pool, anchored by a bijou island of frangipani, the willow-like Silver Weeping Tea Tree, and a thicket of ground-hugging foliage. 

Indeed, the strategic absence of walls in favour of slatted timber screens and loggias shaded by deep eaves and trees impart a translucency to the interior spaces. So much so that the senses tend to settle less on individual rooms than on the sensation of flowing and drifting through volumes that expand and contract with movement. This is no easy feat, but, as Wilkinson quips, “There’s not much challenge in designing a small boxy bedroom.”

Visually, the two-storey home is anchored by a glass-framed staircase, which has a straight spine that runs up the entire length of the house. Its long proportions create a gallery that links the bedrooms on the upper floor, while providing a perspective that looks over the pool and garden below.

Wilkinson adds that the staircase could only work because of the large roof eaves. “There will be too much sun and heat otherwise, and the driving rain would soak the timber planks covering the ceiling and some of the walls. Which meant that it became very important that we didn’t allow the GFA of the house to be so large that we lost the available site coverage for the overhangs.”

For him, oversized eaves are more than aesthetic flourishes. Their absence in tropical homes exposes fragile surfaces to heat and rain. “Houses can become hot as the windows have no protection and this increases air-con loads and makes the home energy hungry. So, any homeowner who pushes for more GFA must, because of the building regulations, sacrifice roof overhangs, which leads to large, poorly designed boxy houses that aren’t suitable for this climate.”

Meaningful on every metric 

Wilkinson’s concern for climate-proofing the house was all-embracing. The roof, for instance, is sheathed with photovoltaic cells, and heavily insulated to stop heat from leaking to the rooms below. Meanwhile, the swimming pool and gardens serve double duty by providing passive cooling. 

His proudest moment, though, is the rooftop pavilion, which earns the house its unofficial moniker, Sky Pavilion House. Conceived as a small entertainment space where the owners and their guests can catch the breeze and admire the bucolic expanse of the Botanic Gardens in the distance, this green-clad eyrie fairly floats on an emerald-coloured Arcadia speckled with sunbirds and butterflies – an altogether unexpected moment in an already quite unusual house. 

For Wilkinson, Sky Pavilion House adds to his studio’s ever expanding catalogue of private landed residences. “Houses are our main body of work, which we enjoy. We don’t mind other types of work but in Singapore, condo developers very rarely approach us. Maybe it’s because our human-scaled aesthetic and our green approach are not easily scalable.”

Not that the architect is losing any sleep over it. In these post-COVID-19 times, he is as busy as ever. And, if nothing else, this niche he finds himself in allows him to pursue projects that are meaningful on every metric, “I think we always prefer working on timeless designs that aren’t just designed for the climate, but which also provide a home with soul for its owners.”

That’s one soul train we will always be happy to board.