Guz Architects designed a Good Class Bungalow in Holland that has successfully stood the test of time
Good design never dates. Ask any architect and they’ll tell you that while the aphorism is easy enough to understand, it is devilishly difficult to achieve. Yet, to look at Rikki Tikki House, a Good Class Bungalow by Guz Architects, is to behold a design that somehow manages to look fresh, contemporary and, most crucially, completely relevant a full 22 years after it was built.
Designed for a couple and their two young children, the Good Class Bungalow sits on a sloping, 1,413sqm triangular plot at the end of a cul-de-sac in Singapore’s tony Ewart Park. Simply put, it is quite resplendent with its cascading terraces, deeply set loggias and borders of thick greenery.
For its architect, Guz Wilkinson, the design was a watershed. Until then, the British designer had been working on black-and-white bungalows, still figuring out how to integrate the impact of tropical weather into the design of the Singaporean house.
The brief for the 832sqm Rikki Tikki House – a project nickname that has somehow stuck – said nothing about style, mandating only four bedrooms and spaces defined in terms of how they would be used for entertaining and living.
For Wilkinson, this was a golden opportunity to introduce roof overhangs, internal garden courtyards and open-planned spaces cooled by natural air. In short, climate-appropriate features he’d been working on and which he would spend the next quarter century refining and infusing into his residential projects.
Nature at every turn
Capped by clay roof tiles, the form of the house is dictated by its topography, though Wilkinson was careful to avoid creating the all too typical oversized Singaporean villa. The key is a series of open terraces that interlock with the garden, effectively merging the house with the landscape of thick lawns, low-slung shrubs and Tembusu trees.
And so, for instance, the street-level garage sits beneath a section of the garden which, in turn, leads straight into the family rooms on the second floor. Roof gardens are a favoured leitmotif. “I incorporate them wherever it’s possible and sensible to have one,” Wilkinson says.
The enormous stone-lined foyer, meanwhile, opens into a central en plein air courtyard, which has a lawned centre anchored by a sprawling frangipani and is rimmed with a shallow, pebbled pond.
Naturally ventilated loggias wrap around this courtyard, their broad corridors leading into the living and dining rooms and then further out into a terraced garden at the bottom of which sits a 20m lap pool lined in turquoise Sukabumi tiles.
The three floors of the house are linked by a central staircase – its broad dimensions wrapped in glass, metal and timber – and walkways that connect the separate wings.
A house that breathes
Most of the public spaces are open to the elements. “This was key,” says Wilkinson. “We wanted good natural ventilation and light. There’s no glazing, yet there’s very little need for air-conditioning.”
Solar glare, reflective heat and rain are managed by the overhangs though Wilkinson accounted for driving monsoon rains by cladding the floors with a beige limestone that was treated in such a way as to be durable and non-slip.
The entire length of the second floor facade facing the street is sheathed in Jali screens, their intricate teak panels hand carved by Myanmar artisans. These provide not just privacy but also allow filtered light and breeze to slip into the house.
The result is a house that fairly breathes, even as it is resolutely defined by climatic and sustainability considerations. Wherever possible, Wilkinson draws one’s eye towards a splash of nature, whether in the form of grassy knoll or one of the original trees on the land.
As he asks rhetorically, “Do you want a bedroom that looks out into a concrete terrace or greenery? So, in Singapore, a design like this makes sense. That’s the soul and happiness of a house.”
Refining the tropical abode
Is it any wonder that Wilkinson counts the great Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa as one of his inspirations? “I just love the warmth and human-scale of his buildings. They have a timeless charm and that’s important because in the tropics, things age quickly.”
The idea of designing in a way that is lasting and sustainable animates Wilkinson, even as he bemoans the modern predilection for “boxy houses that need constant air-conditioning because there’s just no shading”.
It’s a predicament he fights hard against by being scrupulously selective about the projects that he and his studio of six take on. One prospective client recently announced he wanted a professional-sized basketball court that could double as a ballroom to be installed in one of the three basements in his proposed new house.
Wilkinson ran for the door.
As discouraging as such experiences may be, the architect remains cheerfully ebullient. His studio’s projects are dominated by private residences, a state of affairs that allows him to continuously refine both his idea of a tropical home, and the broader challenge of designing responsibly in a world with diminishing resources.
Something like Rikki Tikki House.