EHKA Studio showcases the concept of spatial porosity in this Primrose Avenue terrace house
When EHKA Studio was engaged to overhaul this three-storey, terrace house on Primrose Avenue in Upper East Coast, the brief given by the client sounded deceptively simple. “They wanted a space that was well-ventilated, bright and spacious,” shares Hsu Hsia Pin, the architect who led the team that took charge of the project.
However, those few words encompassed the biggest challenges associated with such properties — a lack of light and ventilation — because terrace houses are traditionally narrow, long and stacked closely together.
Pushing things apart
Hsu’s design solution centred on the idea of spatial porosity. “We broke open the room walls, slabs and the roof to create open, connected and interactive spaces,” he explains. “The porous design enables natural light to permeate the entire house and allows the residents to experience large internal volumes. These openings are articulated as abstract squarish portals for light and visual connection.”
For inspiration, Hsu looked at some of Singapore’s heritage buildings with the same issues. “Taking cues from long terrace plot typologies, such as Singapore’s historic shophouses where airwells provide a solution to dark central interiors, our concept proposed an internal sheltered central atrium designed into the house,” he says. “This frees up and increases internal usable space and thus differs from an open-to-sky airwell.”
The atrium is central to the design solution, as well as the house itself, its triple volume height creating vertical connection and social interaction between the floors. “Skylights lining both sides of the atrium allow visual connection to the sky above, providing natural light to the centre of the house,” describes the architect.
“Voids and bridges were introduced to enhance spatial interaction between the floors. Glass portals were also carved into the rooms, allowing a visual connection to the central void.”
Sustainable in every sense
Another factor that drove the design was how EHKA Studio was not working from scratch. This was a building alteration project, so the team had to work around existing structural columns and beams. Initially, Hsu saw these as difficulties because of the way they posed a limitation on what could be designed.
As time went on though, his view changed. “These ‘limitations’ became our biggest freedoms, influencing our design direction,” he shares. “We approached the design by stripping off non-structural elements and worked with the remaining structure that was still in sound condition. The existing floor-to-floor heights were kept, while the internal layout of each floor was re-designed.”
The ground floor boasts an open plan with the service spaces compiled into a singular timber block. The bedrooms are at the front and back of the house, positioned to overlook the central atrium. The master bedroom is located on the highest floor to take advantage of the high ceilings of the attic area.
The home was also constructed to maximise cross-ventilation. “Slots are created along the party walls to [let] light and air into the bedrooms,” Hsu says. “Also, the use of sliding doors allow airflow through both ends of the house. The top of the central lightwell void is also equipped with air extractors so that hot air can escape through the roof.”
The other thing the clients wanted was an industrial, raw concrete feel in the house. This was achieved with a generous use of steel and reinforced concrete. “We went with a contemporary yet timeless palette,” says Hsu.
Finishes in light hues, together with white walls and white oak floors, were selected to brighten spaces and create a feeling of lightness in the interiors; while industrial elements, such as exposed off-form concrete, brickwork, metal structures and glass, were used for texture and contrast.
Adds Hsu, “[We strove to] balance modern industrialism’s construction techniques with a warm and earthy interior palette to create a distinct visual theme; through a delicate marriage of materials which best represent in particular, the home owner’s personality.”
The resultant home is a harmonious symphony of space and light, where traditional barriers dissolve through the skilled employment of hidden doors, illuminating glass portals and planters of lush greenery, so that rooms flow seamlessly into each other. “[We wanted] to evoke a sense of calmness and create a modern, communal, tranquil and relaxed form of living,” says Hsu.
The architect sees the house as a “poetic solution that seeks to engage human perception”, something they endeavour to achieve with every project they take on. “The Primrose Avenue house represents our take on an alternative design response that can be achieved through using what already exists,” Hsu says commenting on the essential sustainability of repurposing a structure.
“The project serves as an example on how to weave new design concepts, while, at the same time, respecting what is existing, in an ever-changing built environment with constant pressures that demand full demolitions and rebuilds.”