Q&A with Guz Wilkinson, Guz Architects: A house benefits if there is greenery for it to sit in
You have developed for yourself a reputation of designing houses hidden among gardens. Why is it so important to you to keep going in this direction?
I love nature and, to me, a house benefits if there is greenery and gardens for it to sit in and interact with. I also strongly believe that a house should be designed for its environment, and in the tropics, that means good passive design i.e. big roof overhangs, natural cross ventilation and other cooling elements, such as pools, ponds and gardens.
What are three things on your wishlist for Singapore in the area of environmental sustainability in the landed residential space?
- At present, roof overhangs are counted as site coverage by URA’s guidelines. This is very unfortunate as it is leading to boxy houses with little or no roof overhangs. It would be great for us if URA could revert to its old guidelines of allowing a roof overhang of up to two metres over and above the allowable site coverage. Singapore would benefit as residential buildings would be better designed for the hot, humid and rainy climate. More below.
- In Singapore, there is no restriction on how old (or young) a building is before it can be demolished and replaced. Examples include Liang Court, Fuji Xerox Towers and Shaw Towers. Another that made the news recently was Raffles Town Club that is going to be torn down soon. This consumes enormous resources and wastage as, in some cases, the demolished buildings are just a few years old. It would save an enormous amount of concrete and resources if more buildings could be conserved, renovated or adapted for future use.
- Singapore’s greatest asset used to be its beautiful trees, which were so carefully looked after. Now, overly eager tree pruning (ostensibly to prevent falling trees) is disfiguring our streets, and it’s not always beneficial to the trees’ health. In many cases, the trees can die of shock. We need trees more than ever as Singapore gets hotter and hotter through the urban heat island effect and climate change.
You shared with ADDRESS that you have recently written to the Minister for National Development, Desmond Lee, on changing the regulations for counting the land under roof overhangs as part of a site’s coverage. Can you elaborate more on this?
I wrote a letter to Minister Desmond Lee just three months ago, in September. I talked about how prior to 2019, URA’s site coverage guidelines for good-class bungalows (GCB) were set at 35 percent of site coverage, measured to the walls of the new house with a “free” two-metre roof overhang allowed around the house, which did not count as site coverage. This made sense in Singapore’s hot and humid climate, as the roof overhangs protected the house from the sun and rain.
In 2019, URA changed their rules. They now allow 40 percent site coverage for GCBs but that is measured to the edge of the roof. As many owners invariably want to maximise their GFA, this then makes it hard for architects to design houses with the large roof overhangs suited to our tropical climate. In effect, URA is discouraging roof overhangs.
This has resulted in many buildings becoming larger with little or no overhangs. Taking aside the view that they look out of scale in their neighbourhoods, the main problem is that they become more energy hungry, as the air-conditioner has to be used more often with the lack of shading devices. This is very unnecessary, unsustainable and will increase Singapore’s power requirements and carbon footprint.
At the time of the rule-change, a few of us local architects got together to try and persuade URA not to go down this path due to the negative impact it would have on the built environment. Unfortunately, URA kept to its decision. I therefore decided to write to the minister to ask for an opportunity to discuss the matter with him. To date, he has yet to respond.
Which three designers, from the past or present, do you most admire? Why?
- Geoffrey Bawa: His houses have such a beautiful warmth and scale and integrate so well into their surrounding nature.
- Edwin Lutyens (early 20th century English architect): His houses combine human scale, homeliness, humour and a beautiful relationship with their surrounding gardens.
- Frank Lloyd Wright: I love his sweeping horizontal roofs and large overhangs. Also, his houses have a homely, human scale.
What are your three favourite buildings in SE Asia?
Two of my favourite buildings would have to be by Geoffrey Bawa, his country house Lunungaga, and Club Villa Bentota that is today a boutique hotel on the Sri Lankan coast. My favourites in Singapore would have to be the black-and-white houses, especially the ones in Alexandra Park.
Guz Wilkinson is the Founder of Guz Architects.