Q&A with William Ng, Studio Wills + Architects: Consider how a multi-gen family might change while designing their home
Many, if not all, of the landed properties you’ve designed are for multi-generational families. What is one piece of advice you can share about designing one?
We observed, in many multi-generational houses, that the family composition and profile of its occupiers change over time; existing family members leave and new family members join the household. One piece of advice we can share is to take this into consideration and think about how the building can be designed to respond to it.
You talk about how important it is to make a better living environment by discovering the potential of present conditions. Can you share one example of how you did it in a project?
Let’s take the example Project #3, a multi-generational house where the need to accommodate many individuals within a house led to the strategy of fragmentation — the breaking down of a big building mass into smaller ones, such that every individual has their own personal space. This strategy gave rise to pockets of spaces, either interior or exterior, between these personal spaces, which are a delight to experience as one traverses from one part of the house to another.
Which three designers, from the past or present, do you most admire?
I admire Valerio Olgiati for his one-ness in architecture; Riken Yamamoto for his programmatic approach to architecture; and Sanaa for their diagrammatic approach. All three result in authentic building designs that reflect its time.
What are your three favourite buildings in SE Asia?
- Wing On Life Building at 150 Cecil Street, designed by James Ferrie & Partners. The envelope, composed of twisted concrete fins, makes a striking façade and is also a sun-shading device and structure for the building at the same time. I appreciate the economy of means in its design.
- The former Genesis, at 130 Bukit Timah Road, designed by Kerry Hill Architects. The modest and quiet façade, composed of timber strips in-filled within a grid of steel channels, hides the surprise of a light-filled courtyard nested in the heart of the building. I appreciate the contrast between a restrained exterior and a richly-nuanced interior of light and shadows.
- HDB slab block, corridor-type. The monotony of the building façade hides the heterogeneous interiors within the residential units that lined the public corridors best exemplified by the book HDB: Homes of Singapore by Tomohisa Miyauchi and Keyakismos. This is one building type that stood the test of time since their inception and we witnessed how they have been appropriated over time. I appreciate the longevity of this building type.
What project are you working on next? Please give us a sneak peek.
We have just obtained planning approval for a good class bungalow at Victoria Park. Sited on a triangulated plot flanked by two roads, the building has a unique frontage at a corner, which comes naturally where the roads meet. This is a speculative house design in that the profile of its occupants is yet unknown. We stepped away from our usual approach of designing the house from the arrangement of its programmatic components and instead, approached the design of the house through space, form and light.
The result is the arrangement of a variety of building forms; a long and linear “tube”, a pavilion-like structure and a cylinder on a curvilinear plinth. The composition attempts to celebrate the sense of arrival at the house, the route through it and addresses the multiple frontages and capitalises on the views in all directions, while sitting snugly within the site. Programmatically, the “connections” between the building forms can be rearranged to accommodate different family compositions and profile of occupants.
William Ng is the Founder and Principal Architect of Studio Wills + Architects.