JOW Architects overcomes multiple site constraints to renovate this semi-detached house in River Valley
It is easy to miss HKR House. To reach it, you must first pass the rather distracting Edward Lee Apartments – not for its architecture but because of the supercars often haphazardly parked outside. By the time you finish shaking your head over the blasé attitude of the owners towards their million-dollar vehicles, you would have missed JOW Architects’ latest creation.
More’s the pity, if you ask us, though its clients are probably happier this way. After all, from the way HKR House is designed, it is obvious they value privacy. The monochromatic palette also points towards a preference for understatement.
Peel back the layers though and an interesting story unfolds: one where challenging site conditions had to be overcome, coupled with juggling local regulations, all while being careful not to compromise on aesthetics. The result is a two-and-a-half-storey, semi-detached house that sits quietly and elegantly along the busy, four-lane Hoot Kiam Road in River Valley.
Complex site conditions
“We are very site as well as client responsive,” says Joseph Wong, who runs JOW Architects with his wife Lai Zhenwei. “We look at what the parameters are and seek out opportunities to see how, given the constraints, we can turn them into an opportunity to do something interesting.”
It is precisely this same attitude that the pair adopted when commissioned to undertake the renovation of the semi-detached house. For starters, they decided that an A&A (Addition and Alteration) was the way to go rather than a complete reconstruction. It was not an easy decision, it turns out.
The original house was built in the 1950s and in a decrepit condition, to say the least. To demolish and rebuild it though, would mean adhering to the latest set of rules that includes a 12m setback at the front, due to its location along a Category 2 road. Doing an A&A would mean they get to keep the existing 7.5m setback.
To make matters more complicated, the 2,335sqft plot is backed against a retaining structure that eats into it. Because it supports part of Irwell Bank Road in the rear, which sits on higher ground, it cannot be demolished. Flanking the house on the exposed side is a church that is also on elevated land.
“These were the site constraints that we had. It made level one of the house really sunken and enclosed by the side and rear. By doing an A&A, it meant we had to retain the character of the front structure, which is the balcony, and maximise the liveable area,” explains Wong.
On the client front, they requested a home to accommodate a young family, coupled with enough space for them to entertain friends and relatives on the weekend. Other elements of the brief were a monochromatic colour palette, a preference for glass over wood and the usual ample storage space and natural ventilation.
Experimenting with materials
Visit HKR House today and it is nothing at all like its previous incarnation. Designed in a contemporary style, it has a car porch integrated into it after the front wall of the building was pushed back. This also allowed the balcony on the second floor to be kept, as required by the regulations.
The most interesting part of the architecture though is the side facing the church. Cladding the second and attic levels are pre-cast panels made from a concrete composite painted a dark grey that were found after some research. Bracket mounting allowed for easy installation, while ensuring the quality of the workmanship. Previously only used in schools, they were applied for the first time in a residential project.
“We wanted something textured with lines to visually express this façade more. Additionally, it does not directly adhere to the building wall, so there is an air gap to insulate the house against the heat,” says Wong.
In between them are tall and slim rectangular fenestrations positioned at regular intervals, lending a peekaboo effect into the house. Because of the cladding, there is a depth to them, with the recess adding another layer of privacy for the occupants.
“We like to explore using new materials. That’s why we approach each project with a bit of innovation, where we try to push the boundaries and experiment,” he explains.
Chips in Lai, “We like to provide our clients with beautiful and elegant solutions.”
Unusual but liveable interiors
This yen for traversing uncharted paths is also reflected in the interiors, where the main living areas are located on the second floor rather than the conventional first level. Instead, the latter houses a gym, guest room, the helper’s room and laundry area.
Venture upstairs and that is where the living, dining and kitchen are located, as well as an ensuite bedroom. The balcony invites the outside in, preceded by the living room with a double volume ceiling topped by a rectangular skylight cut into the roof. Natural daylight floods in also from the tall windows that run down the length of the house.
The attic is where the master suite is, with its own balcony at the rear. Attached to it is a study-turned-nursery when the owners learnt their family was growing. When old enough to walk, the children will delight in how their accommodation overlooks the living room, where they can spy on the adults.
This was a deliberate move on JOW’s part not to fully use up the floor area on that level. In doing so, it creates the illusion of a mezzanine and also allows for the double-volume space above the living room.
Lai shares that they have gone on to become friends with the owners, “Every time we go to their house, they will tell us how much they like the house, including their father, who enjoys sitting on the balcony to watch the cars go by. It brings us a lot of joy to receive this kind of feedback.”