Designshop stacks a collection of blocks to create a corner terrace in Watten Estate
When it comes to architecture, the first thing that often springs to mind is aesthetics. Yet, few creatives stop to think about the relationship that the building has with the land it sits on, and how that can drive its design. For this three-storey corner terrace by Designshop, which occupies a triangular plot in Watten Estate, it was absolutely crucial.
“The main inspiration for its design came from the site itself,” says Samuel Lee, who runs Designshop alongside Founder Joy Chew, which was commissioned to carry out the project. “We wanted to take advantage of its triangular shape and the client was open to exploring [an unusual] form so long as we maximised the land use.”
When asked to describe his creative process, Lee says, “Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza’s design approach, deeply connecting the buildings with the site, came to mind, leading us to produce many sketches to discover the ideal form.”
The end result is a house with a “tectonic form”, boasting the appearance of shifting blocks stacked on top of each other, clocking in at 7,045sqft in size.
Function over form
The client’s priorities, however, had less to do with form and more to do with function. “There was a desire for different zones for various activities and social spaces, ranging from public to more private uses,” Lee shares.
“In response to the pandemic, the project brief also evolved to include the consideration of an autonomous space in case any family member, particularly the client, who is a respiratory physician and at higher risk of contamination, needed isolation.”
To this end, the spatial layout was carefully planned, while ventilation and natural light were also prioritised. “We considered the orientation of the blocks, optimised the size of the windows, and incorporated deep balconies, sun-shading overhangs and screens,” says Lee.
It also resulted in a more playful approach for the internal finishes. “We experimented with different tiles and patterns to define various zones and functions,” he points out. “Apart from the bedrooms, every space received a different floor finish or pattern.”
The unusual design of the house also helped. Says Lee, “It allowed for the introduction of pockets of green spaces and a free-flowing ground level. The unique form also resulted in a double-volume sheltered patio and provided additional family gathering spaces with access to light and ventilation.”
He also added a 10m lap pool to run along the rear perimeter of the house, as well as an outdoor patio equipped with a built-in BBQ and sink for the family area on the third floor, so that they can host rooftop parties.
Nod to colonial bungalows
The second thing the client wanted was for the house to have the feel of a colonial black-and-white bungalow. “This [translated into] specific aesthetic elements, such as checkerboard, terrazzo and dark marble flooring, as well as lattice door and window articulation, all set within a backdrop of lush greenery,” says Lee.
The greenery took the form of no fewer than three gardens, each one situated on a different level of the house and landscaped to look totally different. On the ground level, tall trees dominate, with towering leopard trees, happy trees and Java olive trees making their presence felt.
On the second storey, the garden is tucked above the car porch, right next to the family study, and features bushy shrubs, podocarpus plants, lush curtain creepers and a weeping tree; while the third floor hosts a cactus garden with a sculptural frangipani tree at its centre.
According to Lee, the plants in each garden were specifically chosen to fulfill a theme and function. In the first garden, they provide shade and privacy, shielding the living spaces from neighbouring houses; in the second garden their leafy foliage softens the building’s façade; while in the third garden, they provide the perfect background for a great lookout.
“Here, we intentionally kept the greenery lighter to maintain unobstructed views of the surroundings,” Lee says, of the third floor oasis. “It is higher than the neighbouring rooftops, so it offers vistas of the entire estate.”
The gardens — along with solar panels on the roof and a design that aids natural cross-ventilation — also works as a way for the architect to up the sustainability quotient of the house. “The incorporation of greenery reduces peak surface temperatures and enhances thermal insulation, significantly cooling the [interior] spaces,” he says.
Looking at the house, there is little doubt that the architect has been successful in maximising the design potential of the oddly-shaped site to create a home that fulfils the lifestyle needs of the client. “Our design aesthetic and style align with modernist sensibilities,” says Lee.
“We usually start with simple forms and compositions, although these may evolve as we develop the spaces in response to our conversations with the client and our growing affinity with the site. Our approach is about finding design solutions that best harmonise the design brief to the specific context and function.”