A quiet and unassuming gesture to the street with a respect of the humble scale of the adjacent series of semi detached houses along Lorong M Telok Kurau describes the entrance to this reconstruction project by Dlab in Singapore. With only a second glance, one might notice the subtle moiré pattern beginning to emerge on the brick work of the front facade that would introduce the main design intention of the house and define its relationship with the surrounding land and context.
Designed by architect Warren Liu Yaw Lin and his team of young designers at Dlab, the house design of 16A Lorong M Telok Kurau is reflective of their larger philosophy and attitude of how buildings and, in a sense, humanity, can be more respectful of the land we inhabit. Warren is passionate about the importance of designing buildings with a “ground up” approach as opposed to a “top down” approach. “By this, I mean that we first look at the site, look at the neighbours, try to enhance what is beautiful about the site, try to sit lightly on the land, and not to damage the natural surroundings”, Warren explains. In this project, the architects were careful not to waste what was already on the site. “To tear down a perfectly strong and healthy existing structure and then built a new structure just because the old structural elements are perhaps not conveniently located or seemingly too difficult to retain, is not a very sustainable way of looking at redevelopment”, he continues. Warren always tries not to waste what is still usable, and in the case of Lorong M Telok Kurau, he retained the structure of the existing semi detached building on the site. He explains that his building evolved from there, from the logic that was already pre-determined by the old, and then he transformed it into something very new and exciting.
As is often the case with semi detached houses in Singapore, the long open side of the house faces the long side of the neighbour’s property, creating an “overlooking” problem. Here, the architect’s resolution to this problem was to look back at a basic element of architecture – the brick. The entire side of the existing structure of the Telok Kurau building was wrapped by the designers in a new organic skin made of brick that stretches open in areas to let light and ventilation through and closes where privacy is required. The resulting language is a timeless rethinking of a traditional material. The site is a very deep and relatively narrow plot of land that faces on its longest side an existing towering 4 storey building that is built up to the maximum setback. Because of the extended depth of the site, the architects chose to perform some minor surgery on the existing structure by breaking it open in its center to allow an internal atrium to unify the building vertically.
This atrium also introduces light and long diagonal views up through from the Living and Dining Rooms on the first floor to the master bedroom and family room on the 2nd floor and further up to the master study and music room in the attic. Along the entire ground floor, a band of full heights glass windows links the series of spaces together with a constant relationship to the narrow strip of garden at the side. Since the garden on the ground floor could be made to be quite private with the clever use of planting and fencing, the rooms open up as much as possible to the external to allow the maximum amount of light to enter the long spaces. Although it is essentially an open plan, each programmed room along the ground floor is given its defined space and spatial character through an alternating sequence of centrally focussed spaces and open spaces. The first space encountered once through the front doors is a highly intimate living room-come-lounge area that is stepped down into like a cosy niche, edged with built-in strips of sofa style seating and rich and sensual materials such as heavily grained timber and soft fabrics. The space then transition to a more open lounge where the views are brought from the low level views of the niche seating corner to a more grand upward diagonal view into the lofty atrium above. A lightweight open tread staircase leads from this space to the upper realms of the house and helps to accentuate the impression of lightness and spatial openness of this room. Moving further to the rear of the deep site, the space then introverts once more in a more intimate Dining Room. Here, the architects cleverly used the heavy columns of the existing house to create one side of a series of portals that frame the room and give it a slightly more formal character.
From the second floor onward, the effect of the elegant brick patterns can be experienced. The large expanses of patterned brick walls that open in gradual organic sequences are separated from the external spaces with sheets of sliding glass that can be moved aside to be directly felt within the rooms or closed to air condition the space when needed. Although this long expanse of wall faces a hostile neighbour, the mediating factor of the brick screen allows the feeling of being directly connected to nature in how it opens up to experience the landscape while closing itself off to unpleasant portions of the views and to the harsh direct sunlight. Beautiful and hypnotic reflected patterns of light from the brick screen fall lightly on the floors and surrounding walls, giving the spaces an almost cathedral-like quality and an ambiguous semi outdoor character.
The designers at Dlab believe that architects need to spend more time researching and devising ways to conserve the natural resources of the planet as well as to create sustainable environments, and that this effort should not only be at the institutional scale of building, but also in the humble private home, such as Lorong M Telok Kurau. With this project at Telok Kurau, they managed through simple, inexpensive and effective design to reduce waste, to work within an economy of means, as well as to create beautiful and poetic space that is beneficial to the inhabitant as well as to the neighbours and the surrounding natural environment.Location: Singapore
Architects: A D Lab Pte Ltd
Project name: Lorong M Telok Kurau House
Text: Donna Lee