Sunset Vale was privately commissioned by a Singaporean family and was created on a mutual desire that the landscape would be the primary driving force behind its creation. The client and architect agreed on a design that inverted the typical ‘house in garden’ concept whereby the distinction between interior and landscape is blurred through the creation of multiple levels and the decision to bring the ‘garden in the house’. This working with a landscape philosophy offers a successful design solution to seamless outdoor living in constrained small environments common to Singapore and the greater Asian region.
At 6,000 square feet the challenging site is located on a gentle sloping hill with the footprint of the house occupying nearly all the space. The three-level home has been planned to encompass a series of courtyards and voids that present telescopic long views contrasted against short views through the progression of the house. These cross-views of the foreground and distance are intentionally framed to create an impression of spaciousness, and combined with the openness of the house dispels any possible feeling of constraint. Flowing spaces, the sound and sight of water at every level, and conversations between man-made materials and nature, all create layers of visual experience and a feeling of contemporary tropical living.
Having established a working rapport with the client on a previous project, the architect had a thorough understanding of the family’s lifestyle and requirements for a fluid spatial relationship between living, dining and kitchen areas. Flexible options needed to be part of the plan to enable outdoor dining and entertaining areas in addition to indoor alternatives for when tropical downpours occur. The client’s appreciation of the local vegetation and desire for a connection with nature was equally important.
The design responds to this Asian appreciation of nature both materially and experimentally by the seamless combination of vernacular and modernist forms. The main construction material was concrete which was poured in place. The texture of the concrete plays a major role in the experience of the house, with the choice of using local Durian wood as form work, which left behind its subtle grain permanently imprinted in the surface of the concrete slabs that define the various spaces. Split face granite slabs are clad around strategic volumes and planes so as to draw attention to the water and greenery in the site plan.
With some rooms being partially outdoors where rain, light and fresh air are admitted, the residents experience nature in the raw and reinforces the dwelling’s connection with the natural surrounds. Environment and views are controlled by the well ventilated open architecture and glass doors that slide and fold into concealed wall compartments. The compact ground-floor living room looks out across an internal central pond to an open dining pavilion, a swimming pool and a rear garden which defines the boundary of the property. A frangipani tree rises from the central pond creating a focal point amongst the layered perspective. A large family kitchen alongside the dining pavilion enjoys the
carefully articulated landscape through another sliding glass door section.
The distinction between outside and inside is blurred immediately upon entering the house. A sequence of screened spaces between the front door and the living room extends the experience of arrival with the throw of light offering glimpses into the internal areas and continues the sense of flow. Bold use of an etched glass screen at the entrance and select use of fully glazed walls through the progression of the house create a level of transparency between the outdoor and indoor spaces. Natural light casts interesting shadows across a variety of textures and materials including through a concrete colonnade corridor. A ground floor powder room is open to the sky, framed by a tactile composition of granite, concrete and durian timber which is offset by the tranquillity of a river pebble reflection pond offering the first peak of tropical indulgence. The calm of the flow of water from the sparse water feature announces the tone of home.
The stair connecting the three levels is housed and illuminated within an atrium of etched glass permitting views and privacy, and also acts as a façade to the house exterior. The ground floor guest bedroom looks opens on to a light filled garden court through a glass wall juxtaposed by teak flooring and joinery. The court is constructed with roughly cut stonework which designates planter boxes and pockets of native vegetation. The master bedroom located at the rear of the second floor accommodates a tropical world of its own. An open air bathing area featuring a sunken bath and exterior WC is adjoined by a transparent wall that fuses the outside vegetation and light into the interior space.
The rooftop flatplan constitutes two garden beds, planter box and reflective pool. A particular striking element is a sculptural arrangement of a single frangipani in a shallow endless edge pond framed in part by contrasting but strong linear components of a concrete wall divided in two sections (extending into the skyline from the exterior wall of the second level), opposite a frameless glass balustrade that meets at a right angle and effectively partitions the pond from a landscaped grass lawn. The lawn is counterbalanced by a square section of river pebbles positioned beneath the glass balustrade’s apex. This continuous conversation between natural and man-made materials emphasizes the effort to connect the house with its surrounds.
The choreography of space, material texture, light and sound are designed to enrich the lives of the residents and offers a reinterpretation of what is tropical living. It is a compact house which utilises almost every centimetre of its small plot to create an intimate home for a young family. With clever use of available light and ventilation, and by use of reflection ponds and deft landscaping, the house resounds a feeling of space and tranquillity despite the constraints of the site. The concept of ‘landscape being central to design’ demonstrated in this project will be increasingly important and relevant particularly in metro and high density environments through the Asian region and beyond.
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