Secret Garden House
The Secret Garden House is situated in the good class bungalow area of Bukit Timah. The owner’s brief was to have a luxurious, tropical, contemporary family home. Being the owners of a construction company and by building it themselves, it would also showcase their professional capabilities.
The house sits on an L-shaped site with a narrow and unassuming frontage; On all sides, it is surrounded by neighboring homes. Further in and on a slight rise, the bulk of the land is not visible from the entrance. Most local home buyers would regard the uneven terrain, narrow frontage and lack of prominence as a disadvantage. The architect saw an opportunity in using the terrain to camouflage the bulk of a large house, and the lushness of a secret garden to screen it from prying eyes.
As the spatial and functional requirements were substantial, the architect positioned over a third of the house into the rising land profile, effectively hiding this mass by leveraging on the unique site. The perceived ground floor was set one level above. It allowed for greater privacy from the entrance road and a ‘plateau’-like terrace to compose the rest of the living spaces and gardens.
Visitors are welcomed into the house via a granite cave entrance leading to an ‘underground’ lobby. The prominence of a steel and glass spiral staircase leads visitors up to the living room. The owners had liked the idea of detaching the living and dining spaces and surrounding these by pools and gardens. This ‘plateau’ ground level was planned to be a space that blended indoor and outdoor, soft-scape and hard-scape. It was to be one space, with several programs, rather than many spaces with determined boundaries and fixed functions.
Conceptually, the above-ground architectural composition is of two rectangular travertine blocks sitting on slender pilotis. The blocks are connected on the second floor by an enclosed bridge floated above the ground plane.
A ribbon window cuts around the travertine stone facade. Adjustable vertical timber louvers lined strategically along this band of windows shield the glazing and regulate how much sunlight reaches the interior, as well as ensuring privacy when required.
Basic architectural principles of orientation, thermal mass, sun-screening and natural ventilation are fundamental to the design. It is a house designed for the tropics, expressed by modern materials and contemporary aesthetics. Every floor is designed to be cross-ventilated. Primary to the design ethos is that breezes are to be encouraged and unhindered.
In the basement, air flows through the large cave-like garage opening, through the timber slatted lobby and exits via a sizeable sunken garden courtyard at the rear that is open to the sky. Above ground, the lifted bedroom blocks are kept passively cool by layers of masonry, air cavities, travertine stone cladding, roof gardens, and pergolas.
Skylights further animate the experience in the course of the day through ever-shifting shafts of light. When the situation necessitates, the entire home can be closed off to tropical rain storms or the haze from pollutive burning.