Located in Singapore, Secret Garden House (2015) by Wallflower Architecture + Design. The Secret Garden House, designed by Singapore based Wallflower Architecture + Design, 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.
Located in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan, House in Byoubugaura (2012) by Takeshi Hosaka. The design seeks to pull in an equal amount of light and wind in section to both the basement and the ground level of the 323 ft² (30 m²) space. Each floor was given the same ceiling height. The slab on each floor was bent near the exterior to give the same window size in section to each floor. When looking at the elevation, the same four sliding windows line up as if to indicate that the house, with a height of a two-story building, is three stories tall.
A house with a basement and two floors above ground were planned in a residential area in Yokohama, which is characterized by rolling hills. The 60-square meter site is sandwiched by existing houses to the south and the north. On the east side, the site faces a 3m-tall retaining wall. In these ways, the site at first looked like it was buried by the surroundings.
In response, the design sought to pull in an equal amount of light and wind in section to both the basement and the ground level. Each floor was given the same ceiling height. The slab on each floor was bent near the exterior to give the same window size in section to each floor. When looking at the elevation, the same four sliding windows line up as if to indicate that the house, with a height of a two-story building, is three stories tall.
In the basement, a wind unexpected in a room located underground travels from the window on the east to the window on the west. Moreover, the core height of the furniture was set at 300mm below the slab so that the wind would travel above it. The ceiling of the concrete, which gradually rise, invites natural light to the interior. The green of the slope on the east side can be seen at the end of the rising ceiling.
On the first floor, the rising floor blocks view from the street and ensure privacy, while also inviting light and wind from outside. In addition, the oppressive feeling exuded by the 3m-tall retaining wall on the east side is skillfully minimized by the rising floor, directing the eye to the green that is beyond. An acryl was used for the toilet’s ceiling, located in the core furniture of the first floor, allowing natural light to enter even though it is placed at the center of the floor.
The second floor gradually slopes to provide a comfortable space as if to replicate the hills outside. The roof slab is also slightly bent. This was done to prevent the rainwater that collects on the parapet-less roof from flowing to the windows. The water that is collected at the center travels to the ground through the slit on the southern wall.
The design sought to build a house with one basement floor and two stories above ground in which the levels underground and above ground are stacked in an equal way. However, once the framework was completed at the site, everyone began to call the basement the first floor, the first floor the second floor, and the third floor the second floor. In the end, we could not tell which floor was which, giving life to a very intriguing house in which you are above the ground while you remain below it.
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. Trees planted heavily around the perimeter form a very private enclosure. Visually secure from outside, the ground plain architecture could then be open and transparent without the owner’s privacy being compromised.
Conceptually, the above ground architectural composition is of two rectangular travertine blocks sitting on slender pilotis. The blocks are connected at the second floor by an enclosed bridge floated above the ground plane. A ribbon window cuts around the travertine stone façade. 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.
An outdoor living deck and roof garden tops-off the composition, and is usefully spacious enough for social gatherings and parties. The deck’s facing is angled to enjoy views of scenic Bukit Timah Hill, the highest point in Singapore. 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 sizable 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. Windows cut heat entry via low-emission glass and timber sunscreens filter the strong tropical sunlight, and transform it into a pattern of light and shadows that play into the interior spaces. 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 rainstorms or the haze from pollutive burning.
The environment engifts you when there are respect and collaboration with both its strengths and weaknesses. In spite of being on an intensely urbanized island with one of the highest population densities in the world, the house recaptures what it is to privately enjoy living in the tropics, with its lushness, vibrancy, and beauty ensconced in a secret garden.
© Marc Tey