D+A / Architecture at Play

Architecture, Product Design
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Issue DA87 Aug/Sept 2015

Architecture at Play

The 19 Buckley Road House by ipli Architects presents an ingenious and artful solution to a deep plot.


Along Buckley Road, there is a new house that presents an interesting silhouette with a bold chocolate brown sputter paint finish so dark it is almost the colour of night. The road-facing volume dips downwards to shelter a garage, but behind rises another block, pitched to the side. It is all very curious to the passer-by, and if one were able to look along the building’s elevation, one would see the continuation of a series of blocks joined down the site’s length, pitched to different angles in a lively manner akin to the naïve arrangement of blocks by a child at play.

This is architect Yip Yuen Hong’s unique architectural treatment of a very long and relatively narrow site. “As a design response, we utilised a series of volumes to break down the length of the land into smaller intimate scaled spaces, suited for a home. In utilising a series of volumes, one transverse though a series of spaces rather than an experience of corridors as we enter the house,” says the principal of ipli Architects.

19 Buckley Road continues the architect’s current obsession with the monolithic form. It has been experimented with in his award-winning projects, such as 9 Leedon Park and 19 Sunset Place. These houses are characterised by simple, pitched volumes, read as cave-like retreats in the metaphorical and physical sense from the cacophony of the exterior world and the harsh tropical elements. “We have been interested in creating simple, monolithic forms, abstract forms that are modern, yet responsive to the tropics. In Buckley, we get the opportunity to test the volumes in linear configuration,” Yip affirms.

In a very clear manner, each volume contains a different program. The first contains the garage; the second contains service spaces on the first storey and the master bedroom on the second storey; the third has the living and dining below and the study above; the fourth has the family areas – one for the grandparents below and one for the children above – and the last block contains the bedrooms of the grandparents on the first storey and the children above, each a symmetrical reflection of the other in both directions.

Yip shares that the parents, both being doctors, have to respond to emergencies at all times of the day and night. This is why the master bedroom is located nearer the front so either of them can leave the home quickly without disturbing the rest of the family. This was one of the clients’ request, together with plenty of storage, that the children’s bedrooms are large enough to accommodate their future spouses, and if possible, no long corridors.

And so, Yip’s response of a series of volumes is appropriate. In order to articulate the different volumes along the site’s length, he has pushed alternating volumes away from the party wall. These create interstitial courtyards.

The first courtyard occurs alongside the second block behind the front door and is a dramatic, double-volume space where light and shadow form rhythmically under a procession of RC trellises. Windows from the master bedroom above look down into this void in a gesture of connectivity. The second courtyard is a garden that lends the family areas a semi-outdoor ambience. In fact, each space has a view to the outdoors where possible; another courtyard space that is open to sky is inserted in the middle of the plot, bringing natural ventilation and light into the grandparents’ and children’s bathrooms.

“Connecting vistas to the space beyond draws into perspective that the interior space is a lot larger, a hint of what is beyond,” says Yip on these manoeuvres. “It is also about creating a scale that is intimate, not just inside where human habitation occurs but also in the context of the surroundings. The series of smaller forms blend better with the predominantly residential neighbourhood,” he describes of the exterior architectonics. The different pitch of each of these volumes also helps to create distinct experiences for each of the interior spaces, he adds. “Eventually, each of these smaller spaces creates its own identity by the way that the users utilise them.”

A definitive use of deep brown and white paint helps to define the different kinds of spaces: deep brown for the courtyard and exterior walls, and a fresh white for indoors. “The exterior of the house is treated in a dark and rough sputter finish so as to play down the size of the house, to blend with the landscape and take dirt better,” explains Yip. This language carries into areas such as the master bathroom, an intriguing, maze-like sanctuary clothed in black stone where each bathroom function has its own enclosure but are linked in a fluid manner. “The master bathroom is a micro design of Buckley; it mirrors the placement of monolithic volumes of the house,” Yip describes.

From the trellised corridor foyer, one steps into the living and dining area, a space of beautiful sculptural quality where above, the study block, hung from the roof, hovers, and the crisp, white staircase cuts through the space theatrically, presenting itself as another sculptural element in the space. The whiteness here is a perfect foil for the showcase of the elements at work. As Yip highlights, “with a lightness of hanging volumes, the white interior provides a direct contrast to the outside and also a canvas for the play of natural light as it moves across the internal spaces in the day.” Skylights above help to fuel this rhythmic dance.

Meanwhile, underfoot is a visual and tactile game where the same material takes on different layout styles to demarcate different zones. “Subtle material changes take on slight variation in sizes and surface treatment as it enters into the building: from a rough stone texture to smooth delicate Cohiba honed finish, to the utilisation of stone patterns on the walls, to create intimately scaled spaces,” describes Yip. In the master bedroom for instance, the linear timber-flooring pattern changes to a herringbone pattern where the sofa area is, and in an interesting move, turns up the wall mid-height to define the corner. It is a leitmotif that appears elsewhere, for instance, in the children’s games room where the Cohiba limestone flooring turns up the walls in similar fashion.
19 Buckly Road house is a home full of delight and wonder. And that is a result of Yip’s mastery of his craft. At the same time, his architecture works well in the local climate. For instance, his preference for pitched roof shapes accommodates easy rain runoff. Operable window openings rather than large panels of fixed glass also allow for natural ventilation in every room. Where there are skylights, they have been screened for filtered illumination under the harsh, tropical sun. The aforementioned courtyards also bring in natural breezes and sunlight “so that even the deeper spaces can breathe,” says Yip.

Yip is one of the most exciting local architects to watch in this milieu for his original way of reinterpreting historical elements into exciting, modern architecture. These thoughtful and elegant spaces embody a rare sense of genius loci. Lucky are the clients who are able to participate in such journeys.