Issue DA86 June/July 2015
The Gallop House by Formwerkz Architects is a practice in restrain and simplicity that doesn’t fail to impress and delight.
Looking at the Gallop House designed by Formwerkz Architects, one is reminded of the houses designed by architects such as Brazilian Marcio Kogan as well as Johh Lautner, the American protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright. From the fomer, there is the monolithic formal language – often, the datum of a clean-cut rectilinear block floating above shady and porous living areas that connects with the surrounding landscape; from the latter, the focus on grandiose views over the city of the angels is replaced here by a focus on the generous sprawl of green and scenic views from elevated ground the Good Class Bungalow (GCB) has the advantage of having.
Indeed, as architect and co-partner of Formwerkz Architects Alan Tay shares, there was a deliberate attempt to harness this luxurious 1,700sqm stretch of land. This was one of the reasons he and the client decided to build a new house from scratch rather than renovate the previous house.
“When [the client] purchased the land, the existing house was sited in the middle of the plot…the client wanted to be able to experience the expanse of land that [the formerly] centrally positioned house cannot afford. They were [also] concerned about overlooking issues from neighbours on the elevated ground along the back boundary, and the old house had many split levels to respond to the undulating site that posed accessibility issues.”
Tay’s response is simple and elegant, and also draws its influence from a historical precedent. “We proposed a single linear volume that stretches the entire elevated back boundary, freeing as much garden in front. We like the idea that, from the main street, the massing recalled the old black-and-white colonial bungalows that are often served by a long driveway leading to the house sited on the higher plateau overlooking the front lawn,” Tay explains.
As mentioned, the driveway from the narrow site entrance leads to the basement drop off – a cut out in an annex block housing the swimming pool that is perpendicular to the main rectilinear block. Situated in the basement, which is wedged into the undulating land and is effectively exposed at parts, are a six-car garage, services and entertainment rooms, the gym, as well as guestrooms that line the periphery of the garden. The main living and dining areas are located on the first storey with the swimming pool, and the bedrooms and a lofty family room are contained on the second storey.
While all the construction on site is new, the matured trees were conserved, as was a delicately detailed and constructed tree house designed for the previous owners by National University of Singapore architecture professor Joseph Lim. “The tree house was anchored around a large matured Jering tree. We loved the robust yet intricate details that went into the design of the tree house and definitely an annex that the client’s boys will grow to love,” says Tay.
It is this latter structure that the swimming pool is positioned to have a dialogue with. “The pool block, placed perpendicular to the main house, attempts to connect the existing tree house,” he affirms. “It also has the effect of a pool that extends indefinitely into the landscape or horizon. Spatially, the single-storey pool block delineates the winding driveway from the main front lawn and creates a drop-off midway to approach the house.”
Initially, the architect had wanted the pool annex to physically connect the tree house to the main house. “In the end, we felt that the connection would take something away from the original design and it is best kept separate,” he adds. It is perhaps a good move, as keeping the tree house as a solo structure has it reading like a sculpture, poised and rhythmic in contrast to the organic lines of the tree it embraces.
Aside from the tectonics of the architecture, the project also references from the traditional black-and-white colonial bungalow another architectural element – that of the louvred shutter. Functioning as a climatic filter to the harsh glare of the tropical sun, here, it takes over the entire second storey as a Chengal timber shell.
“These timber slates shield the bedroom balconies of the upper volume,” Tay explains. “They extend to envelop the mono-pitched metal roof, creating a ventilated system. Internally, staggered double-volume spaces connect all three storeys, allowing the house to be ventilated effectively by stack effect.”
The key reason for the extensive timber covering, Tay shares, was due to the inevitable siting of the house. “The layout fully capitalised on the site’s only aspect in terms of view and privacy. But unfortunately, it is also the western front. Hence, this condition pretty much shaped the design of the envelope to passively combat the effects of the western solar orientation,” he explains. A buffer of outdoor terraces also ensure that the spaces on the first storey is recessed deep into the architecture for more shade and shelter.
Architecturally, the screened shell helps the reading of the house’ monolithic character. This homogeneity is effective in presenting a simple design, which in turn places emphasis on the expansive landscape and views. Of course, this means timber becomes the key material of the entire palette that also includes Travertine and Teak, used mainly for the interiors. Altogether, there is in this restrained palette a balance of understated luxe and natural warmth.
The Gallop Road House adds to Formwerkz Architects’ oeuvre of poetically designed houses, all which are good filters of the elements and are designed not just for easy living but also to delight the senses. One of the ways they have managed to do this is to embrace a technique of not over-designing.
“There is a dominant trend in over building when it comes to landed properties. In the residential landscape, while the apartment units get smaller, the houses get larger. We have been trying to buck this trend of houses becoming like apartment of rooms, urging our clients to build what is essential to have more common areas than bedrooms and to allow the house to grow over time instead,” he expounds, adding resolutely: “An uphill task. But a necessary one.”