Properties / Homes

Unsung Heroes In Design — Architecture, Interior Design & Landscaping

We look at how some under-the-radar design firms delving in architecture, interior design and landscaping, carve out magnificent projects in the heart of Singapore.

Sep 17, 2021 | By Joe Lim

Sometimes when we see a building we are in awe of the design. When we traipse through a lovely park to admire blooms and plants, and we closely examine the botanical details and green aesthetics, then only do we realise there must be some great designer behind this work.

Guoco Midtown’s office tower

Guoco Midtown’s office tower

In this issue, we look at three firms doing what they do best. From designing homes with innovative spatial features to creating a condo design that embraces its past, and even giving a Midas Touch to community gardens, these hardworking individuals reveal to us some of the secrets of their craft and knowledge.

Ortus Design

Chia Jui Siang is a plant whisperer. His ability to understand the individual watering, maintenance, and fertilising needs for each type of plant is amazing. Under his care, many of his gardens in social spaces and condominium gardens thrive under a wide variety of environments. He even understands how each plant can thrive under different sunlight conditions and the angle of the sun at different times of the year. Thus, his ability to curate the right type of plants to prosper in a wide variety of environments such as residential projects, community spaces, or even private gardens is proof of his capable green fingers.

Chia Jui Siang

Chia Jui Siang

Ortus Design was formed in 2009, the SILA-registered (Singapore Institute of Landscape Architects) firm has done several eye-catching works for government projects and private residences.

Despite the firm being young and its team being lean, one should not snub their expertise. In truth, Ortus Design has created some of Singapore’s most stunning landscape projects which have not gone unnoticed. Their feather in the cap is Admiralty Park. This verdant space snagged an IFLA Outstanding Award in 2018 under the Social and Community Health Category. The client, National Parks Board, wanted an expansive social space, that is, an urban park in the leafy precinct of Woodlands. Situated on hilly terrain with Sungei Cina coursing through it, this 20-hectare site offers a large and lush naturescape consisting of mangrove trees, secondary forests, a riverine, and open grassland habitats. There is also the 7-hectare man-made urban area featuring 26 slides for kids to frolic and explore. In fact, this park has the greatest number of slides in any park in Singapore as well as the wildest and longest slides. With an undulating terrain, the sinuous and twisting slides allow children of many ages to interact, discover, and just be curious. Unique to the park is the inclusion of unobtrusive wetlands fused into the modern landscape design. Kids and parents can then discover the rich diversity of plant life and semi-aquatic flora and fauna.

Midtown Market at Guoco Midtown.

Planning the landscaping at Midtown Market, Guoco Midtown.

For Midtown Modern situated in Bugis enclave, the brief to Ortus Design was to create a “Gardens in the Woods” in an 11,150-sqm plot of land. It was the firm’s vision to create ten landscapes that dot the residential project with distinctive features and striking terrains. Ortus Design proposed an explorative retreat, much like a journey to the verdant plains, trudging through a cavern grotto at the project’s arrival deck, to sauntering into a lush plateau on the third storey, or just making an ascent to the lush rooftop, the experiential feel of these sylvan landscapes will make future homeowners feel like they have entered a resort. In fact, more than 250 types of plants were selected to create a rich tapestry of foliage and flowers in different forms and hues.

The green concept of Midtown Modern rides on Ortus Design’s philosophy: “To promote the co-existence of nature in the cities for the wellness of people and as a responsible steward of the environment.”

Admiralty Park, Woodlands, Singapore.

Admiralty Park, Woodlands, Singapore.

Without a doubt, landscape architecture is Ortus Design’s forte and Jui Siang’s passion flies the flag high for his firm. He is pleased that his skills and expertise can help clients create green havens for homeowners and commercial and social spaces. He enthuses, “Landscape design is to find a tailored solution, turning each unique space into a place for people as well as for the environment A well-designed landscape can stand the test of time and even improved with age.”

Read more about Ortus Design here

Waterside Home

JGP Architecture is currently kept busy with the Jui Residences located along the Kallang River of Singapore. Developed by Selangor Dredging Berhad (SDB), the brief to the firm was to “create a home for the modern minimalist individual, while observing the site’s history, heritage, and context, without overlooking the authority’s requirements.”

Jui Residences will offer views of the Kallang River.

Jui Residences will offer views of the Kallang River.

To be given the name “Jui” which in Hokkien means “water”, is to honour the site’s watery surroundings, that is, Serangoon River. Incidentally, Serangoon’s name was bestowed from the origins of “Ranggong” bird which was commonly found along this river.

Jui Residences sits on what was once the National Aerated Water Company (National Aerated Water Company, NAWC) founded in 1954, this famous soda bottling company — Sinalco and Kickapoo — had been vacant for decades but with Singapore’s economy steaming ahead, city-fringe sites like these are not spared from gentrification. This former space was also responsible for logistics and warehousing of soda drinks. Back in the 50s and 60s, one could visit the factory and enjoy a fizzy drink with friends or family. Fast forward to 2021, while its olden allure has since faded, the developer Selangor Dredging Berhad was determined to be mindful to respect the building’s past and its art-deco heritage.

Social spaces offering greenery at Jui Residences.

Social spaces offering greenery at Jui Residences.

The Client’s Brief

Situated at 1177 Serangoon Road, fronting the Kallang River, the 117-unit, 18-storey project sits on 31,705 sq ft of freehold site and will offer a modern residential feel to complement the two-storey NAWC building which is deemed as a conservation building by Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Under the guidelines, the NAWC shall be developed for commercial use with F&B on the first storey and an office on the second storey. The residential portion, multi-storey car park, and its facilities will therefore be located at the rear of the conserved building. In fact, as required under URA conservation guidelines, all existing NAWC shall be salvaged as much as possible. Even the old ventilation openings, windows, and doors were also refurbished. In total, there are three main structures conserved, namely, the primary two-storey building to Serangoon Road, the two-storey factory production area, and the freestanding two-storey building that was used as a dormitory situated at the rear of the site. These original structures bear the aesthetics of Bauhaus and Miami Art Deco styles from the 1950s. Undoubtedly, once you’re at the site, an air of nostalgia confronts you.

Lap pool views at Jui Residences looking out to the Kallang River.

Lap pool views at Jui Residences looking out to the Kallang River.

SDB commissioned award-winning CarverHaggard of London to come up with the concept design but collaborated with JGP Architecture to further develop it to completion. SDB’s relationship with CarverHaggard has been long-standing because they were the same firm that conceived the design for the 64-unit One Draycott at 1 Draycott Park, also owned by SDB. The Malaysian developer’s preference for British architects is justified by their knack for spatial planning which makes small spaces look big.

Former National Aerated Water building.

Former National Aerated Water building. Image: National Archives Singapore.

For its landscaping work, SDB commissioned renowned landscape designer and sculptor, Colin K Okashimo to create a series of sculptural works named “Sinalco to Kickapoo” on the fifth-level landscaped deck. The former petrol pump on the site has also been retained and is one of the features of the landscaped deck.

Dining space with balcony views at Jui Residences.

Dining space with balcony views at Jui Residences.

The site offers enviable watery vistas, but its irregular shape proves to be a challenge especially when the conserved building being parallel to Serangoon Road and vehicular access, has to be provided from this busy main road. Furthermore, other architectural factors were considered such as a new building layout in line with the heritage of the site and its adjacent, conserved portion. Nevertheless, JGP Architecture took to the project like fish to water (pun intended)! The firm devised a plaza that fronts NAWC which will be used for visitors to view the conservation structure. Future homeowners can enjoy Sky Terrace facilities with a swimming pool facing Kallang River. There is also a sunken view deck overlooking NAWC, Kallang River, and the city skyline.

Jui Residences along the iconic Kallang River, Singapore.

Jui Residences along the iconic Kallang River, Singapore. Image: SDB Sdn Bhd.

Jui Residences — of one-to three-bedroom units — ticks all the boxes for young professionals in the 30 to 45 age group, to buy it for personal use or as an article of investment, namely because the project is city-fringe, offers riverside views, and is located near to two MRT stations. We can’t wait to see the blending of old and new elements when the property completes by the end of 2021. It will no doubt be a spectacle for everyone to see the preserved portions of NAWC given a second life, allowing the younger generation to understand part of Singapore’s colourful history.

Discover more of JGP Group works here

PI Architects

This youngish architectural firm is made up of two founding partners Ivan Soh Cher Ming and Paul Yeo Wei Da. With two great minds thinking alike, they pondered and yearned to create their own design narrative in the industry and start designing projects to add to their name — PI Architects. a mixed-use building in Roccasalegna, Italy where it sits on a slope offering a high vantage point to serve as a sky observatory where unblocked views of stars and planets can be enjoyed on a clear night sky.

Founders of PI Architects: Ivan Soh and Paul Yeo.

Founders of PI Architects: Ivan Soh and Paul Yeo. Image: PI Architects.

Established in 2017, PI Architects is a multi-disciplinary design partnership that has more than a decade’s worth of combined professional experience. Their scope of work covers small-scale residential projects to large-scale urban design. Their belief to always have people-first design over spatial design, helps them churn out unique works that maintain a sense of continuity in their design-thinking processes. Here’s a look at some of the fantastic residential work PI Architects has been up to.

Crisp aesthetics of the living room of home in Chelsea Gardens.

Crisp aesthetics of the living room of a home in Chelsea Gardens. Image: PI Architects.

Chelsea Gardens

This 1,830-sq-ft space is home to a young couple with two toddlers. Their brief to PI Architects is to create a home with spatial lightness, able to host small to large gatherings, construct ample storage that appears inconspicuous, and offer flexible spaces for their kids when they grow up. The project took about six months to complete. The feeling of spatial lightness can be experienced upon entering the private lift foyer where one gets a sense that he/she is transported to a hotel-like environment.

Sleek study room with minimalist look.

Sleek study room with minimalist look. Image: PI Architects.

One of PI Architect’s philosophies is “No two projects are ever the same”. This can be achieved by designing for the individual homeowner’s personalities and lifestyle preferences, listening to their aspirations, then using their architectural knowledge to elevate or enhance that experience. It helps that the duo’s frequent travels have helped them gain inspiration to design spaces.

A stylish kids’ room. Image: PI Architects

“We take in our travel experiences and these influence our design sensibilities,” opines Paul. The owner’s favourite spot is the trellis and bench at the entrance foyer because as one enters the apartment, the trellis allows daylight to flow through and at the same time, serves as a visual-spatial separation between the entrance foyer and the main living hall. A custom-designed bench made of marble and clad in champagne gold metal is the perfect spot to sit and hang around during family gatherings.

House on Namly

Located in the leafy surrounds of Bukit Timah, this two-storey semi-detached house offers 3,446 sq ft of built-up space and sits on 3,231 sq ft of land. The brief from the owner was to create a calming, humble, and non-extravagant home that underpinned their belief in approaching life and upbringing.

The facade of Namly House.

The facade of Namly House. Image: PI Architects.

It was also paramount to have these Chinese characters “听雨居” to be inscribed in a traditional wooden carving hung at the outdoor pavilion. It simply means “a place to listen to the rain”, a reminder for the owners to appreciate nature’s pitter-patter to calm one down especially when the stress of life hits them.

Generous overhangs to shade the homeowners from the elements.

Generous overhangs to shade the homeowners from the elements. Image: PI Architects.

In truth, the original carving was found in their old family home where the owners grew up, so they hope the new carving would be passed down to the next generation. Interestingly, the home’s living and dining areas were designed with generous overhangs to shade them from the elements and to allow every member of the family to enjoy the sight, sound, and smell of the rain in the comfort of these spaces without having to close the sliding glass panels.

Wooden furniture adds warmth to this dining space.

Wooden furniture adds warmth to this dining space. Image: PI Architects.

Undoubtedly, the home benefits from natural ventilation and sunlight streaming in to elevate the ambiance, not forgetting, allowing the views of the garden to be appreciated more clearly; a stark contrast to its former space where the house lacked sufficient daylight and airflow. Today the completed home stays true to the spirit of down-to-earth aesthetics, where internal spaces allow the family to expand their brood and let them collectively enjoy nature’s beauty and sounds to thrill their senses.

Explore the works of PI Architects here.

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