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Second Life — Modern Architectural Transformations in Singapore

A look at two architectural sites that have been given significant transformations while conserving key features.

Jul 28, 2022 | By Joe Lim

Whether it’s respecting the architectural details of an old home or giving new life to a building, here are two spacious abodes that have undergone a significant metamorphosis for a modern comeback. We look at some modern architectural transformations for homes in Singapore.

The Brutalist architecture of this bungalow designed by Czarl Architects

The Brutalist architecture of this bungalow designed by Czarl Architects. Image: Bai Jiwen.

Bunker-like Bungalow

Giving a home a second life isn’t easy especially if the property has a historical value. Restoration work is best left to the experts because they understand the type of original materials used and how to source for them.

One of the stylish living areas in this spacious home

One of the stylish living areas in this spacious home. Image: Bai Jiwen.

These experts have to study the home’s history and assemble the right artisans to do the necessary craftwork for the interior and exterior of the building. But restoring a building to its former glory isn’t about retracing historical facts and techniques. How do you make an old building relevant for today’s lifestyle and context? What should be altered and what should be left intact? Here, we showcase two buildings that have been given a second life. The architects and designers have understood the building’s past and its site to create these architectural marvels.

The dining space offers views of the garden and neighbourhood

The dining space offers views of the garden and neighbourhood. Image: Bai Jiwen.

A Former President’s Home

A couple, the Lims, who are retirees from the healthcare and finance industries, purchased this sprawling 12,197-square-foot home after many house tours. It was their dream home.
Interestingly, it was the residence of Singapore’s former president – Mr Ong Teng Cheong. The home’s sprawling land spanning approximately 10,649 square feet is a multi-tiered site that
slopes up from the front of the house. How does one preserve the site where the house sits? How is one able to construct a modern family home that reaped lush vistas of the neighbourhood while maintaining some elements of its older identity? These were questions that the couple wished to pursue.

Realising Their Dreams

The next logical step was to look for an architect to realise their dreams. The husband and wife had read a newspaper article about the transformation of Wat Ananda Metyarama Thai Buddhist temple located in Bukit Merah. The architect was principal architect Carl Lim of Czarl
Architects. The brief to Carl Lim was this: An easy-to-maintain, multi-generation home that is modern and functional. In terms of aesthetics, the couple desired the emphasis on using natural materials. The couple also yearned for an inner sanctuary within the house. For the façade, the man of the house wanted something very “masculine”, possibly one that showcased elements of brutalist architectural lines. The husband provided some schematic images to aid the architect’s planning. Construction took around two years to complete. While it was a lengthy process, there were inevitably some challenges to tackle. Dealing with a multi-tiered site with a slope was one of these issues. To capitalise on where the slope began, the architect designed
a future basement. Therefore, the home’s highest point is at the road level, thereby making it largely unblocked by the neighbours’ homes.

A cosy corner with plenty of sunlight and ventilation

A cosy corner with plenty of sunlight and ventilation. Image: Bai Jiwen.

Bunker Aesthetics

The Brutalist-feel of the home’s façade conveys a masculine feel. To access the home, one enters the foyer via a staircase. The entrance foyer’s multiple window grilles salvaged from the previous home are the highlight of this space. They were welded together to create a vertical feature. The grilles sport a damask pattern synonymous with 1970s aesthetics. The entrance foyer is more than just a spot to greet guests; its adjacent lounge area opens up to the surroundings for anyone to partake in the verdant views. The lounge area is connected to the
formal living space via a water feature. One needs to walk across a large lava stone slab to get to the other side. The formal living space has a chic ensemble of modern furnishings, furniture, and lighting from European brands. One of the highlights is the Arco floor lamp designed by Achille Castiglioni for Flos. Despite being designed in 1962, this iconic floor light with its arc metal stem holding a globular metal shade feels modern in this setting. The light is complemented by eye-catching mustard leather armchairs.

A stylish bedroom with a plush bed helps the homeowners to unwind after a day

A stylish bedroom with a plush bed helps the homeowners to unwind after a day. Image: Bai Jiwen.

Celebratory Meals

The dining room is special to the couple because it offers a 270-degree view of the estate’s greenery. The luxurious round dining table affords communal meals for friends and family. The sliding doors open out to let in air and sunlight stream in, making meals in this space so enjoyable.

Spectacular Staircase

The home’s main spiral staircase which provides access to all floors is also a conversational piece when guests pop by. The architect designed an organic design staircase and paired glass light pendants to illuminate this vertical space. As one ascends or descends the staircase, the lights add a touch of magic. There are also alcove LED lights on each step to assist one to see where he/she walks. What would such a striking house be without a swimming pool? The architect created an indoor lap pool with movable lattice screens for privacy. A purposeful skylight allows a palm tree to thrive and take root. Weekends make this the perfect spot
for the couple to unwind. The home also accommodates a gymnasium to keep the couple fit and healthy. There is also an entertainment room where the couple entertains guests with a
dose of Hollywood flicks. However, the wife’s favourite space is still the dining space. She enthused, “For me, the dining room is my favourite spot because family members relax and enjoy each other’s company over a meal. They can freely move around as the dining space flows
out to the garden and veranda.”

Bocci pendant lights add pizzazz to the modern spiral staircase

Bocci pendant lights add pizzazz to the modern spiral staircase. Image: Bai Jiwen.

Spatial Obstacles

Without a doubt, Carl had to tackle some architectural challenges along the way. The elephant in the room was the home’s unique topography consisting of a large retaining wall that impeded his task of designing liveable spaces. Also, the challenge of giving the best view to every room and bathroom, while addressing heat from the western sun and maintaining privacy were some of the main architectural issues.

The indoor swimming pool adds a resort-feel to this bungalow

The indoor swimming pool adds a resort-feel to this bungalow. Image: Bai Jiwen.

Nevertheless, Carl prevailed. He devised a purposeful spatial design where the home was organised into a loose cluster of dwelling units positioned around a series of courtyards or outdoor spaces akin to a little village. The edges of the “village” cluster are defined by an attic elevated landscape deck or a second-storey elevated pool that shields the dwelling units. The master bedroom and study were pushed into the background behind the landscape which is designed to weave around the entire perimeter of the attic and bind the whole attic cluster of dwelling units into a cohesive form. Carl designed the swimming pool on the second level so as to free up space on the ground floor for the homeowner’s gardening pursuits.

Strong, striking lines are the highlights of the bungalow's architecture

Strong, striking lines are the highlights of the bungalow’s architecture. Image: Bai Jiwen.

Also, the elevated landscape deck helps to shield the private sanctuary of the homeowner. The architect was able to have grit and conviction to complete the project in 24 months despite the ongoing pandemic. The final result is a satisfied man of the house, “I couldn’t ask for more. My home is now a place for me to retreat and enjoy my swimming, Tai Chi, and yoga moments. Now, I hardly go out on weekends!” While the new home has no resemblance to its former identity, Carl was clever to preserve the lay of the land and construct a modern dwelling with a refreshed aesthetic that could cater to the homeowner’s lifestyle.

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Gem on a Hill

The conserved bungalow along 67 Cairnhill Road is hard to miss. The building’s heritage can be traced to the turn of the 20th century. It flaunts distinctive Anglo-Malay style decor for its facade and other spectacular architectural detailing. Tracing back its history, the bungalow was purchased by Lien Kwang Wah, a family member of Singapore’s distinguished pioneer banker and philanthropist, Lien Ying Chow who founded Overseas Union Bank.

The sophisticated facade of Klimt Cairnhill

The sophisticated facade of Klimt Cairnhill. Image: Low Keng Huat (Singapore) Limited

For many decades, the conserved bungalow was left vacant and fell into a state of despair. Thanks to Low Keng Huat (Singapore) Limited, this established firm will turn this time-honoured bungalow into Klimt Cairnhill clubhouse offering exquisite lounges and ornately designed dining rooms to cater to luxurious soirees and posh celebrations. In 2018, the developer purchased 67 Cairnhill Road and its two adjacent plots for a cool SGD 100 million.

The bungalow site will be conserved for heritage purposes. Image: Low Keng Huat (Singapore) Limited.

Thankfully Low Keng Huat assembled a credible team to handle the architectural and interior challenges. Appointed architecture firm DP Architects would be tasked to revitalise the spaces and restore architectural details for 67 Cairnhill Road. The firm is renowned for projects in Singapore and around the world. The construction of Dubai Mall was one of their most renowned projects, and they also had a hand in creating The Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay, including The Fullerton Heritage. For interior works, the design firm LTW Designworks reputable for projects such as The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, and Four Seasons Seoul, to name a few, will be overseeing this area of expertise. The team had to visit the National Archives of Singapore and research this conserved bungalow and understand how the distinctive Anglo-Malay style came about. For the residential site, DP Architects proposed a curvilinear design sporting gilded features to embellish the façade, hence, “Klimt” as suggested by the firm. The firm was inspired by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt whose iconic works were festooned with gold leaves. However, the developer quipped, “The design and concept of Klimt Cairnhill were not entirely inspired by Gustav Klimt’s paintings. We had our own design and concept given the location, and it evolved from there.” When it is finally completed Klimt Cairnhill will offer 138 units integrated into a 36-storey tower, while preserving the architectural details of the 1930s bungalow.

Read about other architectural transformations here.

Club House

Rendering of the Club House. Image: Low Keng Huat (Singapore) Limited.

Cairnhill definitely remains one of the most sought-after residential addresses in prime District 9. As a developer, Low Keng Huat’s push to enhance and restore the conserved bungalow to meet our modern needs is commendable. While it appreciates the past, it also wants to create a new residential address in the heart of Orchard Road where the modern amenities will house new families for generations to come. They will come to witness a fragment of Singapore’s architectural history, and perhaps, allow their children to appreciate and understand a part of our precious past.

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