Hyla architects Room without Roof home pool day time

Home tour: Inside two high-end landed houses by Hyla Architects

Han Loke Kwang’s homes are poetic structures. Each dwelling is distinct, jaw-droppingly beautiful and contextually designed. Yet there’s a subtle and undeniable Hyla Architects impression that ties them all together.

“I believe in an architecture of values and my values are honesty, clarity, strength, purpose and simplicity,” he explains. “And I hope these values are always transmitted in my works even though the concept, context and client may change.” 

Principal architect and founder of award-winning firm Hyla Architects, Han is a master at crafting timeless, high-end landed homes in Singapore. In an increasingly trend-driven world, Han believes that one must have a sense of history and respect for all the art and architecture that has come before.

Read on as he walks us through two breathtaking properties designed by Hyla Architects right here in Singapore.

Viewing Back House: a two-storey semi-detached house on Jalan Tempua

Built in 2019, the Viewing Back House has an unassuming front facade of granite and glass. Step into this two-storey semi-detached home and the views change almost instantaneously. On a long plot with an area of approximately 6,103 sqft, Han and his team envisioned a glorious home that “borrows” something special from the neighbours.

What were your first thoughts about the plot? 

Han Loke Kwang: The Viewing Back house was built for a family of four and their domestic help. The rear of the house faces the Former Command House, a national monument with beautiful gardens that used to the official residence of Singapore’s Speaker of the Parliament from 1970 to 1989. Later, while Istana was undergoing renovations, it even served as the temporary residence of President Ong Teng Cheong. And right now, it’s used by UBS as a training facility.

To the side of our Viewing Back home are the backs of four other houses. So the design challenge was to address the unique site of this house.

Walk us through the property

Han: The main idea of the first storey is to lead you to the second storey. So when you enter you’re in a double volume space with a staircase leading you up. You can see the space beyond and you are pulled upwards.

The second storey is for the main living spaces as this is where you get the view of the gardens of Former Command House. It’s an open-plan layout with an infinity pool at the end. An aluminium pergola wraps around the pool to frame the view. 

On the side is a linear garden that brings light and nature into the house. Like many of my houses, the distinction between inside and outside is blurred, and when you open up everything it’s really like you are living outdoors. 

The living and dining rooms are situated on the second floor, an unconventional but contextually relevant decision. Was it easy to convince the client?

Han: Actually the client bought this property because of the views at the rear and he also had the idea to have the living spaces upstairs!

What were the challenges you faced with the property?

Han: It is always a challenge to bring light and nature into a house while keeping the house cool and protected from the elements. We do passive designs that allow lots of natural ventilation and at the same time employ pergolas and skylights to modulate the light coming in.

Your favourite feature of the house

Han: I like that the house is a reversal of how a home is conventionally done. Most semi-detached houses are open in front and on the side. For this house, the front and the side is quite solid and it is open at the back and into the party wall. When you are inside it feels totally open, yet it’s so private too. 

Room without Roof House: two-storey detached house on Siglap Plain

Completed in 2017, the Room without Roof House spreads across a build area of 7,750 sqft. A contemporary two-storey home also consists of an attic with a master bedroom with a large ensuite, covered terrace and entertainment area. Plus, the basement is an entertainer’s dream – featuring a lounge area, wine cellar and home gym. But that’s only a fraction of what makes this home special…

What was the brief and what were your first thoughts about the site?

Han: The brief was for a house with six bedrooms, a study, a gym, home entertainment, and lounge areas, and a swimming pool. The site is a very typical landed housing estate in the East.

Walk us through the property

Han: The main highlight of the house is a large courtyard where the swimming pool is half in and half out of the space. All the other main areas of the house revolve around this space. The first storey is the living and dining and a family/guest room.

And the second storey is the Master bedroom and the Master study. There’s even an attic that works as a lounge study for the son who occupies this space. 

The central focus of this house – the external courtyard with an open gabled roof – is brilliant. What prompted its creation?

Han: I have always been interested in blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces. This aspect is evident in many of my projects. So for this house, I explored one more version of this approach.

The idea was to make the outdoors into a ‘room’ rather than something apart from the inside. Also in Singapore, most houses don’t have a view! You look into the street and into your neighbour! So this is our attempt to create our own views.

We created an internal focus for the house. Plus, this makes the house more private as the swimming pool is screened away from the neighbours. 

It’s my favourite part of the house. It’s a unique idea to have a strong simple form contain an external space. We are very honoured that it won the 2018 Inde Design Award! 

Tell us more about the materiality of the house and the harmonious use of brick, concrete and timber.

Han: We have always loved natural materials and brick, concrete and timber are the most traditional materials for building. They also age beautifully and it’s a natural combination that never fails.

It was a challenge working with brick to create many interesting details like the openings and patterns we did on the façade. So kudos to the contractor for doing a great job!

Go further with Hyla Architects.
Photography by Hyla Architects

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