Great love, as history has shown us, often births extraordinary architecture. In this bungalow in Singapore’s Cornwall Gardens, a couple’s desire to create the most attractive home for their family has been realised; it is a contemporary feat of design inspired by love – with nature at its heart.
“The owners wanted to create a tropical paradise,” says Chang Yong Ter, founder and principal architect of Chang Architects. This was the third time the owners, in their 50s, had moved, and they wanted this home to be their last. “They want a home their three children (who are in their 20s) would never want to move out of,” adds Chang.
It’s not an easy undertaking, harmonising the desires of modern-day dwellers with nature, but Chang, with his eye for detail, was ideal for the task. His achievements include a series of award-winning houses – the Lucky Shophouse, which won 2013’s President’s Design Award; and Elok House, an earlier project where he first explored this progressive vision of living with nature.
“In homes, we tend to have a clear boundary between space for plants and space for humans,” explains Chang, whose work on Elok House caught the attention of the owners. “Here, plants share the same breathing space as the occupants.”
“IN HOMES, WE TEND TO HAVE A CLEAR BOUNDARY BETWEEN SPACE FOR PLANTS AND SPACE FOR HUMANS. HERE, PLANTS SHARE THE SAME BREATHING SPACE AS THE OCCUPANTS.”
–CHANG YONG TER
Even from the facade, this Good Class Bungalow located in the Bukit Timah district stands out. It is clad entirely in sliced charcoal logs sourced from northern Malaysia, and the charcoal provides insulation from the sun and natural air purification. Orchids, which thrive in charcoal, creep out from the facade.
Located on a slope that steeply drops from street level – traditionally regarded as “inauspicious” from a fengshui perspective – the bungalow’s site was the perfect setting to play up the idea of a tropical paradise. Chang eschewed the idea of a flat pitched roof. He chose, instead, to have the roof “cut” akin to the steps of a rice paddy field, so visitors could have access to a view.
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And what a view – a waterfall cascading into a koi pond and an all-natural swimming pool, both flanked by fruit trees and lush vegetation. Little wonder then, that this two-storey house was shortlisted in the House – Completed Buildings category at last year’s World Architecture Festival.
But how does living in such a home feel? On a hot, sweltering day, the air within the bungalow cools beneath the lush vegetation, and the temperature in the rooms can drop dramatically by as much as 11 deg C from that of the street. “It’s also the joy of getting fresh air,” says Chang. “The air is fresher. It’s different.”
There have also been happy surprises. After living in the home for around six months, the owner’s elderly mother, who suffers from dementia, talked more and was more cheerful. Chang is particularly gratified by the results. He says: “I observed her for a period of time. When I first talked to her, she used to stare blankly at me. Now, she smiles back.”
It’s arguable that nature has played a part. “When you have moving water, it produces a lot of negative ions,” says Chang, “It’s been proven that negative ions have a positive impact on moods. When there’s a thunderstorm, people rarely quarrel. The gush of water produces trillions of negative ions.”
THE JOY OF COMMUNAL LIVING
Wandering around the grounds, what becomes clear is the way natural elements seem to blur into the physical structure to off er a more open, unpredictable way of living. This is one of those places, where, if you breathe in deeply, you might catch a fragrant waft of pandan or lemongrass. Or, where heading to a bedroom means crossing a bridge built with recycled wooden railway sleeper planks that continue to mature against the elements.
Or, most wonderfully, how under the auspices of nature, the occupants can experience a sense of privacy, as well as the joy of communal living. The owners and their extended family often have gatherings here, with up to sixty people being hosted at times.
“There are a lot of in-between realms for people to gather, without disturbing the family members,” says Chang. “Nature becomes a medium between a space and another space, without creating a wall.”
And this seems like the most extraordinary idea of all for urban nomads living in a hyper-connected world: that inviting nature into our home helps us get back in touch with one another, and with ourselves.
“When a house is done in a minimalist way, somehow it feels cold, and lacks warmth,” says Chang. “Nature brings back the warmth.”
For the inhabitants at Cornwall Gardens, it is the hope that this warmth will create an enduring bond for years to come. “All our lives revolve around our three children,” shared the owners during a tea session with Chang and his consultants. “This project is very special to our family, and there is no way to describe how special it is in words.”