Sometimes it takes only a handful of projects to know if an architectural firm understands what it means to design a living space. But there are over a hundred examples of Hyla’s residential flair, each one just as refreshing as the last. “We try our best no matter how small the space is or what the requirements are,” reveals Han Loke Kwang, Hyla’s principal architect. “We are constantly amazed at how many different ways there are to do houses, and by the details that follow.”
Indeed, Hyla isn’t snobby about the clients it takes on. Playing with the interiors of restrictively narrow shophouses is just as rewarding as creating original facades in the sprawling spaces of terraces and semi-detached buildings. Whatever the size of the residence, Hyla specialises in creating homes that feel roomy yet private, even for dwellings that face busy roads or close neighbours, and it achieves this with serene courtyards, sleek screens and artistic stairways – to keep the focus inwards.
Says Han: “We strive for simplicity, clarity and integrity in our designs. Whatever we put into a design must have a very good functional, contextual or spatial reason for it. We do not add anything for its own sake and, in this way, we hope our designs will stand the test of time.”
Given the numerous awards the firm has picked up in its 26 years of practice, Han’s ambition seems fulfilled. The most recent accolade was earned on the back of its “Room Without Roof” project, which won the 2018 INDE. Awards in the Living Space category. It was praised for concealing an external courtyard and swimming pool on the second floor of a brick and gable-roofed house at Siglap Plain.
Award-winning architectural firms know more than a thing or two about outstanding designs, but even among them, Ming stands out. Understanding and delivering what a client wants is central to the work, but Ming’s secret weapon is surprise.
A terrace house in Venus Road may look small and unassuming from the outside, but packs a swimming pool and double- storey loft under its tiny envelope. The Swettenham House’s interiors have custom laser-cut panels that slide and swing to conceal and reveal spaces like a walk-in wardrobe, TV wall and more. “Our clients often have a rough layout or design in mind when they come to us, but we still manage to exceed their expectations in terms of spatial requirements, functionality and aesthetics,” says founder Tan Cher Ming.
Thanks to Tan’s willingness to step outside his comfort zone, his team is constantly experimenting with new materials and building methods to keep things interesting. One such material is custom, long-format, handmade bricks from Italy, which they used in the Greenwood House. The introduction of any new material requires additional research to ensure it doesn’t discolour or suffer from efflorescence in this hot and humid climate, but the payoff is a look that’s entirely unique.
And speaking of our climate, Tan notes that “tropical modernism”, an architectural style known for wide, open spaces and features that encourage more ventilation and cooling, has been popular in Singapore for the past few decades, but the trend is now shifting to contemporary home designs inspired by those found in Australia, Japan, the UK and other parts of Europe. “This engages us because we are influenced by modernist principles,” he says. “But rather than getting locked into a certain style and sticking with it, we would like to be known for creating homes with a timeless, alluring quality, with beautiful spaces that evoke emotions from the homeowner not only when the house is new, but even many years later.”