Indoor Vertical Garden

Chu Lik Ren reveals a very special partnership which led architect, Chang Yong Ter, to design a uniquely ‘green’ house in Singapore.

27 May 2014

Above: Living room walls lined with triple volume planting.

When Richard Wong and Clara Yue engaged Chang Yong Ter to design their new house just behind Orchard Road, Singapore’s premier shopping belt, they had specifically searched for a young architect and sourced him through design magazines and the internet. They had a functional brief for the architect, but they wanted the house to be ‘green’. Theirs is an intermediate terrace house, hemmed in by party walls on two sides of a 6-metre wide plot, and ending with a two-storey-high retaining wall at the back. The site is almost directly eastfacing, with high-rise apartments at the back overlooking it.

So, it was not the most accommodating of sites as far as eco-friendly living was concerned. Yet the Wongs had hoped that 40% of the house – from the living room to the bedroom – could be made up of landscape elements such as pebbles, plants and even a waterfall. They believed the architect had to be an open, but practical-minded, virtuoso in micro-design with the refined sensibility of a Japanese landscape designer eschewing grandiosity or bombastic display.

4Open nature of the 3-storey facade.

As it turns out, the stunning success of the house they conceived with the architect after two years and a modest construction expenditure of $800,000 surpassed their highest expectations.

The most astonishing thing about the house is how comprehensively it subverts the premise of a terrace house and yet is aptly responsive to its site and climate. “This house is conceived as a three-dimensional landscape installation where pockets of spaces float within,” Chang explains. There is quite a list of the unconventional, innovative features the house embodies:

The ‘wet’ kitchen (customarily where deep-fried cooking is done in Singapore) is located on the timber-lined front porch, and the living room is pushed all the way to the back retaining wall. This gives the front of the house an open-bistro feel with a bar counter loosely separating the outside from the inside. The gate is set 2.5 metres back from the front boundary ensuring that the cars are parked outside the gate, sans roof or enclosure.

There is extensive vertical planting on the party walls that scales the entire three-storey height. Taking advantage of the building’s eastwest orientation, the zones next to the party walls have been left as voids for up to a metre from the walls. They coincide with the sun’s path and as Richard has observed, “Natural light constantly streams into the house. We can tell the time of the day depending on how the sunlight comes through the spaces. On the other hand, it remains cool because of the green walls and pond, and the spaces are amply cross-ventilated.”

2Timber flooring unifies the outdoors with the indoors.

Seven tree stems in the car porch periscope above circular roof openings to foliate over the second storey. There is a shallow pond on the car porch roof, and the elevated foliage shields tiny fish, lotus and ferns from the morning sun. The result is a veritable eco-system of life at the threshold of the second storey bedroom.

The entire face of the retaining wall at the back of the house is plastered with pebbles to turn a massive handicap into a natural backdrop and an open-to-sky, tiered receptacle of sunshine and rain, with water cascading down into their living room during spells of torrential rain. Water ponds delineate the living room floor and guppies explore their extent. The water here is also recycled for irrigating the plants on the vertical walls.

A triple-volume air-well or ‘atrium’ punctures the middle of the house to allow sunlight to sustain trees grown in the middle of the first storey, facilitating cross-ventilation and screening the living room from the dining area. The atrium is sheltered with an extendable canvas roof when it rains. “The whole house has a feeling of spaciousness and lightness. The high ceiling, atrium, planters, large rooms and relationship of rooms to each other conspires to give an airy feeling, though physically none of the spaces are very far from each other due to the actual land size. Each living space has views to open spaces giving a feeling of airiness, but they are separated with the use of the atrium, planters and difference in heights leading to a feeling of privacy,” says Richard.

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Left: Sunlit and airy bathroom. Right: Triple Volume Planting

A continuous timber deck floor for the entire ground floor, which is uncommon amongst termite-adverse homeowners in Singapore. But given the right treatment, its sweeping warmth and feel infuse the living areas with a natural sense of the outdoors.

0.9 metre-wide bathrooms inserted in the voluminous party wall zones that enjoy ample ventilation and natural light. From the bedrooms, all the ensuite toilet doors are disguised as part of the wardrobe. In the master bedroom, the bathroom is cleverly incorporated as an extension of the bedroom, with the shower and toilet cubicles anchoring opposite corners and the wash basin a sliver of a trough that frames the back retaining wall. “The bathrooms are wonderfully naturally ventilated. They never feel humid,” Richard says. “We feel the breeze most of the time and they are all surrounded with greenery. In one of the bathrooms on the third floor, we get full sunlight and it feels like showering in sunlight.”

Walls are painted white. Over the atrium, the white walls double up as projection screen for movie viewing.

Photography: Albert Lim

Architect: Chang Architects
changarch.com

Structural Engineer
DPC Consulting Engineers

Interior Furnishing
East Interior

Landscape Contractors
ZinCo Singapore & Greenscape

Irrigation Systems
Christensen Irrigation Singapore

Furniture
Furnishings selected by East Interior.

Finishes
Floor Chengal strips and Teak strips. Walls plasterboard with paint finish. Shower walls homogenous tiles. Ceiling plasterboard and paint finish. Joinery custom made in LamiTAK finish, lamitak.com. Lighting Lights from Lightz D Shop, lightzds@singnet.com.sg.

Fixtures/Equipment
Oven and sink Teka, teka.com. Waste bin Franke, franke.com. WC Villeroy & Boch, villeroy-boch. com. Shower mixers and taps Hansgrohe, hansgrohe.com. Door hardware Olivari from Homewerks, sales@homewerkz. com.sg. Joinery mechanisms Blum, blum.com.au.