March 16, 2008

Designing a house begins with the site it sits on

Each has its own look and feel, which dictate the design, developer Satinder Garcha says

By Joyce Teo, Property Correspondent

FAMOUS BAGHDAD-BORN ARCHITECT ZAHA HADID was persuaded to design Mr Satinder Garcha's two Nassim Road bungalows and they will feature her radically modern approach to design. Note the houses' cast-iron shells. -- PHOTO: ZAHA HADID ARCHITECTS

AN AVID polo player - he is the captain of the Singapore team - Mr Satinder Garcha, 37, is also a landed property developer, albeit a relatively new one.

In the three years since his first Singapore property was completed, he has built up a sizeable portfolio of 22 properties, many of which are being developed. He will build more on a $78.7 million strip of land at Sentosa Cove.

Mr Garcha, a New Delhi-born Singaporean, came to the Republic after selling his Silicon Valley information technology services company,, in 2000.

The very first house he built in the Republic - a stately bungalow in White House Park that he and his family now live in - was featured in a coffee-table book titled 25 Tropical Houses: In Singapore And Malaysia.

Mr Garcha also managed to secure the services of world-

renowned architect Zaha Hadid for two bungalows to be built on Nassim Road. Based in Britain, the Baghdad-born architect became, in 2004, the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Ms Hadid is acclaimed for her unwavering commitment to modernism and innovation. She has built her career on defying convention, by disregarding traditional ideas of space and construction. The fragmented geometry and fluid mobility of her buildings demonstrate that architecture is a fine art that celebrates the human imagination.

Her masterpieces include the Chanel mobile art museum, a travelling exhibition featuring pieces inspired by the Chanel quilt bag; and Germany's Phaeno Science Centre, located in Wolfsburg, and the BMW Central Building, located in Leipzig.

Ms Hadid has also worked on the masterplan for one-north, but the bungalows, for which she was given an open budget, are her first residential project in Asia. CapitaLand has announced that she will design its huge Farrer Court site condo.

Q How involved are you in your projects? Do you come up with the design ideas yourself?

A Yes. An architect also responds to the needs of the clients and what he perceives the clients need. Every developer has his own flavour. In our case, we have a very strong flavour. We collect input from everyone, though about 80 per cent comes from me.

Q Where and how do you start?

A The most important thing that dictates the design is the site. No two sites should be alike in look, feel or design simply because every site is different.

When I talk about sites, I talk about the gradient, the steepness, the surrounding views, the shape, the neighbours - all of these things strongly dictate the design.

We spend a lot of time thinking about the form and the design of every site, studying it and thinking up something suitable for it.

Some people said they didn't bid for the Sentosa Cove site because it was too long and narrow. I find that odd because that is the strength of the site. Every house would have a great view.

Q Why Zaha Hadid and how did you persuade her to sign on?

A I really like her forms. They are more sculptural, more organic. She is more the new-generation architect.

I'd contacted her office before about other projects but I didn't push. When we procured this Nassim Road site, we actually flew to London to see her. It's a great site, right next to the Botanic Gardens, and we were willing to be more experimental.

The Singapore brand helped. She wanted to do something in Asia and the timing was right.

We are using her latest ideas, including cast-iron shells for the houses. It's pure art... The houses will be masterpieces. They'll be among only five to six houses ever done by her.

Q How vital is it to rope in a famous architect?

A There are many architects in Singapore who could do the job, but there is the branding to consider. If a local architect said a project would cost double to develop, it would be hard to sell.

(Mr Garcha says his Nassim Road bungalows will cost far more to build than a typical house. For one thing, the cast-iron shells will be constructed overseas.)

Q What is good design?

A The form is very, very important. I see a lot of properties that are built around the layout of the rooms.

You'd be surprised how many buildings are built with bad designs. Small things can make a huge difference.

We focus a lot on the quality of the spaces and the feel of the spaces. The utility of the home is important to me. You can't look at just the external design and forget about the space inside. You also can't do the layout without giving thought to the shape of the house. It's called inside out, outside in.

When you're inside a house, it has to feel like a house - albeit a grand one - and not a museum. We don't want to do crazy things with the inside of the house.

We sell a house and it is up to the client to make it a home... I don't believe in adding gimmicky features.

Q How important is good design?

A It's like having a Prada or Gucci bag... Hopefully, the properties will survive for 50 years or more, and add to the beauty of the neighbourhood. Good design does not necessarily mean more expense. It means giving thought to the quality of the space.

Today's consumers are much more sophisticated. New-generation buyers are well-travelled and appreciate good design. Things that are not well-designed will become harder and harder to sell.

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