May 24, 2008

Trunk service

This award-winning home has taken a step further when it comes to bringing the outdoors indoors - it has trees inside


TREE'S COMPANY: When the gate of the tallest and most modern-looking house (below) on this stretch of the road is open, passers-by are treated to a view of trees growing inside the home up to a bedroom on the second level. Further in, the living room (above) features even more trees as well as ferns grown on the putty walls. -- PHOTOS: ALBERT LIM KS

THIS is one special tree house.

It's actually a terrace house nestling amid Orchard Road high-rises, but it's been transformed into a jungle oasis, complete with trees growing up into and out of the floor and ceilings of the kitchen and living room.

Yes, that's right - where you'd have a breakfast table and chairs, there are slender tree trunks popping up through holes in the timber floor.

Instead of wallpaper, there are real ferns. A two- storey waterfall anchors the end of the living room.

No wonder this natural wonder scooped a top prize at the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) awards announced on Wednesday.

It won a design award, and also a new prize launched this year: Best Project Below $1 Million Construction Cost.

The 230 sq m house cost just $390,000 to build in 2006. Another $100,000 was spent on greenery and interior works. A house of a similar size today would cost about $700,000.

SIA president Tai Lee Siang notes: 'It is not true that good architecture has to have a high price.'

The Architectural Design Awards - being held for the ninth time this year - are handed out once every two years to projects of architectural merit.

'Projects that contributed new ideas or expanded on existing repertoire were awarded,' says jury member and renowned architect Mok Wei Wei.

The three-storey intermediate terrace in Jalan Elok off Mount Elizabeth Road was designed by local architect Chang Yong Ter, 38.

Home owners Richard Wong and Clara Yue's brief to him was simple. 'To have as much green as possible in the home,' says Mr Wong, 41, an Australian investor who is now a permanent resident here.

The couple, who have three teenage children, say they do not like houses that are hot, so having greenery would help keep the home, which has five bedrooms and a roof garden, cool.

Squirrels and toads visit, too

And Mr Chang, who started his own firm, Chang Architects, about seven years ago, clearly rose to the challenge.

When Life! went to check out the house, it was easy to spot which one it was on the street - a canopy of trees sprouted like green plumes through concrete and glass.

At the entrance, once past the car porch, you are confounded by the sight of, not the living room, but a kitchen.

And looking out over the breakfast bar, you see eucalyptus and tower trees, as if you are in a park.

The kitchen leads to the dining room, then to the living room. Furniture may be sparse - there are just sofas and no coffee table - but as well as a waterfall, there is a shallow pond.

It is not just the family who enjoys the green oasis. Mr Wong says: 'We've seen squirrels running across the walls and toads enjoying a dip in the pond.'

Living here is much like being in a jungle. There's green everywhere.

The master bedroom on the second storey looks out onto the green wall in the living room. 'It's amazing to wake up to greenery,' says Mr Wong.

The family spends most of its time in the living room. Instead of a television set, a huge projection screen lowers from the ceiling.

'Once we heard toads croaking, and found it funny as it wasn't part of the movie we were watching,' says Ms Yue, 47, a freelance consultant.

Cool water

ARCHITECT Mr Chang reveals that his first step in designing the house was to work out where the trees would go.

As for how he hit upon living walls of ferns, he says: 'Ferns are suitable here because they do not require much sunlight.'

The ferns and trees are watered via an automatic irrigation system and require little maintenance, except for the occasional trimming.

And he notes of the living room's pond: 'Having water in the living room also cools the area.'

To encourage cross-ventilation, a light and wind channel was also created at the back of the living room, and this opens out to the back of the house.

The couple say the greenery has certainly helped in keeping the home cool.

During March when it was cooler, Ms Yue says: 'It was so chilly, I needed a jacket at night.'

Occasionally, when it pours, rain comes into the kitchen where the trees are. On a recent visit, Ms Yue's mother commented that she used to keep the rain out of her kitchen.

'She finds it unusual that we now welcome the rain to come in,' says Ms Yue.

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STEPPING UP THE GREENERY: Even more plants dot the space beneath the stairs leading to the rooms on the second and third storey and the roof garden. It's a hassle to climb so many steps, but the owners have come to regard it as a form of exercise.

COOL SET-UP (above): The master bedroom looks out to the green wall while its bathroom has a view of the pebbled feature wall. The set-up enhances the area's ventilation, hence reducing the need for air-conditioning.

COOKING IN THE RAIN: The kitchen, which adjoins the car porch so that cooking fumes will not get into the living areas, has eucalyptus and tower trees. When it pours, rain seeps into the home through the holes that the trees grow through.

'She finds it unusual that we now welcome the rain to come in'
Ms Clara Yue on her mother who, after seeing her kitchen which has openings where rain can enter, commented that she used to keep the rain out of her kitchen

ALL NATURAL: A skylight allows natural light to fall freely into this bathroom.

NO WINDOWS? NO PROBLEM: Instead of a television, a projector screens images on a wall opposite the daughter's bedroom. There are no windows in the space but there's still a touch of the outdoors, thanks to the plants-and-stones feature.