When Versify Studio architects Alan Lau and Vivian Johnny set out to refurbish this 36-year-old two-storey maisonette in Potong Pasir, they saw it as an opportunity to apply tropical living design principles to enhance the look and feel of the space. “Cities and towns used to have distinct architectural characteristics that responded to their local climates and cultures. Now, however, many cities look like what Rem Koolhaas refers to as ‘the generic city’,” Lau comments.
After studying buildings in Singapore and around Southeast Asia, the two architects discovered that tropical-style heritage buildings often include passive cooling features, such as verandahs and light-coloured walls and ceilings, which encourage better air circulation and cooling within the surroundings, reducing the need for air-conditioning. Employing these elements, they turned this Potong Pasir maisonette into a 1,776 sq ft home with a layout that is as spacious and lofty as that of a landed house. The research and design process alone took 12 weeks to complete, the architects dedicating themselves completely to the home’s transformation.
Once the renovation kicked off, the pair started by removing all of the original walls and sliding doors along the balcony and corridors of the unit, as well as the façade windows to create two semi-outdoor verandahs that now flank the maisonette. The kitchen wall was replaced with sliding glass doors to establish better visual connectivity and cross-ventilation between the kitchen and the living and dining areas. “We used subtraction as a strategy for the design of the house, removing unnecessary walls and windows to help increase natural ventilation and bring daylight deep into the spaces,” says Johnny. “Windows were removed to transform enclosed corridors and balconies into semi-outdoor verandahs, where one is protected but never separated from the outside.”
A monochromatic colour scheme allows for increased adaptability, so the living areas can be used for various functions, such as a tea party or art gallery if the homeowners so choose. The walls and underbelly of the house were painted grey and modern furniture pieces from Louis Poulsen, Moooi, Fameg and Vitra were incorporated to create a sleek, minimalist decor concept. Dark-coloured beams were used to create the illusion of an uplifted “house in the sky.”
“We were working with an unfurnished, 36-year-old apartment where the built elements weren’t property aligned or were starting to deteriorate,” Lau says. “We had to be on-site almost daily to supervise and address multiple unforeseen issues. We paid special attention to proportions and ensured they were followed. At times, we had to recalculate to ensure that our design intentions were achieved.”
One major benefit of the renovation? Thanks to the cooling features implemented by the two architects, the costs of the owners’ electricity bills from air-conditioning have been halved; the maisonette’s indoor temperature is now about two degrees lower than the temperature in neighbouring units in the same estate. With a brand new look, a more pleasant living environment and lower costs to worry about, it’s safe to say that the hard work the two architects put into this project ultimately paid off.
This post was adapted from an article originally published in the January 2021 issue of SquareRooms.