A new modern vernacular arises from reinterpreting the principles of the traditional kampung house. LYNN TAN ventures into this green microcosm.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The open-plan layout blurs the boundary between interior and exterior, allowing the landscaped garden to form a natural backdrop for the living spaces. 


A family of seven

HOME A detached landed house in Bishan

SIZE 5,307 sq ft (land area); 6,674 sq ft (built-up area) 

My Reading Room

Every space enjoys a view of the greenery around the perimeter and at staircase landings. 

Mention vernacular architecture and images of bamboo huts, stone cottages and log cabins come to mind. However, a response to local climate, sensitivity to microsite context, and appropriate use of natural materials need not always adopt a rustic form.

Take this detached home in Bishan, for instance. Designed by FOMA Architects, its modern expression draws inspiration from the traditional kampung house. “The circulation is always part of external space, just like in a kampung house,” says architect, Terence Tan Chin Chieh. The enclosed rooms open out onto semi-outdoor spaces, similar to the verandahs of a kampung house.

It was Terence’s unconventional design pitch that clinched him the project. “The proposals by other architects mostly consisted of just one building, but Terence’s scheme had a two-building concept, which I liked,” says homeowner Patrick Hui.

Terence’s proposal was driven by site constraints. The trapezoidal plot, surrounded by other houses and a school, has limited frontage. With not much of a view outside, Terence turned the focus inwards, dissecting the typical single massing into two and then sliding and shearing them apart in perpendicular directions along the east-west and north-south axes respectively. “The rooms are pushed to the sides, while the circulation and external spaces, including the swimming pool, occupy the centre,” Terence explains.

The result is an H-shaped plan comprising two long, inward-looking blocks that contain the living, dining and sleeping areas connected by an open circulation core overlooking the pool. The volumes are oriented to channel the prevailing wind along the north-south axis, which runs through the heart of the home. Appropriate sun-shading elements on the east and west facades minimise the heating load to the interior. 

My Reading Room

The building blocks and inward-looking approach were a response to the site context. 


My Reading Room

Inside the huge master bathroom, a horizontal band of glass between the vanity counter and mirror offers a glimpse of the neighbourhood. 

Except for when the sun is directly overhead, the two long blocks also keep the central spaces well-shaded. Trellises and planters along the circulation core provide an extended overhang that offers additional protection against the sun and rain. “However, during heavy downpours, the blinds need to be drawn to prevent the rain from splashing into the corridors,” Terence points out.

Indeed, the well-conceived response to our climate has proven effective. Patrick and his extended family of three generations have hardly had to turn on the air-conditioner during the day since moving into the home in June 2017. The business owner likes to spend time off work in the cool, shaded sanctuary of the garden surrounding the swimming pool. He also enjoys landscaping and tending to his fish.

Working with CPSA Design Studio, the interior’s modern oriental style reflects Patrick’s preferences. There was also input from a feng shui consultant that Terence managed to incorporate into the scheme without having to make any major changes.

For Terence, this $3m project (including construction, architecture and interior) was about creating tropical architecture that takes precedence over the local vernacular while maintaining the genius loci of the place.

As for Patrick, this was a promise come true for his wife. When they first got married, they were living in an HDB flat in the vicinity. “I told my wife I would buy her a private property one day,” he recalls lovingly. And he did it. 

My Reading Room

The master suite on the attic level enjoys a relatively unblocked view over lower-rise neighbours. 

My Reading Room

The combination of raw concrete, recycled wood and timber screens as well as trellises is a nod to nature. 

photos VEE CHIN art direction KRISTY QUAH