Slide and Hide walls bring residents closer to nature
The slide and hide walls that allow ONG&ONG’s Bukit Timah house in Singapore to completely open up the ground floor is probably the most memorable feature of the design. But to chalk up the wonderful experience of the house to a sliding glass wall system would be doing injustice to the architects, who set about designing one’s experience of the house before one even enters.
Architect Maria Arango recounts the design stage when they were processing what the clients said they wanted for their home:
“The main idea was, we wanted a block that was not too big in front. They didn’t want a house that looked imposing at the entrance level and from the road but was inviting. We wanted to have two elements that were overlapping, one on top of each other, like a cross, so that element, that wall, was to be expressed on this side, right, if we wanted to have the feeling of no walls. This is the house where we really achieved a seamless connection between the indoors and outdoors. You can see the pockets where we hide the glass panels in the pillars. They have it open like this on a typical day. This is really outdoor living. You really feel like you are in a resort.”
There is a distinct sense of procession and arrival when one enters the house, which Arango and her colleagues in ONG&ONG, Diego Molina and Lee Chau Yeh, care very much about. To heighten anticipation (and for other reasons), little of the house can be seen from the street, and only fleeting glimpses are afforded in the entrance hall.
While in the entryway, we chat about the various materials and finishes:
What are the vertical bars made of?
Concrete. We basically cast it in this form. There are some rebar inside but the nice thing about it is we didn’t want a concrete look for it, a concrete tonality so we tinted it. Not painted but tinted. We added pigment to the cement.
How about the floor, is this granite?
Yellow rustic granite slab with a rush hammer finish. You can see the thickness of it, it’s a 75mm thick slab just one piece, from China, but our supplier is a Singaporean company called Polystone, we work with them quite often. So for example, in this case, we wanted to have a wall and this wall starts here, cutting the axis of the project, and we wanted to express it.
And the wall? This stone is called noche travertino, like a cocoa chocolate powder color and what we did instead of the typical way, we had just small pieces laid out in a brick form, having some ins and outs.
I’ve never seen travertine like this. Most are very glossy.
Because this is a cross section. We did a leather finish on it. So when you touch it, it feels quite soft.
What wood did you use for the second floor? It’s gorgeous.
The wood is Zircon. Wood that has been dried on a kiln, oven dried. They’re eco friendly, harvested, and planted in farms, I think in Malaysia. We use a finish called Bona naturale finish. Just a water based coating we apply so that the pores are a little bit sealed and retains a consistent look. However, it is not oily so it doesn’t shine and it doesn’t peel.
Eventually, so you have to reapply. With the natural elements of water and sunlight, it will fade away so you will start to get an ash color. The ashy tonality looks really nice with the concrete. The original color would be like the one at the carport, brown. And now it has become ash.
We go up the spiral staircase, the sculptural element that accentuates the junction of the two volumes that make up the house. It takes us to a wide open space on the second floor.
What a great space!
This is the family room. As you can see, the protagonist in this space is the ficus tree. That was the idea from the very beginning, that all the general areas would be looking at the ficus tree and hopefully enjoying it. As you can see we have excellent ventilation here, all the glass panels can slide and the screens provide some protection.
I love the windows. What is the distance between each slat? They’re spaced so perfectly. The same thickness as the wood. Around 24 to 25 mm, a bit of a tolerance there. This is where the family entertains and this cabinetry was all planned by us but it is hiding a pantry. So when the family is here and they just want to have a drink or a snack, they don’t have to go down or ask Marietta to come.
But a pantry typically doesn’t look so good so that is why we have a sliding door, and shelves for books and displays.
As if the cross ventilation weren’t enough, the family room enjoys a pocket garden that opens to the sky. Notice the use of sliding doors for the bedrooms and the pocket garden. All sliding elements tuck neatly away.
The aesthetic up on the roof deck and attic is entirely different from the ground and second floors. Here, it is masculine, metallic, with an almost Transformers vibe. Strong geometric volumes clad in dark gray aluminum expansion mesh house utilitarian spaces.
This is a pretty wide corridor.
Because this goes into the maintenance area. The son’s room opens in here and from inside they can open this panel and then just step out. All the condensing units are here. Since we needed to have this access, it would be easy because they come and maintain it every few months. We didn’t want to just make a hatch, but something very easy for the workers to access.
I love how thoughtful it is. Because most homeowners would just expose all their utilities, no?
Nowadays, the Housing Authority requires you to screen the condensing units. They don’t want it to be seen. It is unsightly and also noisy. It has been effective five to seven years ago, but it takes time for everyone to implement. The openings are for hot air to rise. If you want an attic, it must have a 45-degree slope connected to the façade. They don’t want another third floor. They want an attic. An attic is the use of roof space, right? No cheating. We didn’t need to do it, but we had already designed it and the clients liked the way it looked, and we had to screen the services anyway, so we did it.
Bukit Timah House by ONG&ONG is featured in the ‘Tropical Architecture for the 21st Century Volume 1’ book.