What happens when you put a group of architects together on the same project? Will there be a clash of egos with one or two prima donnas dominating the conversation, or sensitive artists dropping out of the project in a fit of pique?
Well, that didn’t happen. Instead, this group of seven well-known local architects have created Dalvey Seven, a collection of seven Good Class Bungalows, each outstanding on its own without imposing on the others, in Dalvey Estate.
The project was headed by Ko Shiou Hee of K2LD Architects, who is no stranger to such collaborations. Besides K2LD, the other firms involved were Wallflower Architects, Guz Architects, AR43 Architects, Aamer Architects, ipli Architects and CSYA Architects.
This is the third time that Shiou Hee has spearheaded such a collaboration. The first was in 2004, when he led a group of five architects from Singapore for the Huafa Ecovilla project in Zhongshan, China.
Five years later, Shiou Hee worked with Vincent Lien, a grandson of the late Lien Ying Chow, to develop the banker’s home and the large plot of land that it stood on. For the Lien Villas Collective at Holland Park, Shiou Hee brought in Tierra Design, Terre, Zarch Collaboratives, Ministry of Design and Edmund Ng Architects.
In 2015, he was commissioned by a Singaporean family to develop their home and the large tract of land it sits on. Wishing only to be known as the DalveyS family, they approached Shiou Hee based on his track record with the Lien Villas Collective.
While architects tend to prefer working alone, Shou Hee is one for collaborations. He is influenced by Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, who wrote in his book East Meets West that “my creation is never complete until the wearer wears it”.
“Miyake is right. Architecture is not about the architect, but for the occupants,” says Shiou Hee. In an accompanying book on the project, Mr Ko wrote about how he believed in sharing ideas with his colleagues, clients, students and peers.
For the Lien Villas Collective, he assembled architects who were under 40 then. This time, he cherry-picked boutique firms that had already won acclaim for their work. The selection process involved shortlisting names which he presented to the DalveyS family, who made the final selection.
Shiou Hee says, “It takes a lot of maturity to talk to each other”, so he picked architects that he felt would be open to the idea of collaborating.
The DalveyS family had bought the 120,000 sq ft land in the 1950s and built a villa on it. The brief was to restore the villa and to have land divided into smaller plots. The garden itself was large enough to split into six GCB plots.
Plenty of Experience
The family picked Yip Yuen Hong, principal of ipli Architects to restore the villa based on his firm’s experience with such jobs. The remaining architects were assigned their plots through a lucky dip. Shiou Hee adds that they were given a chance to switch plots, but none did.
Shiou Hee’s master plan divided the sloping land into two, with the 1950s villa and two other villas, one by CSYA Architects and the other by K2LD Architects, on the hilltop with the four remaining villas on street level.
The architects worked on the same fees and briefs, which included protecting several Tembusu trees on some of the plots. Those villas were designed in a C-shape to surround the trees. The lower four villas – designed by Wallflower Architects, Guz Architects, AR43 Architects and Aamer Architects – were not to block the views and breeze from the three hilltop villas, which meant that they had to have flat roofs.
The architects had time on their own to design the villas but came together for discussions. “Each of us brought our models and placed them on the site plan, and it was then some architects decided that they should place their villas slightly further away from its neighbour so as to create more space in between,” says Shiou Hee.
On his part, Shiou Hee decided to design part of his villa facade in a crank form, so that its residents could better appreciate the facade of Yuen Hong’s villa. Each architect also neatly tucked away the back-service areas so that they would not be in view of the neighbouring house. The villas were completed in 2019.
Veteran architect Sonny Chan from CSYA Architects says that this way, “there is diversity in the architecture”, compared to other instances when developers might choose a cookie cutter design.
AR43 Architect’s Lim Cheng Kooi found the collaborative approach refreshing. “It brings back memories of our university days where we worked together in the design studio. So often, we criticised, shared and discussed our ideas together and this brings the best out of our designs. Somehow, we just don’t do much of that anymore”, he says.
Lots of Fun
Aamer Taher of Aamer Architects, who had worked on the Ecovilla project with Shiou Hee previously, says: “Collaborations are a good idea, because we are able to cooperate on how the relationship between each massing of the villas would relate to each other, thereby becoming friendly neighbours.”
Shiou Hee says opportunities for a private land owner to ask to build a collection of houses on site is rare. He could have done the work on his own, but “it is more fun to work together with peers than to do it alone”.