photos LIM AI TIONG (LATO) ARCHITECTS/DESIGN

Mathematician, physicist, inventor and designer, Aza M Raskin once said, “Design is the beauty of turning constraints into advantages.”

And this was exactly what registered architect Lim Ai Tiong from Lim Ai Tiong (LATO) Architects/Design did with this new erection of a two-storey intermediate terraced home with an attic.

Who Lives Here: A three-generation family of six
Home: An intermediate terraced home at Jalan Lanjut
Size: 2,000 sq ft (Approx. land area); 4,700 sq ft (Approx. built-up area)
Architect: Lim Ai Tiong (Lato) Architects/Design

Inter Terrace House

Typical of intermediate terraced houses, getting daylight into the long and narrow plot between two party walls was the biggest challenge. A popular and effective solution is to introduce a courtyard and skylight in the middle.

While most courtyards tend to be of a square configuration, in this case, Ai Tiong decided to give it a circular twist. He was inspired by a Chinese idiom that loosely translates into how a circular, full moon courtyard symbolises a family reunion, which he considers very fitting in the context of a family home.

The family cherishes the experience of looking up at the sky while having their meals.

Dining Room Skylight

A 3-storey high, circular courtyard with a skylight is the central space within the home, aptly occupied by the dining room.

“Reunion usually takes place around the dining table, especially in Asian culture, so locating the dining area within the circular, full moon courtyard void space fully encompasses this saying,” Ai Tiong points out.

It also acts as a datum that organises the rectangular floor plan into a front and a rear wing, with the various spaces and rooms branching directly off this central circular void.

Echoing the circular courtyard is a round mirror in the powder room.

Echoing the circular courtyard is a round mirror in the powder room.

The odd-shaped spaces between the straight party walls and curved courtyard walls are not ‘dead’ spaces, but have been put to good use as store rooms and as part of the bathrooms. In this way, the circular element does not compromise on practical aspects.

Apart from allowing natural light into the centre of the home, the circular courtyard void also serves a passive design purpose. By facilitating the rising of warm air to the top and channelling in fresh air from the lower levels, it creates a stack effect that promotes natural ventilation.

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A light colour palette makes the interior feel bright and airy.

Spiral Staircase

A circular staircase wraps around the courtyard and forms a sculptural element that spirals skyward, drawing the eye up the triple volume void. Ai Tiong chose galvanised mild steel for the stringer beam to keep the profile slimmer and visually lighter.

Galvanised mild steel plates were then welded to the stringer beam to form the stair treads. These metal treads are concealed by cladding the top and bottom with solid timber planks.

Curved, laminated tempered glass balustrades add to the staircase’s elegance, lightness and transparency.

$100,000 Curved glass staircase

Although the curved members took some time to fabricate and the curved glass had to be specially-made in China, Ai Tiong reckons that these, along with the circular courtyard did not have any significant impact on the construction cost of approximately $1.5 million.

“I do not have an exact comparison, but my guess is that it is not more than 20 per cent costlier than a typical square one. The cost of the whole curved staircase including the curved glass is about $100,000, which is only about six per cent of the overall construction cost of the house, so I think it is quite negligible and worth doing,” Ai Tiong analyses.

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The master bedroom opens out to a roof terrace above the car porch.

Former homeowners engaged architect

Ai Tiong was originally commissioned by the couple who purchased the property for their extended family of three children and their parents. Nearing the completion of the project, they sold the house to Mr and Mrs Low, who are in their 40s.

Sold house near rebuild completion

The change in ownership did not have much implications as the programmatic functions were still well-suited to the new owners and their multi-generation family. The Low’s even have futureproof plans in place.

The grandparents currently occupy a bedroom on the second storey, but should the need arises in the future, they can move into what was originally the helper’s room on the ground floor with an attached bathroom.

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The attic serves as a family room, as well as the homeowners’ work-from-home space.

Bedrooms

The couple’s two young sons prefer to share a bedroom on the second storey next to their grandparents for now, but when they grow older, one brother can move upstairs to the additional bedroom in the attic.

The timber-look aluminium strips on the attic can also be found on the main gate and side gate for a more cohesive external composition.

Wood-Looking Aluminium Façade

On the façade, aluminium strips on the attic level have been powder-coated to resemble timber to achieve the desired look without the maintenance. Aesthetics aside, these strips also form a screen against the sun.

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Large format white, marble-look tiles are used for the walls and floor of the master bathroom to create a luxurious, clean and modern look.

Rebuild took 29 months

As the house was still occupied when the previous owners purchased it and they were not in a rush, it gave Ai Tiong ample time to design something that is both “functional and beautiful”.

He says: “I always tell my clients that they are spending millions to build a house from scratch, so it had better be unique and have a story to tell. It does not justify spending
so much money for the same generic design.”

The design process, which includes site investigation works, authority submissions and tender took about 12 months. Construction itself took another 17 months and the clients moved into their new home in December 2022.

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An island provides more space within the kitchen.

As an architect, Ai Tiong has always pursued design solutions that amalgamate disparate spaces. For this project in particular, his strategy was to use voids to spatially and visually connect the different areas within the home.

“The design concept that was inspired by the Chinese saying is an act of bringing the whole family together, which also metaphorically fulfils my lifelong pursuit of amalgamating spaces in architecture,” he reflects.

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