Homeowner Yang Yeo (right) with architect Yip Yuen Hong (centre) and associate Tay Yew at his house. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Some dismissed his idea to build a house high above ground as a waste of space, but it was architect Yip Yuen Hong who had the last laugh.

A House Above 44 Kasai Road, designed by Mr Yip's firm ipli Architects, took home the top accolade – Building of the Year – at the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) Architectural Design Awards. It also won a design award in the Residential Projects category.

The 18th edition of the awards, the highest recognition of architectural design in Singapore, received 107 entries from 50 firms this year.

Once, when Mr Yang Yeo's front gate was open, a curious couple ventured onto his front porch and asked if they could look at his home.


His house, located off Yio Chu Kang Road, has only a short sliding front gate, which allows passers-by to peek into its ground-floor, open-air space.

The 52-year-old creative consultant in the advertising industry, who was the President's Design Award winner for Designer of the Year in 2012, obliged.

The detached house is elevated 5.6m – at its highest – off the ground, supported by long columns similar to the stilts of a kampung house. This is made possible by the sloping topography of the site, so the back part of the house sits 3.5m lower than the front entrance.

At the back of the house, a swimming pool, barbecue pit, large dining table and lounge area surrounded by lush greenery form a semi-private alcove for friends and family to hang out.

"I've got nothing to hide," says Mr Yeo jokingly. "Actually, I find that when the space is so open and visible, there's a lower chance of people coming in with ill intentions because everyone will be able to see."

Mr Yeo and his wife Wee Ching Ian, 47, worked with home-grown ipli Architects to conceptualise the house's open living concept, which complements their penchant for hosting large dinner parties.

They moved into the three-storey, 490 sq m house in October last year. A semi-detached house used to sit there, but ipli Architects tore it down and built the new property as a detached house. It took 21/2 years to complete.

Mr Yip Yuen Hong, 60, principal at ipli Architects, says: "People think that it's a waste of space to lift the house off the ground. But to free up the ground level to become a usable space in a flowing terrain – that's the true luxury."

The house on "stilts" also holds a certain old-world charm. "It's open living in a tropical climate that is reminiscent of the attap house," says Mr Yip.

To get into the private living spaces, there is an entranceway with a well-ventilated spiral staircase with skylights, to ensure the windowless space never gets stuffy. The door to this stairway can be locked for privacy and safety.

Photo: Studio Periphery

The long concrete columns extend all the way to the third floor in the house, just like a tree trunk growing upwards, says Mr Tay Yew, 40, an associate at ipli Architects who oversaw the property's design and construction.

These beams are not hidden – instead, they are embraced as part of the house, adding continuity to the design.

For example, a column in the main living and dining area on the second floor is incorporated into the oval-shaped alcohol storage cabinet, while another column in a bathroom is tiled to complement the overall bathroom design.

Curved details are repeated throughout the house via round mirrors, rugs and even rounded raised steps in the bathroom's shower area.

The decision to keep the concrete walls and flooring raw and unpolished in the outdoor spaces was a conscious one.

"The exterior of the house blends into the outdoor landscape so you don't have to stress about maintaining it," says Mr Yip. "We've created a house, but it's up to the owner to inject character by creating scars so that the space achieves a certain patina over time."

A spokesman for the SIA awards committee says the jury's decision to award the house the Building of the Year prize was "unanimous".

The jury described the "fine and unpretentious" building as "delightfully compact" and constructed using a limited palette of materials.

It is not the first time Mr Yeo is living in an award-winning home. His previous two residences in Joo Chiat have won a design award and honourable mention in previous editions of the SIA awards.

He says: "It was a team effort, from architect to contractor to even the landscape company – we had great chemistry. I'm really loving the home and I look forward to coming back every time."

Written by Michelle Ng for The Straits Times.