In conversation with Ar. Theodore Chan
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Published: October 15, 2019

Juliet Huang | Interviews | 15 October, 2019

    In conversation with Ar. Theodore Chan

    “Walking-the-Talk: A house designed by an architect for his family and himself”;  That’s how Ar. Theodore Chan (Senior Director, CIAP Architects and Past-President, Singapore Institute of Architects) describes his 2-storey (with Attic) house at 5 Cardiff Grove. Theodore carries on to say that the house is a homage to passive low-energy strategies in sustainable architectural design. With an invitation to step into this prolific architect’s house, the Archibazaar team was excited not just to tour his home, but also to hear his thoughts and ideas regarding today’s’  trends and challenges in architecture.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Indeed, the house is an embodiment of the many architectural design beliefs and strategies that Theodore holds dear. Step into the ground level atelier-gallery space and you immediately notice two single-flight staircases that flank the house. This gives the house an expansive feel and a seemingly balanced symmetry to it. The use of laminated-glass panels as safety-balustrades for the staircases serves to demarcate each storey of the house, adding to the feeling of openness and airiness. Theodore says of this design, “The focus is to optimize natural ventilation and daylight penetration in terrace-house typology, that is challenged by having only 2 elevations where this vital feature can be introduced. Most houses have a dog-legged staircase to one side. But this split-flanking stairs, combined with the use of  glass balustrades enhance the openness of  place and  provides a seamless spatial connection between the main floor, the kitchen and the outdoor area.” The staircases bridge the levels (without landing-turns), sectioning each part of the space without abruptly cutting it off, forging what Theodore terms as an “enhanced inter-level seamless spatial relationship”. 

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    The emphasis on integration with unadorned natural products is evident at the left-side party wall of the house. These are cladded with Raintree timber, recycled from discarded roadside trees in their most natural state; the growth rings of the trees tell their age and lend a warm and timeless aesthetic to the interior. Off-form (or bare)  concrete is used for the right-side party wall of the house. With this sensitive strategy of natural material application, Mr Chan hopes to advocate younger architects the importance of really understanding the potential of materials and detailing in the design. As he tells us, “Many young architects can conceptualize a design. But they lack knowledge on construction detailing and sensitive application of materials. The builders (and) material suppliers play a vital part in the design process. Engage with and learn from them and you can use the material in interesting ways and achieve great results.“ Indeed, Mr Chan really practices what he preaches, as we spot leftover material from his projects from supplier M-Metal (one of the more resourceful and supportive sheet metal suppliers in the market) that has been cleverly used as kerb-fencing for a planting strip at the Yard.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Applied Colour is sparsely used in this house, with a natural grey-brown monotone palette. This is so that the viewer can appreciate and embrace the raw materials used in this house, left in their most natural state. With the mostly brown and black hues of the place, the vibrant paintings of Artis-Potter Delphine Sng (Mr Chan’s wife), lends a vibrant splash of colour on the bare concrete walls.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    The first storey functions primarily as an Atelier-Gallery. Overlooking the first storey, most of the living and interactive spaces are at the second storey, that accommodates the “Kitchen-Café”  where art students and visiting fellow artist can chat and share ideas. On the third storey, are the Bedrooms and Private Study where Theodore dreams-up his next architectural adventure. This idea, of a communal space,  was inspired by the shophouses in Melaka that have an inner courtyard for light and ventilation and gatherings. Gallery House @ 5 Cardiff reflects the owners’ willingness to share their knowledge and experience with others, with the house design to host intimate community interactions.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Despite the openness of the house, optimal privacy is still accorded, with the combination of open timber screens, solar-film on full-height sliding glass panels, and shade blinds that can be closed to shut off the living room from the outside world. With the west side of the house facing the sun, the solar films help to reduce heat gain, keeping the place cool without the extensive use of air conditioning. Mr Chan says, “Architecture is about solving problems. So when we encounter problems, we need to think of simple, passive and low-energy solutions.”

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    The internal house drain requirement is solved by “exposing it as a water-feature / koi pond” that collects roof rainwater discharge and channels it through the house and out the external garden, then finally into the public drain. This drain leads from the inner courtyard of the living room to the outside of the house and allows overflow to drain off naturally outside, fully aligned with the local water authority’s Active-Beautiful-Clean philosophy of how to manage rainwater.

     

    Image © Alan Ng Photography.

    Image © Alan Ng Photography.

     

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    Image © Zee & Marina Photography.

    The entire house was designed in six months and took 18 months to construct. Due credit must be given to Delphine (his better half) and his former student Ar. Micki Chua (MJKY Architects) with whom he collaborated with on the concept, design and construction of the house. Micki helped in visioning the concept, detailing and managing its construction,  Delphine was instrumental in suggesting the circulation strategies to achieve spatial relation between levels enhancing the open-feel of the house.

     

    Image © Alan Ng Photography.

    Image © Alan Ng Photography.

     

    Image © Alan Ng Photography.

    Image © Alan Ng Photography.

    Asked if he had a particular place in the house that was his favourite, he said, “Well, not in particular as I love all the spaces!. But I think the challenge, and my favourite part of the project was applying design strategies that are simple and effective and seeing them come to fruition in the house.  For example, the openable skylight using thermochromatic glass (for optimal shade performance), acts like the sun-roof of a car. When it opens, the stack-effect enhances the natural-ventilation significantly, you can physically feel the air movement. And if you notice, even my hi-fi bench furniture is made out of tree log slab.”

     

    Image © Alan Ng Photography.

    Image © Alan Ng Photography.

    As we took leave inspired by the house, Theodore  leaves us with some parting thoughts.” My hope for young architects and the profession-at-large is that we become true healers and problem solvers of the built-environment, going beyond designing pretty buildings. And certainly, with such inspiring and supportive mentors like him, there will be no lack of promising young architects in the future. 

     

     

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