A Return to the Origin

Wednesday 31 Oct 2012

A passion to retain the charms of a historical place in Singapore

An old shophouse. A Joo Chiat client. A passion to retain the charms of a historical place in Singapore. Located along Joo Chiat Place, this involved conserving and converting an old shophouse into a dwelling place; and transforming a concreted, vacated land at the rear into a garden, where a single-storey extension sits.

The client are a couple, both having worked overseas and had plans to return. Both grew up in this area and buying a shophouse in Joo Chiat was in many ways homecoming for them. This is where they could see their childhood days relived, a flexible communal space where extended family members could gather and stay. Built in the 1920s, this shophouse was a bookshop called “Lucky Book Store”.

The ground floor was the retail area, while the upper level was partitioned for storage. Conserving the shophouse resembled working on an archaeological site. Part of the brief was to retain traces of the old shop; to rediscover, reveal, and protect the original structures, finishes, and detailing. For the façade, the multi-layered paint-coatings were carefully removed to reveal the original tone and colour, and protected with transparent sealers to prevent flaking.

The fading signage ‘LUCKY BOOK STORE’, spotted on a front pillar, was retained as a reminder to what this place was. Non-structural partitions were removed so that the spaces, the old brick walls, timber rafters and floor joists, can be better appreciated. New columns are detached from the brick walls, with interface between the old and new walls made distinct to reveal the old party-wall profile. Fragments of the old boundary walls were also retained as a reference to the original site configuration. Furniture, fittings and services are placed in a central axis. Progress through the house is to the sides, so as to free the old brick walls, and maintain vistas on both sides that connect to the rear. One side of the house faces a back lane. Instead of maximizing built-up areas, both the owner and architect felt the need to keep the end of this back lane visually unobstructed. The creation of a central garden space allows the neighbours to enjoy a green backdrop. Beyond this garden space is the single-storey extension that is essentially one-room thick.

The decision to go low dense and to elevate from the ground pleasantly increases the breathing and green spaces for the shophouse and its surrounding. A series of rooms are organized intermittently, continuing the axis and vistas in relation to the front shophouse. This offers cross-ventilations, day-lighting, and views of the greenery. The final result brings back fond memories of the client’s childhood days – the days of living in a community where homes were interconnected social spaces; of spaces that were simple and adaptive; and how the rituals of everyday life were enriched by architecture.

Key Facts:

Interior Residential Urban design

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