residential Sentosa house
Burley Katon Halliday body of work
sen tosa
sen sibility
A large house on a small
block in the tropics
provided a unique set of
sustainability challenges
for architectural
designer Nicholas Burns
Architectural designer: Nicholas Burns
Writer Narelle Yabuka
PHOTOGRAPHER Patrick Bingham-Hall
n analysis of the sustainability of
lifestyles in Singapore can reveal a
number of ideological and practical
divergences. The dense, high-rise
public housing estates, for instance, are linked
by an excellent public transport system and offer
daily essentials – such as fruit and vegetable
stalls – within walking distance. However, the
cubicle-like planning of many flats leads to a heavy
reliance on air conditioning. The city-state’s water
recycling program, meanwhile, is among the world’s
best, but rates for the recycling of household
waste are relatively low.
A similar clash confronted Singapore-based
Australian architectural designer Nicholas Burns
when he set about designing a client’s house on the
island of Sentosa, just off Singapore’s south coast.
Singapore’s extremely high land values – which
are particularly evident in the exclusive Sentosa
Cove suburban development – generally encourage
landowners to build to the Urban Redevelopment
Authority’s maximum plot ratios. This helps to
avoid devaluation of one’s property. “Trying to get
people to reduce the size of their houses is a very
big ask,” says Burns, suggesting that any discussion
RIGHT: Recycled teak is
paired with shade screen for
the facade, and the teak motif
continues throughout the
building with varying tones.
Monument 110
residential Sentosa house
Sentosa house residential
of sustainability in Singaporean housing
design needs to be framed by this fact. “It’s
kind of a conflict of ideals,” he adds. “But it’s a
reality of the market.”
Burns’ Sentosa House is indeed large,
encompassing five levels from basement to roof
deck. As a big home on a small plot, it is a point
of departure from the norm for Burns. “Most
of my work is small houses on very big pieces
of land,” he says of his projects in Australia
and Japan. As with smaller projects, however,
achieving a result that minimises consumption,
encourages longevity, and is sensitive to longterm value simply required the careful and
rational management of all the factors at play.
Efficiency and adaptability were two of
the key principles he used to drive decisions
about planning, structure, materials, and
detailing. “My client didn’t want a typical
Singaporean house, which is often a rabbit
warren of rooms,” says Burns. The request for
open, undefined spaces led Burns to plan the
house around a vertical core of circulation and
services. Ensuring the maximum efficiency of
service provision, the bathrooms and kitchen
are clustered around the core. Beyond them
are rooms – or rather, ‘spaces’ – of variable
function, with a minimal portion of floor area
either side of the core acting as a corridor.
The steel members supporting the core
contribute to the exposed structural skeleton
that consists of concrete columns at the
periphery and flat slabs. The nine metre wide,
300mm thick slabs act as beams, leaving
ceiling heights unhindered and preserving
ultimate flexibility of the spaces into the
ABOVE LEft: The house is designed so the central core
acts as a service provider, leaving the rest of the space light,
open and adaptable for living. ABOVE RIGHT: The stair
runs through the core, providing a space for air to circulate.
RIGHT: Double-glazed windows and teak shades temper
the effects of the tropical sun.
Monument 110
residential Sentosa house
Sentosa house residential
Architect statement
The journey through the house is
one of wholeness. Distinct elements
provide layering and intricacy. Enclosed
and compressed spaces expand to
openness, a contrast that emphasises
the feeling of space. Views are
framed and vary in scale, sometimes
intimately integrating design, other
times expanding into borrowed jungle
landscape or distant vistas.
Materials were chosen for their inherent
qualities and versatility. Recycled
golden teak, fair-faced concrete, stone
and steel all offer duality of function.
Their richness and texture enhance
aesthetics. All of the timber is recycled.
The exposed structure uses flat slabs,
reducing concrete usage by 25%.
Materials are chosen to minimise surface
treatments and eliminate superfluous
Details are meticulously distilled and
resolved, nothing is left undone. The
intention is to create ease, wholeness,
Design is informed by landscape. The
structure integrates with the topography
in such a way that each is integral to
design and function. The landscape
is populated with species that suit
the climate and thrive with minimal
intervention. The rear area merges
with the jungle in order to optimise
borrowed landscape. Interrelation and
complimentary integration reduce
the perceived distinction between
constructed and natural surroundings to
ensure an experience of cohesion.
Nicholas Burns
Clockwise from
ABOVE: A balcony opens
the house into the lush
greenery of the surrounds;
Partial, suspended teak
ceiling zones conceal
air ducts and services;
An external view of
the balconies and teak
shades; A wooden bench
offers another example
of the way finishes and
furnishings work together
with the same palette.
future. Services are delivered from the core,
where they are contained in a narrow slice of
space adjoining the stair. The plumbing pipes
and air conditioning ducts are like a tree,
branching off into suspended teak ceiling zones
either side of the core ‘trunk’ in a way that
minimises runs and wastage.
“My first instinct is always to avoid
mechanical heating and cooling,” says Burns.
“However, there are some climates that are
extreme and that require it. So then my first step
is enabling the building to perform passively so
it is needed less.” While the concrete’s thermal
mass helps stabilise internal temperatures, the
heavy use of glazing does admit direct sunlight
– undesirable in the tropics. A reclaimed teak
screen counteracts this, as do the deep eaves at
the front and rear of the house.
“Tropical air almost acts like a solid,” notes
Burns. “It doesn’t bend around corners; it
just gets stuck.” Every second unit of glazing
along the side walls can be slid open, allowing
Sentosa’s variable breezes to infiltrate the house
from any direction. An efficient air conditioning
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residential Sentosa house
system, well-insulated cooling pipes, and
double glazing contribute to energy efficiency
when mechanical cooling is required. A heat
pump – rather than an electric heater – was
specified for water heating.
The poetry that joins Burns’ rationality
sings in his selection and use of materials.
Simple materials have been used in different
ways in a repeating palette. Richly grained
recycled teak from Thailand has been used
on the floor with clear oil, on the suspended
ceilings and some cabinets it is bleached, and
on other cabinets it is stained. Granite has
been used honed, flamed, and hammered.
And concrete – undecorated by surface
materials – has been given a timeless,
enduring character. “Over time, it will just
weather and be itself,” says Burns, of his
monument to contextual living.
roof terrace
3rd floor
Architectural designer:
Nicholas Burns Associates
Design consultants:
Nicholas Burns, Antony Lemos,
Miguel Silveira, Desmond Ong,
Yonas Kuragi
Structural Engineer:
Web Structures
Mechanical & electric engineer:
Chee Choon & Associates
Quantity Surveyor:
Barton Bruce Shaw
Builder: Holden Tiling
and Construction
2nd floor
Design and documentation:
18 months
Construction: 18 months
Floor area: 500m2
Bathroom: Vola fittings and
shower, handmade granite tiles,
salvaged teak slab bench, Duravit
sanitary ware
Flooring: Recycled teak
Kitchen: Vola tapware, sandblasted
ash veneer joinery, marble bench
Stair: Steel and recycled teak
1st floor
Ground floor
Clockwise from right: Exposed columns reveal the skeleton of the
building; Granite is used for the external paving; The garden utilises
native, tropical species; Oxidised steel sets the precedent for the concrete
which Burns says, with time, “will just weather and be itself”.
Monument 110

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