A flat with dual personalities

How does one design a home that is both active and serene? PI Architects draws out a captivating solution and unique possibility for HDB living.

  • A flat with dual personalities

Home Type: 3-room HDB flat

Floor Area: 730sqft

Text by Janice Seow

The owner of this three-room resale flat in Bugis is a philosophy educator who believes that his home should reflect his life philosophy and personality.

flat with zen garden

“He enjoys reading, philosophy, calligraphy, and Japanese traditional art, and is also a gymnastic enthusiast. He therefore came to us with the hopes of bringing alive the concept of living within a home that is both Active ‘动’ and Serene ’静’,” says Ivan Soh, Founding Partner of PI Architects.

flat with zen garden

The architect also noted his client’s love for traditional Japanese architecture and art, and his desire to live minimally. He explains: “He wanted to have clarity on his lifestyle and his belongings. So rather than having too much hidden storage, he wanted the storage in his home to be all open so that he could take stock of the items he had, and keep only those that he uses.”

Ivan ‘s floor plan is inspired by a traditional tatami room situation, where there are no corridors. Each functional space is connected to the next without any circulation space.

The active parts of the house include the living room, which the owner uses for hosting, and the gymnasium. The two zones are separated by a shoji screen which itself is a collaborative work of art; on the living room facing side, an image of Buddha was drawn by a traditional fusuma painter who flew in specially from Japan for the project, while the piece of Chinese poem next to it was written by a Singaporean calligraphy master.

The poem is in fact one of the starting points from which the owner describes his desire for his home. In English, it can be loosely translated thus: “Stillness within stillness is not true tranquility. Calmness in the midst of movement is the true state of nature; joy in joy is not true happiness. Joy in suffering is the true state of the mind and body.”

On the gym facing side of the fusuma screen, in unexpected juxtaposition to the traditional imagery (and perhaps alluding to the active zone), is a large size painting of a whale ‘captured in motion’.

Push back the fusuma sliding door, and the wall-to-wall mirror in the gym reflects the entire living space – even the common corridor when the main door is open. This visually enlarges the interior space immensely while offering interesting and reflective views.

The hearth of the home is the futon sleeping area that sits on a raised tatami platform in the living room. Every other zone in the flat is adjacent and connected to this space, either visually or physically. When the owner isn’t resting, this space is used for entertaining guests, working and watching television. Besides the hidden storage system beneath the platform, other storage solutions are open shelving as requested by the owner.

The kitchen is a minimal space and the kitchen sink is also the bathroom basin – which is suitably adequate for its single occupant. A mirror slides along the shelves to hide items that don’t need to be seen, and the pipes are embraced rather than concealed. The concrete kitchen counter is cast-in-situ, and there is no kitchen hob, just a microwave, given that the surrounding Bugis neighbourhood offers the owner abundant food choices.

Nature is used to beautify where a moss wall from Mosscape turns the unsightly rubbish chute into a feature.

For a touch of raw indulgence, the shower area features an onsen tub cast in granolithic screed finish. In keeping this home’s minimalist and simple interventions, it is separated for privacy via a humble shower curtain and roller blinds.

The library/zen garden is the quiet heart of the home. It features seven large sculptural rocks that were handpicked by the designer and the client, before being painstakingly sited throughout the space. Two mirrors were strategically used to visually lengthen the depth of the zen garden and shoji screen bookshelf respectively, while a tranquil water feature more traditionally known as ‘shishi-odoshi’ was custom built for the space.

flat with zen garden

Of note, all the spaces in the house are connected via windows to the zen garden or to the city to create what Ivan calls a sense of “here and there”.

He says: “The living space, kitchen, and even the bathroom are connected visually through windows to the zen garden. At the same time, the study table (also for dining) in the living room faces the buildings opposite, while the extended window ledge in the kitchen overlooks a distant city view.”

flat with zen garden

The architect further explains how the concept of ‘portals’ imbues the home with a deeper and more philosophical dimension. “Whether it’s a view out into the city, a painting of a whale, or a framed view of an adjacent space, this home creates portals into another world wherever you look. These dreamy juxtapositions of the here-space and the other space stimulates the imagination.”

PI Architects

Photography and video by Finbarr Fallon

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