by Zohra KhanSep 20, 2022
When Neri&Hu was commissioned to design this family home in Singapore, the Shanghai-based practice had a simple yet profound brief before them. The client, a family of three siblings, wanted a home where all of them could live together, a place which could have a serene garden in memory of their late mother, and where the home’s roof could somehow relate to the pitched roof which their childhood home once had. The new home had to be built on the same site which once enclosed the former one – a British colonial bungalow with deep roof eaves and Victorian details.
In an attempt to express the idea of communal living and a collective memory spatially, the studio led by founders Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu conceived The House of Remembrance. Communal living is explored by creating a Chinese courtyard house typology where multiple family units are clustered around a shared public space (courtyard in this case), whereas collective memory is seen illustrated in the form of the new house’s roof, and a central green court nurtured in remembrance of the mother.
Upon arriving at the entrance, an irregular void carved off the hipped roof volume comes across as a defining feature of the home. The luminous opening enfolds a petite tree growing on the ground floor. The two storied house consists of an extroverted lower level where activities of leisure, study, dining, and cooking are slotted around the courtyard, whereas the upper level is an introverted space comprising the bedrooms. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors carry a sense of openness and visual transparency as well as keep the interiors airy by promoting cross ventilation. On the upper storey, the bedrooms are cocooned beneath the steep gables of the roof canopy. The home’s hipped roof is an engulfing one which when viewed from the street often looks as if it’s sheltering a single storey building.
To delve deeper into the project, I speak with Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu.
Zohra Khan: Could you elaborate on the memory of the former home that the clients originally inhabited?
Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu: In this private residence, Neri&Hu explores how dwelling's function to connect us back to nature and each other can play to architecture’s role in strengthening familial relations, and even offer psychological healing. The project is called House of Remembrance first and foremost because the client’s brief asked for a project that would honour the memory of a beloved family member. In the initial concept design phase, Neri&Hu worked closely with the clients to gain an understanding of what dwelling, shelter and “home” means to each sibling. Through this process and research, it was clear that memory and emotional attachment are strongly linked not just to static forms and function (the previous spaces of a childhood home), but also to the living elements serving as a backdrop to daily life routines – the garden path taken on writing breaks, the flower beds tended to and cultivated from seedling to plants, the visual and acoustics of tropical rain falling outside. The design task for creating a residence in this case was not just to create beautiful spaces, but rather to create a set of spaces where new memories could coexist with the old, honouring both past and the future to be.
Zohra: What features of the childhood home did they hope to see manifested in the new habitat?
Lyndon and Rossana: The new two-story house organises all communal spaces around a central garden, which occupies the courtyard space serving as a memorial garden for the family’s matriarch. The memorial function was actually the client’s idea, but it was a design decision to place the memorial garden in the centre of the floor plan. This was to make the space truly a celebrated moment, marking the heart of the home and accessible either visually as a backdrop, or physically as part of the garden path one would cross to get from one communal space to another. The circulation on the ground floor is based on the shape of the circle to reinforce the ambulatory experience of walking in the round and to define the memorial space as a sacred element; one always finds a return to the centre, both spiritually and physically. The garden defines the heart of the home as an ever-palpable void, persisting as the common backdrop to the collective lives of all inhabitants.
Zohra: Could you comment on the project's material palette and the idea behind creating a tactile reflection of the house that was?
Lyndon and Rossana: Upon reflecting on the house that was, a few key features stood out that the client wanted to retain – the pitched roof form, deep eaves on the ground floor to protect from rain, openings for cross ventilation, as well as the lush garden that had been cultivated over the years by the family. In direct terms, it was less about transferring a specific material palette from the previous house, then it was about reinterpreting the same spatial cues and formal elements with new material expressions. Tactility in the new house is conveyed through the use of board formed concrete, exposed aggregate concrete pavers, gravel, green Sukabumi stone from Indonesia, pre-weathered teak, oak wood and textured concrete plaster.
The roof is sheathed in aluminium panels with standing seams, while the walls are rendered in a concrete finish. Skylights and large glass walls connect to bedroom balconies. Through sectional interplay, three double-height areas connect the communal functions and the corridors above. These spaces of interpenetration create vertical visual connections to allow one to peer into the public realm from the private.
Zohra: What has been the most special yet challenging aspect of the project for you?
Lyndon and Rossana: As a primary residence commission, the design had to accommodate multiple family members and across multiple generations. The main challenge in terms of spatial arrangement and programming was to ensure the balance between privacy and communal space, offering each sibling their own sense of respite but still providing a connection to each other as it was important for them to feel connected in their daily routines.
STIR previously published Neri&Hu's transformation of a Shenzhen-based industrial building into a guesthouse, the sculpturesque whiskey distillery for Pernod Ricard, the restoration of a Chinese residence into a public teahouse, and a brilliant adaptive reuse to house the studio’s own headquarters in Shanghai. As part of our specially curated video series UNSCRIPTED, we discovered lesser-known facts about Rossana Hu, from childhood to her journey as an architect, a partner, a mother, and an employer, in this video.