In Singapore, Ling Hao experiments a “natural way of living” with an open house

A couple with three children live in a house exposed to the elements on Highland Road, between openness and intimacy, almost against the air conditioning and its urban effects: we talked about it with the architect, Ling Hao.

When I met Ling Hao, a Malaysian architect who lives and works in Singapore – in 2018, during the summer school of Porto Academy – we talked about the experience of living, at home and in the city, in Italy and in Singapore: two parts of the world with very different customs and climates. Part of the students’ exercise consisted in ‘collecting’ the different materiality of the surfaces of the city by simply using a sheet of paper and a pencil. However, this operation was not carried out by drawing, but by placing the paper on an urban surface and rubbing a pencil mine on it. The textures of the surfaces of Porto – a floor of a public space, or of a wall of a house in an alley – were thus represented by the students on a scale of 1:1, with a result that was as true in scale as it was figuratively abstract, but above all poetic.

Ling Hao Architects, house in Highland Road, Singapore, 2019
Ling Hao Architects, house in Highland Road, Singapore, 2019

That operation has become for me a tool for reading the work of Ling Hao, that last April Domus included in the publication 100+ best architecture firms. His works, from the 2,000 m2 of Satay by the Bay (2012, with Kok-Meng Tan and Satoko Saeki by KUU architects) to the smaller scale of his T House and House 11, live with the tropical climate of Singapore and a built environment that has developed almost violently since 1965.

When I received his project for this house on Highland Road in Singapore, I was astonished because – with the exception of the wall that surrounds it, the bathrooms and the bedrooms – it was completely open: a radicalisation compared to previous houses he designed. I asked him if it is common to live in such an open space, permeable to atmospheric conditions, in Singapore; but the architect replied that it is not.

Ling Hao Architects, house in Highland Road, Singapore, 2019
Ling Hao Architects, house in Highland Road, Singapore, 2019

Ling Hao tells me that the new house is designed and built on the basis of the existing house, a terraced type of house that was common in Singapore in the 1950s, with a single storey and pitched roof. Of that fruit of the industrial and speculative production of the urban landscape - which brought with it the American custom of air conditioning - Hao mainly maintained the external brick wall, which was then plastered. He reshaped the silhouette of this sort of ‘cocoon’ by connecting its various heights with curved shapes, maintaining the perforations that allowed the house to breathe. “Here, the winds are frequent and the temperature is between 25 to 31°C all year round. This kind of perforation”, he explains, “was only present in the first houses of this type, precisely because air conditioning was not yet so widespread in the 1950s, as it has been since the 1980s. Air conditioning has had disastrous effects on the urban fabric: the buildings’ backsides, rooftops and the narrow alleys have been transformed into alien worlds, where the installations pour out their waste, heat and noise”.

The pre-existing house, built in the 1950s

“So is this house a declaration against air conditioning?” Hao laughs, then tells me about the convergence between him and his clients, a couple with three children: both of them wanted to experiment, with the aim of giving shape to a house where life could be ‘natural’, in the sense of spontaneous and comfortable. This is the premise of a project for a domestic space in which physical experience and the relationship with the environment are central – from the contact with rain and the winds, to the chatter of passers-by. The photographs express the sense of the project, they have an aesthetic quality linked to the most intimate experience of the inhabited space, more than – as happens most of the time – to the spectacularisation of what is presented.

Highland Road, Singapore
Residential house
Ling Hao Architects
Structural Engineer:
KH Consultants
Stable Unstable
Coreform Builder Pte Ltd
Site area:
106.14 sqm
Built Up Area:
152.67 sqm
Building Height:
7.3 m

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