Cover Gold-framed dividers separate the dining area from the dry kitchen

This semi-detached house combines influences from historic architecture in Japan with beautiful screens and colourful accents

Living in the tropics, there are pertinent issues an architect has to address to create a habitable environment. Mitigating the region’s harsh glare and heat are perennial challenges. The House of Light and Shadow, designed by Yume Architects in collaboration with Lian Architects, took a more thoughtful route. Home to a family of four, this semi-detached house sits on a plot with the facade facing the west. It also bears the full brunt of strong sunlight during the day.“

The owners wanted a comfortable family home where they could host dinner parties and playdates,” shares the firm’s principal architect Asami Takahashi, who founded Yume Architects with her husband and business partner Jason Lim. “We did not want to view the western sun as purely a problem to solve. We felt there was an opportunity for us to consider the way the sunlight enters the house to animate its interiors and create a special atmosphere within while being mindful of the spaces’ usability.”

The architects conceived a series of layers to modulate the intensity of sunlight in the 6,673sqft home. The first comprises a double skin—a perforated, patterned aluminium screen behind a granite wall with small openings. This results in a lively facade for the house that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The varied shadows it casts into the house enliven the walls.

The architects conceived a series of layers to modulate the intensity of sunlight in the 6,673sqft home. The first comprises a double skin—a perforated, patterned aluminium screen behind a granite wall with small openings. This results in a lively facade for the house that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The varied shadows it casts into the house enliven the walls. 

To bring brightness into the home, Takahashi created a light well close to the entrance, which features a Japanese garden anchored by a large bonsai plant that is the focal point of the space. It can be seen by visitors approaching the house from the car porch and again when they enter the main door and walk past the tea room. Sliding glass doors along this garden improve natural ventilation when they are open.

This idea of flexibility and modularity guided the layout of the home.
Asami Takahashi, principal architect and co-founder of Yume Architects

The layered approach continues in the spatial programming of the house. “The first floor’s layout is inspired by 14th-century Japanese villas designed for the samurai and aristocratic classes,” shares Takahashi. “These villas had a surprisingly modern layout, with the living room occupying the centre of a large, open-plan space that could be divided into different configurations by sliding doors. This idea of flexibility and modularity guided the layout of the home.”

On the first storey, the living area, tea room, dining zone and dry kitchen abut one another, divided by translucent glass sliding doors. Opening or closing them creates either a large, continuous space for social events or segmented areas for intimate situations. This strategy also reduces the overall cooling load, so that air-conditioning is only needed in the area that’s in use. 

As the dry kitchen is visible from the living room, Takahashi ensured the walls were not drab. “We used an Italian large-format tile that goes well with the copper and brass accents for the cabinetry, and the fabric-inlaid glass sliding doors,” she says.

The sliding doors’ translucency extends the spatial depth between the rooms even when they are closed. The idea stemmed from sliding doors hand-painted by celebrated artists in traditional Japanese villas. “Similarly, we wanted all the first-storey partitions to be considered art pieces as well, and not just functional dividers,” says Takahashi. “I hand-drew a ginkgo-leaf pattern and we sandblasted it onto the glass panels for the largest divider. For the other partitions, we inserted fabric interlayers.”

In the stairwell is an oculus skylight, inspired by artist James Turrell. “We believe it is important sometimes to have spaces that are unfamiliar or even transcendental,” says Takahashi. Similarly, a bespoke chandelier crafted by local glassmaker Synergraphic Design transforms the ceiling into a canvas for a sunburst of glass flowers.

The second storey features four bedrooms, along with cabinetry in cheerful colours. The second-storey family room is adequately lit due to the screens in front, as well as the stairwell on the side, with light entering via glass-backed shelves.

As evident in the many instances, Takahashi is skilled at fashioning memorable creations. Her experience working with architects such as Toyo Ito and Steven Holl, famed for their sensitivity to sculpturing form and light, comes through. The name of her firm, which means “dream” in Japanese, attests to her belief that poetry, and not just science, is important in architecture.

This story was first published in the February 2021 issue of Tatler Homes Singapore, available with our compliments on Magzter.