Nature, up close

A house with cantilevered platforms and a mosque with contemporary and classic features are among the winners at the Singapore Institute of Architects Architectural Design Awards

A house built around a steep slope, a revamped concert hall, a sand- coloured mosque that combines contemporary design and traditional Islamic features are among the diverse winners at the annual Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) Architectural Design Awards last week.

In its 15th edition now, the awards drew 93 entries from 49 firms. There were six design awards and eight honourable mentions to local firms.

The awards, the highest recognition of architectural design here, were given out in four categories: Residential Projects, Institutional Projects, Special Categories and Interior Architecture Projects.

The big winner of the night was W Architects.

Apart from winning design awards in the Institutional Projects and Special Categories, it also took home the noteworthy Building Of The Year accolade for the $158- million refurbishment of Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall.

Laud Architects, which was behind Deck: An Art Space For People And Photography, won an honourable mention in the Special Categories.

The art space in Prinsep Street was constructed with stacked refurbished shipping containers. With this structure, the firm also won the award for the Best Project Constructed Under $2 Million.

Life goes inside two of the more offbeat winning designs - the House With Bridges and the Al- Islah Mosque - to check out their unique features.

Go ahead, walk the plank

You can walk the plank - safely and many times over - at this award- winning house in Bukit Timah.

Built at the bottom of a small hill, this super-stylish house has three short and narrow cantilevered platforms, or bridges that have no support on one end, jutting out from the sides of the house.

These bridges connect the rooms to the outdoors.

One opens out to a view of a garden filled with potted plants and landscaped greenery on the slope. From the bridge on the top floor, there is a stunning, clear view of southern Singapore.

Little wonder then that this house is called House With Bridges. Built by RT+Q Architects, the property won a Design Award in the Residential Projects category in the Singapore Institute of Architects Architectural Design Awards.

It was built on highly challenging terrain. At the back of the 665 sq m plot lies a 14m slope going upwards.

The architects used cantilevered platforms to bring the house as close to the slope as possible without touching it. The concept is replicated in the swimming pool, which has a similar "floating" effect.

Ms Koh Kai Li, 31, the team's project leader, says: "The choice of the site was unconventional as most home owners would like to maximise the built-up of the plot/ land. However, the owner was excited by the idea of having a house with a sloped garden."

The green-loving home owner is a former advertising agency creative director, who declines to be named. The house is also home to her film-maker husband, their two sons and her father.

The house is two storeys high, with an attic and basement at street level. It comprises two separate blocks arranged in an L-shape.

Inside, each family member has his own space, designed with his preferences in mind. Each of the two sons, who are in their 20s, has his own room at the front of the house on the second floor, which are separated by a lounge filled with books and chairs.

The rooms have a high ceiling and a spiral staircase to create a loft- style feel. Below, the rooms have a study and toilet, while the staircase takes the boys to their bedrooms.

The couple have their own room at the back of the house on the second floor.

Taking the concept of his- and-her washbasins a step further, the couple have their own toilet and shower area. He has a bathtub to lounge in while she gets a step- down shower area deep enough for her to sit in.

Plant lovers will envy the 14 sq m glasshouse in the attic, which is decorated with sofas and chairs as well as piles of well-read books and pots of succulents.

The jury commended the use of materials and the "sophisticated" detailing.

Indeed, one of the house's trademark materials is corten steel, which has a weathered, rusty patina.

There is a waist-high washbasin in the guest bathroom in the basement. At one end, the cantilevered basin is converted into a planter, filled with a crepe jasmine shrub. This bathroom won a Design Award for Completed Projects at the SIA-Rigel Bathroom Design Awards, which was also given out at the same event.

Modern place for quiet worship

Nestled among the busy Housing Board blocks of Punggol is a new sand-coloured building with a modern, boxy look as well as some landscaping on the second floor.

It looks like a funky new community centre, until you notice a grey dome on the top floor as well as a minaret - a tall, thin tower from which Muslims are traditionally called to prayer five times a day.

This mosque that merges contemporary and classic design features is called Al-Islah Mosque, whose name means to transform and reform. Designed by Formwerkz Architects, it won a Design Award in the Institutional Projects category of the Singapore Institute of Architects Architectural Design Awards.

Three years ago, the firm beat 42 other firms to win the project in the first-ever mosque design competition organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and the Singapore Institute of Architects.

Its design incorporates elements of traditional mosque architecture, such as a dome - this feature was removed from most Singapore mosques built after 1980 - a minaret and a bab, an entrance separating the sacred and public areas.

Formwerkz Architects' partner Alan Tay, 42, says: "Muis got a lot of feedback that the structure of a mosque has evolved over the years, and has become increasingly modernised and contemporary to the extent that the general Muslim community could not relate to."

Costing $15.7 million to build, the mosque sits on a 2,500 sq m plot at the junction of Punggol Place and Punggol Field. It opened in June, two weeks before the Ramadan month started, and now draws 4,000 worshippers every Friday.

The main prayer hall occupies almost all of the ground floor, with the other functions such as a seminar block and auditorium housed in three separate blocks in a landscape deck above. Rising like a sleek grey finger among them is the minaret.

For research, the team looked at how the local mosques have evolved in Singapore and studied Islamic architecture worldwide.

In the prayer hall, men pray on the first and third floors while women head to the second floor.

The dome itself, which tops off the prayer hall, has hollowed rectangles cut into its shell. In the day, sunlight enters to light the roof terrace in a dappled glow. The 70 sq m space can be used as an extended prayer space from the main hall and for events.

The design also balances a sense of openness and privacy. At the entrance to the prayer hall, there are no walls so visitors can look in.

But devotees are undisturbed and can also pray in peace. For example, although they face a glazed prayer niche called a mihrab, they are shielded by over-hanging roof eaves and foliage among other devices, so that HDB dwellers next door cannot look in.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'Nature, up close'. Subscribe