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2008 Jury Commendation for Innovation

733 Mountbatten Road

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Project Title733 Mountbatten Road

Location733 Mountbatten Road, Singapore

Size847 square metres

CostUS$ 1,500,000

Responsible PartyAng Gin Wah

Heritage ArchitectEng Yew Hoon and Ang Gin Wah

ContractorGin + design workshop

Date of Completion15 March 2004


Context

The heritage-listed bungalow located at 733 Mountbatten Road represents a fine example of the architecture of the period immediately following the First World War. Built in the late 1920s, the house and its grounds also convey a strong sense of Singapore residential life in the British colonial era.

A family home for many years, the bungalow, called “Wo Yuan” or “My Garden”, later experienced several years of neglect. The conservation project restored the bungalow to its original state, while adding contemporary extensions to accommodate a multi-generation family. The sensitively designed extensions provide a counterfoil to the original, classically inspired building while providing the necessary space.

Project History

Large bungalows like My Garden, most of which were built in the period between the two world wars, are a significant part of Singapore’s heritage. First introduced into Singapore and Malaya by the British in the late nineteenth century, these bungalow are freestanding dwellings, usually located in serene and wooded environments away from the city centre. Their original occupants were government officials, members of the professional classes, agents for large trading companies and proprietors of Singapore businesses.

The typical Singapore bungalow consists of a one- or two-storey main building housing the living and dining areas, bedrooms, bathrooms, and various secondary spaces. The bungalows often also have an outhouse, housing the kitchen, pantry, storage rooms, and servants’ quarters and toilet, linked to the main building.

The history of 733 Mountbatten Road was similar to that of many other houses of its era. From around 1851, the site formed part of the land belonging to the East India Company. In 1929, Singapore merchant Wong Lee Swee purchased the land and built the bungalow the same year, adding the outhouse in 1957. 

In 1991, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore listed the building and grounds under the Conservation Act in an effort to encourage the rehabilitation or restoration of the heritage property.

The current owners purchased the property in 1999 with the vision of restoring the bungalow to its former grandeur. Given the need to accommodate their extended family in the residence, the new owners saw expansion as the only viable means to preserve the single-storey building.

Project Scope and Framework

The new owners of 733 Mountbatten Road envisioned the restoration and expansion project such that they would create a complex consisting of a communal family area and three separate self-contained units, so as to accommodate three generations of the extended family. The owners insisted on the retention and restoration of the original building and on a clear contrast between the older dwelling and the new wings. Their vision also required that the garden be retained and its overall character not be compromised by the extensions.

Conservation Methodology and Materials

The work to restore the bungalow was carried out in line with accepted conservation approaches as set out by the Burra Charter and the Singapore Urban Redevelopment Authority’s “3R’s” guidelines: maximum retention, sensitive restoration and careful repair. These guidelines collectively meant that the heritage bungalow had to retain its inherent spirit, spatial quality and fabric intact, and that the new additions should not affect these important attributes.

It was important to address any structural inadequacies of the old house. Initial visual inspections revealed cracks in the main beams supporting the timber floors and walls. Cracks on the beams, columns and external walls were pressure grouted to strengthen the structural supports and steel I-beams were inserted to prevent any further cracks during the construction works.

The circulation scheme of the original bungalow design was retained, with hallways, bedroom and bathrooms remaining in their original positions. Utilitarian areas were similarly retained. The kitchen and bathrooms were upgraded to meet modern requirements, but the positioning of new appliances and cabinets was sensitive to the initial design.

The project architects decided that materials were not to be replaced unless they were broken or provided a safety hazard. This precept extended to the existing asbestos ceiling boards, which were covered with gypsum fibrous panels. The timber windows and doors of the main house were restored with painstaking detail. Workers dismantled them piece-by-piece and stripped off the paint to reveal the original, natural wood finish. The surfaces then received a treatment of sanding and protective coating and were then reassembled. The workers also removed the coloured glass panels from the windows, washed them and returned them to their original places. Broken panels were replaced with reproduction glass, sourced from Australia.

The timber partitions were varnished, with any parts that had been added after the initial construction date removed so as to retain the original design intent.

It was clear from the beginning of the project that the new extensions should employ a different architectural language from that of the original bungalow. An imitative design, the owners felt, would detract from the original architectural values. Rather than copying the old design, the new additions were therefore designed with clean massing and a sleek modernist profile. The new structures also relied on contemporary materials and elements, with the material palette comprising a combination of glass, steel and tropical hardwood. The physical connections between the old house and the new extensions relied on glass panels, with a glass canopy connecting the bungalow with the extensions; creating a dialogue between the two. In this way, the restored original bungalow is visually linked to the new extensions. The extensive use of glass in the new building, including a glass perimeter wall, made the new structures very light. A feature of the extension buildings is the contrasting material used for the roofs. A tile roof covers the bungalow, while a metal roof was used for the new additions. The historic bungalow remains soundly at the centre of the complex, serving as its principal point of access.

Important Issues

The relationship between the “new and old” was a critical concern throughout the design process. A key aim of the owners of the bungalow was to ensure a juxtaposition of old and new architectural elements. This was accomplished successfully and can be seen throughout the completed project. In comparison, in the house next door the family chose to build additional housing units constructed in a historical style to match the existing bungalow.

A concern for the family occupying the structure at 733 Mountbatten Road was privacy. Glass was used to create a dialogue between the old and the new, but this allowed others to see into the buildings. In order to establish some privacy, curtains were installed along all of the glass walls.

Project Impact

The restoration of the bungalow at 733 Mountbatten Road has demonstrated to Singaporeans the value of retaining heritage structures in the modern era. The project not only conserves the built form, but also reveals new possibilities for continuing the Singaporean tradition of shared multi-tier family living. This is instructive at a time when where the dynamic and spirit of this kind of family structure family unit is fast disappearing from modern life.

To ensure maximum retention of material, forms and techniques, the conservation project recruited and trained local tradesmen and craftsmen, a step that will help underwrite the continuation of traditional skills for future generations.

The building has gained a wide audience, including professionals, university students and members of the public, who visit the building to learn from its sensitive conservation approach and to view how such an approach can be coupled with contemporary new additions.

Quote from the Project Team

“This project has demonstrated that with sensitive considerations the conserved house can be accentuated with the use of not only contemporary details and materials but with the underpinning philosophy of “complimentary contrast”, which can create a degree of harmony and a healthy dialogue between the new and old."