Designworks: Designing with heart and soul

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on October 21, 2019 - October 27, 2019.

Wondrous Light Children’s House was designed with the children’s scale, perspectives and psychology in mind

Holland Park is a 7,410 sq ft 2-storey bungalow that comes with a basement

The roof deck holds an edible garden partially sheltered with glazed panels of photovoltaic cells

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Singapore-based CHANG Architects constantly strives to explore and create innovative and exciting designs that suit the unique characteristics of each project.

Led by founder Chang Yong Ter, the firm’s design philosophy is to design from the heart. “There is no apparent signature as the approach to every project varies. Every client and site context are unique.”

Born and raised in Singapore, Chang’s passion for architecture was ignited during his university years of the School of Architecture at the National University of Singapore. Upon graduation, he apprenticed with Singaporean architect Tang Guan Bee for several years before starting his own firm in 2000.

“I was inspired by my tutors in university. We had lecturers who specialised in various fields. It was eye-opening as I got to know this world better through architecture and topics related to architecture such as anthropometry, construction, culture, geography and landscape,” he says.

“It (architecture) makes me a more balanced being through appreciating and understanding the art and science of creating a built environment,” he adds.

The firm’s designs are aimed at adding value to and enhancing the lives of customers while co-existing harmoniously with nature and the environment. “The key aspect is to design from the spatial point of view. Space, which is intangible, is the essence of architecture. When designs are conceived this way, the most appropriate form ensues,” Chang says.

A good architectural design adds spirit to a place but the best one touches the soul, he adds. “Architects play an important role in shaping the living environment and how our environment is being shaped has a deep impact on our quality of life and state of being.

“The main challenge is to strike a balance between meeting the tangible objectives of design in terms of figures and efficiencies, and the intangible aspects in terms of spatial and place qualities ... By feeling more and thinking through the heart,” he says.

CHANG Architects’ notable projects include Namly House, Elok House, Framed House, Joo Chiat Shophouse and Lucky Shophouse, all in Singapore.

Chang says the memorable and unique projects are those where the client was in sync with the architect in terms of thoughts and values. “This is where the client appreciates the proposed design ideas and ideals, and supports them in its development.”

The firm’s practice has been involved in living and learning spaces, installations and product designs. “I am looking forward to doing more public/social/wellness projects that will benefit the larger community in Singapore,” he says.

The firm received the Good Green Design Award and The International Architecture Award in Chicago in 2018, and Small Firm of the Year Award in Residential Architecture in 2017.


A new activity centre for children

CHANG Architects’ latest projects include Wondrous Light Children’s House and Holland Park in Singapore.

The Wondrous Light Children’s House, which was shortlisted for The Learning Space category of the INDE.Awards in 2018, offers children a living and breathing form of education.

The 1,975 sq ft 2-storey conservation shophouse with an attic in Kampong Bahru Road was completed in 2017 at a total construction cost of S$128,000 (RM391,466).

“The place allows children to discover, understand and be conscious of themselves through the exploration of the senses, physical movement and interacting with others as well as the environment,” Chang says, adding that the space is meant to make connections with the environment, humanity, cosmos and all of life’s experiences in one’s daily encounters.

The place is designed with the children’s scale, perspectives and psychology in mind. “As such, children can move through and dwell in crafted spaces that offer various spatial experiences that support emotional developments,” says Chang.

Different experiences of touch and feel are provided by the different planar qualities of the natural and recycled plywood panels. “The spaces here set the backdrop for the different children’s activities, which increases their sense of curiosity and imagination,” he adds.

“The emphasis is about ‘limb-learning’ instead of ‘head-learning’. It is about experiences, the senses and feelings and for the children to engage with the material world, as well as the importance, richness and value of experience as a source of knowledge.”

This project does not aim to educate children through academics nor exposing them to the latest digital technologies. “It offers a home environment where children feel calm and secure … to enjoy free, self-directed play and develop a sense of empathy through explorations and enhancements of their senses. As a result, they will become emotionally stable, more authentic, imaginative and conscious of their state of being,” says Chang.


A dream of a house

More than a dwelling place for a multi-generation family, Holland Park was completed in 2017. The 2-storey bungalow comes with a basement and has a built-up of 7,410 sq ft.

The owners wanted a house where their grandchildren could live with nature. They wanted a communal space for gatherings as well as a sanctuary to enjoy nature and fellowship.

Both within and without, the biblical symbol of the cross is embraced in space — on plan and in elevation/section, where nature and light are the main focus.

Chang notes that the ground level consists of communal areas while the upper level has bedrooms. The scent and sight of nature during the day form the backdrop as the rituals of everyday living unfold.

“A central axis of light and water connects the dining area at the rear to the front porch. The front elevation is an extrusion of the cross-section, anchoring the cross in light. This is flanked by fragmented façades of cuboids that offer filtered daylight within the spaces,” says Chang.

The basement is the entry level, where the driveway is directed and lit from the central light axis. At every turn, visitors are greeted with pockets of nature and orchestrated daylight. “The basement comprises a library, office/study area, a gathering corner, rainwater-harvesting tank and parking bays equipped with electric chargers,” he says.

“The roof deck holds an edible garden partially sheltered with glazed panels of photovoltaic cells, a haven for plants that thrive in full sunlight as well as those that love shade,” he explains. “This house is enlivened every moment, where children grow to witness the rhythmic flow of nature. The home is an extended social space for friends.”