Engawa is a Japanese building mode where a floor extension at one side of the house faces a yard or garden and serves as a passageway and sitting space. Using this concept, architects Masaki Harimoto, Ng Ai Hwa, and Wang Mei Yee of Atelier M + A designed the Mandai Courthouse, a bungalow in Mandai, Singapore, that has been gaining international attention.
The bungalow, completed in 2012, is a rare one-storey home—the owner’s request—among multistory buildings near the Upper Seletar Reservoir. An overhanging canopy at the entrance announces the front door, the only opaque area along the glass front wall. The wall is actually composed of sliding panels that open the interior living and dining space to the outside, where a narrow wooden deck runs the length of the front of the house. Thanks to this extreme use of glass, whether the panels are open or closed, natural light floods the interior.
A central courtyard with a dark-wood floor gives the owners a secured outdoor space; the roof, with a living and dining area, provides additional outdoor space. In the courtyard, wooden steps lead to a roof deck, designed with the same dark-wood floors. Both outdoor spaces are undecorated except for a few sparse furnishings.
Minimalist aesthetic prevails on the interior as well. Walls are white, with black trim around doors and windows, and lack any architectural or artistic adornment. Furnishings are few, but also add the only pops of color: the dining table is yellow surrounded by light wood chairs and pillows on a white couch are red.
The spare color palette is used not only for the sake of minimalist decor, but also as a nod to the homes of Singapore’s past. Historic Singapore’s colonial-era homes were marked by their black and white exteriors. They were also known for spaciousness; the 572 square meters of Atelier M+A’s structure feel more immense as the outdoors blend into indoors.
Atelier M+A is a young firm, whose Singapore office led by Harimoto and Hwa was established in 2009. Each designer brings over ten years experience working in architecture, interiors, and landscape design to the studio. Besides the Mandai bungalow, recent projects include the J Runway flagship store in Singapore opened in October 2012, and an all-white condominium interior with cabinet-walls and movable partitions. Proposed projects include a Tower of Trinity in the Rio de Janeiro bay, meant to serve as an icon for those flying into the city, especially for the 2016 Olympics, and an entirely different architectural type, a multi-building pop music center in Taipei, Taiwan.