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This Serangoon Gardens Terrace House Looks Otherworldly Like An Apparition From The Future

24 January 2024 | BY

Oku House is a Serangoon Gardens terrace house that looks like the home of a botany-loving, intrepid time-traveller from the future.

terrace house 1

Picture this: it’s the year 3000 and your everyday scenery resembles the set of Coldplay’s My Universe music video. The architecture around you comprises a sea of grey concrete, metal, and glass. You sigh – you wish you were born in a different era. 2024, perhaps. And that much is evident in the design of your humble abode, where defiant peeks of greenery disrupt the monotony of manmade materials.

terrace house 2Image credit: Freight Architects

You blink, the mirage disappears, yet one thing remains – Oku House, a Serangoon Gardens terrace house that looks like the home of a botany-loving, intrepid time-traveller from the future. From the outside, Oku House looks like a deconstructed shophouse stripped bare of ornamentation, then filled in with warm wood and lively plants. 

A futuristic, yet whimsical take on the Singapore terrace house

facadeImage credit: Freight Architects

“This house is a re-imagined shophouse. Elements of a typical shophouse (were) abstracted to its most basic form and recomposed into this house,” writes design firm Freight Architects in their Instagram post. “We adopted the Japanese spatial concept of “Oku” to create layers of pauses and created a spatial depth.”

What is Oku in architecture?

According to Wikipedia, oku is a “spatial theory or concept that pertains to the idea of “inwardness’” originating from Japan, and “feature the layering of spaces from the outside to the inside with increasingly private zones”.

Oku House is built on a narrow 340sqm plot of land, resulting in a structure that is deeper than it is wide. In an interview with Address, Freight co-founder Kee Jing Zhi said that the owners bought the plot of land after being reminded of shophouses, and this influenced the final design of Oku House. 

terrace house 4Image credit: Freight Architects

Viewed from the front, Oku House looks like a 2-storey shophouse without its usual bells and whistles, yet the form is distinctly recognisable thanks to its proportions. Rather than solid walls, Oku House utilises elements such as wooden beams and plants to demarcate boundaries, hence letting in lots of natural light from the front despite its narrow facade.

An open-concept house where the outdoors coexist with the indoors

open conceptImage credit: Freight Architects

Upon stepping into the front door, an open shelving unit thoughtfully filled with handmade ceramic pieces greets the visitor while separating the “outside” from the living room despite the lack of real walls. The living room floor is made of panelled wood that balances out the heavy use of greys in the furniture and walls, and also creates a cohesive look with the plant-filled courtyard that visually connects the front and rear wings of the house.

terrace house 6Image credit: Freight Architects

terrace house 7Image credit: Freight Architects

The further you delve into this house, the more you’ll discover. After venturing past the courtyard, which leads to the kitchen and dining area, you’ll end up at the rear wing of the house. The rear wing is a 3.5-storey structure that houses the owners’ living quarters. 

terrace house 8Image credit: Freight Architects

terrace house 9Image credit: Freight Architects

terrace house 10Bridge that links the front and rear wings of the house, next to the courtyard.
Image adapted from: Freight Architects

On the second floor of the rear wing, you’ll find a homey family space that looks equal parts futuristic and cosy thanks to the winning combination of thriving plants, wood-and-rattan furniture, plaster, stone floor tiles, and grey bricks. This space opens up to a balcony leading to a rooftop garden where you’ll encounter even more plants.

terrace house 11Image adapted from: Freight Architects

The third floor and attic consist of a suite of apartments, which includes a partially open-air bathroom that reminds us of a Balinese resort or Lloyd’s Inn – outdoors bathtub included.

terrace house 12Image adapted from: Freight Architects

The ethereal layers of oku in a Singapore terrace house

The layout of the house is frankly not the easiest to describe in words, but that’s the beauty of oku – you’re meant to notice more details the more you explore and interact with the space. In the words of Kee, “It’s kind of like a storybook that is unfolding.” 

okuStaircase to the second floor partially hidden behind a shelving unit.
Image credit: Freight Architects

A house with missing walls may sound outlandish, but the owners and designers of Oku House somehow made it happen. 

terrace house 14Image credit: Freight Architects

With the use of a neutral colour palette and repertoire of materials that balance man-made and natural, the entire house looks cohesive and just makes sense. Supplement that with artfully placed trees, pillars, and beams, and the designers managed to create a sense of privacy while maintaining the feeling of openness.

Will houses in the future look like this, as we increasingly try to stave off urban sprawl by marrying concrete and greenery? If that’s the case, it’s certainly something to look forward to. 


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