House Tour: This Japanese zen bungalow is built out of the box

Singapore-based architects AD Lab designed this intergenerational family home with a sense of grandeur and dignity.
by Low Shi Ping

Photo: AD Lab

Its size is the first thing that strikes you about this house. From the road, it appears as five large boxes artfully stacked on top of each other. The sense of heft intensifies once past the gate and into the garden, especially when the immense 3.9-m tall main doors slide open quietly. Designed by interior designer Warren Liu of AD Lab, The garden features Zen-style landscaping, and a liberal use of wood decorates the house. It almost feels as if a descendant of the Japanese kazoku might greet guests there.

The bungalow, measuring 11,000 sqft, is located on a quiet street in western Singapore. It is home to an intergenerational family of six adults, four children, and their helpers, divided into three units. Under Warren Liu of AD Lab’s direction, it is less sumo wrestler and more samurai warrior.

Oozing with Japanese aesthetics


To accomplish this, he began with the Japanese aesthetics requested by the client, before distilling it into what we see today. “I kept it fairly clean, simple and lean,” says Liu, who is the founder of AD Lab, whose architects are driven by the idea that a building should be a gentle continuation of its surroundings. “I just played with the proportions, transparency and openness. We could have done something a little more flamboyant, but that is not the nature of the client.”


Following the need for an open lawn, the L-shaped building was the logical solution. “The client wanted very minimal landscaping in the garden, so the kids could run around and play games, like kicking a ball around.”

Another request: a grand entrance-way, which he designed to be column-free with the porch cantilevered over the driveway for a good 5.9m with an additional 1.5-m overhang.


Each of the main doors is made up of two pieces of 200-kg wood panels held up by a sliding mechanism that not only carries the weight but also allows them to glide open silently and with dramatic flair. A fair-faced concrete wall flanks it, and the ceiling is adorned with strips of untreated teak for a more natural appearance.


As Liu points out, the roof of the porch is the underside of a single volume or “box” that rises above the entrance. For continuity and to give the architecture texture, it is also entirely covered in teak.

On the second floor, both volumes facing the road feature sliding doors with louvred teak strips, ensuring the perfect balance of privacy, light and airflow.

Designing an intergenerational family home


In contrast, the other upper volume is thinly framed with plastered concrete. This same treatment is applied to the attic volume, which is stacked right at the top. Rather than peek-a-boo sides, they are outfitted with glass sliding doors, which when tucked into their pockets gives them an incredible sense of lightness.

The keyword for inside the house is “space”. There are three family units comfortably accommodated in the house, and communal areas for meeting and mingling are also included.

The client and his wife reside in half of the ground floor volume, where they have their bedroom, sitting area, study, kitchenette, bathroom, and walk- in wardrobe. The remaining section consists of a formal living room and dining room.


A spacious basement houses the main kitchen and helpers’ quarters, as well as generous storage space. On the second floor, the client’s son and daughter and their families live in the two volumes respectively.

The layout resembles a set of two three-bedroom apartments in an L-shaped floor plan.


In the intersection of these two areas is a dining and indoor play area for their children, and a satellite pantry. Nevertheless, it is up in the attic that the extended family likes to gather — and it is obvious why. Aside from the living room, dining area, and music area, there is also a kitchenette and access to a rooftop infinity pool.

Like a hidden gem, it glimmers in the sunlight and invites the kids to play in the wading pool while the adults swim laps along the 15-m length or soak in the Jacuzzi at the furthest end. “The client wanted it to be bright and spacious. When you open the doors all the way, it becomes extremely open with plenty of cross-ventilation,” says Liu.


In the evening, it is a perfect spot for a barbecue with the pre-installed equipment.

As the smallest of the five boxes, the attic also holds its own and is an ideal vantage point to admire the house’s architecture from a different perspective. Despite its size and clever choice of materials, Liu’s building avoids looming intimidatingly and instead stands with a quiet dignity in the neighbourhood.

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