• Image of house from lower garden
  • Study of stain channeling
  • Study of stain channeling
  • Section through upper, lower floors
  • Plans of upper, lower floors

Stain House

Stains in Singapore are a funny thing. Everyone gets them, yet they are still acutely embarrassing.

So, as the saying goes: “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” We decided that we couldn’t avoid stains. But what if we surrendered to them completely? What if, instead of trying in vain to hold them off, we tried instead to think about ways of using stains as a formal technique? How could stains affect architecture in a meaningful way?

To pursue this, we started looking closely at stains themselves. We studied them in situ, “morpho-genetically,” trying to understand how they came to be. We tried to comprehend their rules–which are, basically, hydrological rules. They are about how water droplets move. We then began to adapt common types of stain into techniques of facade-making.

The “Stain House” sits on a gentle slope that falls away from the main road. It has two floors. The upper floor appears as a positive mass. The lower floor is a subtractive volume, formed by an excavation of the slope. The upper floor is at road level, and contains all the bedrooms and private spaces of the house. The lower has all the communal functions, including the dining room, kitchen, living room, study, and wine cellar. Most of these rooms are tucked into the hillside, so as to create a perceptual ambiguity: the viewer is unsure whether the ground is solid, or constructed out of domestic space.

We have included here a view from the lower-level garden. This is the house shortly after construction, and before the staining process has actually begun. For the upper level, we chose a technique of “channeling” the stains through irregular pilasters.

We like the idea that this house begins life as a white elephant—a genuine triumphant modernist floating box. And slowly, it begins to turn, ripen, weep. The first few streaks are embarrassing; other architects point out our mistake when they drive past. But sooner or later, we hope, the house reaches a certain point of staining—in some areas and not others—at which the strategy reveals itself. It is a kind of design that relies on time. Like a built landscape, the project is incomplete when the construction is finished. It takes time, and weathering, for it to achieve its “mature” form.