Tall House

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The entrance to the house is shielded by a wall clad in slate within the wood-slatted box that extends out to the fence line. On the right, a white limestone wall greets visitors to the house.

An increasingly important factor in the design of modern houses in Indonesia is security. Social turbulence brought about by imbalances in the distribution of wealth, increasing polarization of society, and marginalization of the poor, has led to a desire among Indonesia’s middle and upper middle classes for houses where people can retreat and have protection from current social and urban realities.

From the street, the three-story house, located in a newly developed area in North Jakarta, appears vast and inscrutable. The façade is a composition of screens and planes that form a protective barrier against the outside. To further “protect” the house from its surroundings, the architect has chosen to elevate it rather than simply orientate it inwards. A basement level has therefore been constructed at street level, raising the living area of the house a full story above ground. In addition, the clients’ brief called for an extraordinary ceiling height of 4.5 meters on both the second and third floors, making the house stand even taller and appear even more forbidding.

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The façade of the house is a composition of forms—volumes protruding out of or layered over the main structure—textures, and colors. A sturdy metal gate covered in thick wood planks rolls in and out of the wood-slatted box.

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The front elevation

Completely filling its 750-square meter site, the house is composed of three longitudinal north–south masses. On the façade, the central mass is distinguished from the two white masses flanking it by its tall hip roof, its subtle Bali gold color and, above all, the wood-slatted box that extends to the fence line, functioning as a barrier for the steps leading to the entrance. To the left of the central mass, tall stepped terracing provides a transition from the street to the second level. In the middle of the terraces, large yellow bamboo plants fence the street, forming a further barrier to the white, flat-roofed volume behind. The white volume on the right is shielded from view by the gate leading to the garage.

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High ceilings, expansive travertine flooring, a glass-encased staircase, a controlled palette, and spare modernist furniture inject a Zen feel in the open-plan living and dining areas, which are flooded with light from the pivoting wood-framed glass doors opening out to the swimming pool at the far corner of the site. The combined living space gives the occupants room to breathe and contemplate textures and tones. The dining area is separated from a kitchenette at the far end by a waist-high counter concealing the barest of kitchen essentials: a small microwave and a double-door refrigerator, both in sleek metallic finishes, contributing to the minimalist hitech look. A pair of lamps suspended from the ceiling mark the position of the dining table. A couple of bright red single-seaters in the living area add a splash of color to the largely monochromatic color scheme.

The basement, which occupies the longitudinal central and right-hand masses on the first (ground) level of the house, contains parking for three cars in the front half, flanked by staircases leading to the second floor, and servants’ quarters at the back, also linked to the upstairs.

After climbing the steps within the wood-slatted box to the second floor entrance porch, visitors enter a guest living room through a set of doors to the right. Beyond the entrance and the guest living room, the central mass houses the dining room, which flows seamlessly into a spacious living room on the left of the site set between two large, unenclosed spaces. These voids are filled with gardens and a pool, accessed from both dining and living areas through wood-framed pivoting doors. The kitchen is located at the far back, while a bathroom and guest room are placed between two lightwells in the right-hand mass. The main focus of the second floor, however, is decidedly on the left where the two gardens and pool provide spatial continuity to the elevated ground plane. Sunlight animates the living and dining areas, entering through the glass doors, while the smaller lightwells on the right also bring light into the house and allow plenty of cross-ventilation.

The third level is reached via a steep, double-split staircase protected by a thick glass railing. Slightly cantilevered above the staircase and adjacent lightwell is a blue box housing an enclosed family room. Here, once again, the architect plays with the spatial relationship and scales of the prominent blue volume vis-à-vis the spaces beneath it, especially as can be seen from the staircase landing. From a glass desk in the box placed against the opening facing the lightwell, one can experience the interplay of volumes within volumes and spaces.

Surrounding the central family room are four bedrooms: the master bedroom with adjoining bathroom and walk-in closet to the north, two bedrooms on the left above the living room, and another in front above the entrance porch. Panels of light-colored timber cover the walls of the master bedroom, while a darker reddish tone of timber is used for the floors, and an even darker coffee tone for the wooden furniture. The use of timber in the bedrooms creates a subtle composition of colors and provides tremendous warmth in contrast to the relatively cold materials and neutral colors employed in the more public areas of the house.

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The longitudinal dining area, with the kitchenette at one end and a washroom to the side, is ideal for entertaining. A large white wall makes a perfect backdrop for displaying modern art.

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The entrance to the house is encased within a wood-slatted structure that protects it visually and, to a certain extent, also physically and yet allows light and air to pass through.

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The longitudinal second floor plan (left) shows the living area on the left sandwiched between the pool and front garden, and the dining area, kitchenette, and (at the far end) the kitchen in the middle volume. The guest living room, bathroom, and guest bedroom range to the right. On the third floor (right), four bedrooms surround the family room.

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A sculptural two-tiered staircase composed of concrete, wood, stainless steel, and glass visibly ascends over a bed of gravel from the second to the third floor.

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In the master bedroom, a bold black headboard with protruding side tables conceals electronic gadgets. The glowing wood veneer wall behind, lit by concealed ceiling lights, adds drama to the room. The dark tones of the bed are repeated in the chairs, cushions, and flooring.

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The family room, encased in blue walls, adjoins the study which overlooks the double-height staircase through a large glass opening. The study table has been specially constructed of thick laminated glass in keeping with the overall transparency of the house.