The Singapore Bay Window Phenomena

I love to lie on my belly to read. And as a young child growing up in England, I used to imagine that my dream home would have a lovely bay window looking out to a sprawling garden, with colorful cushions and loads of natural sunlight streaming in. I would picture myself nestled there, enjoying a good book.

The kind of bay windows I grew up with. (Image courtesy of bhg.com)


Fast-forward to Singapore in the mid-2000s, and you’ll find that new condominiums built around this period involve heavy usage of bay windows. No longer the picturesque design feature of my childhood imaginings, you’ll find bay windows facing airwells, or bay windows that take up 10-20% of the floor space in already miniscule bedrooms. So why were bay windows so widely and indiscriminately used in this era of condominium projects?

Prior to URA’s Circular of 22 September 2008, bay windows and planter boxes were exempted from Gross Floor Area calculations, or the total floor area subject to development charges. This loophole provided developers with an almost irresistable incentive to incorporate bay windows and planter boxes within their projects, as it allowed them to charge buyers for these areas while reducing average $/psf cost of the development as these additions were not taxed and very cheap to construct.

Monsoon windows at 1 Moulmein Rise, photo courtesy of http://www.DesignSingapore.org

In rare projects, such at the President’s Design Award-winning 1 Moulmein Rise, these cost-effective features (from developers’ perspective at least!) were adopted in a manner that provide practical benefits to the end-user. Thus, you will find bay windows here come in the form of “monsoon windows” that allow natural ventilation without rain, and energy-efficient cooling of the building.

An example of indiscriminate, overuse of the planter/bay window/ac ledge loophole, image courtesy of flathopper.wordpress.com!

Sadly, most bay windows appear to be created with the sole purpose of increasing saleable floor space at low cost, with some buildings virtually encased in bay windows! The exploitation of this loophole, and the associated problems such as increased heat transfer within affected buildings, eventually led the URA to abolish the development tax exemptions previously granted for bay windows and planter boxes. So the good news is, all project plans approved after 1 January 2009 will no longer feature indiscriminate use of such elements.

But what do you if you already have a heavily bay-windowed (for lack of better term!) property, or are eyeing a property that is perfect to you in most respects but for the many bay windows? If your bay window was originally GFA-exempt, you will need to pay development charges if you intend to hack out the space for use (assuming there are no hidden pipes/wiring within). For less drastic measures, you could consider fitting the area with cushioned seating, or adding some shelving/storage space.

Amir Sultan of Sglivingpod.com has some great suggestions for bay windows that are both practical and aesthetically pleasing.
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