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Q: Why Do Tropical Modern Houses Have to Be So White? A: They Don’t.

by Susi, 14 September 2008

Inspiration for Bali tropical design from dry Arizona, via Architectural Digest October 2008.

Architectural Digest (which normally makes me wince), has done it again – – not made me wince hard, two months in a row. The October issue features in its “Open Auditions” section on upcoming designers, a modern house in Arizona by Tennen Studio

OMG! It’s not white! It’s a hot climate modern house, but it’s not all white! What a bloody relief.

Tropical house inspiration from Arizona, via Architectural Digest.

Too many Bali houses of recent design are going totally albino, and it just doesn’t make sense in a bright-sun environment, nor in a tropical-wet one like Bali. The sun is so intense that no one can approach white houses here without wearing welder’s goggles or risking cataracts. And white houses are a maintenance nightmare here where green slime grows faster than beards in Ramadan.

Tennen Studio’s Syddan Residence in Arch Dig was designed for a hot-dry climate, granted. Not like Bali at all. But might it not serve as an inspiration for adamant modernists here? The combination of taupe-rendered walls with black linear elements as punctuation works like an elegantly structured logical argument. You accept it with relief and trust. 

The massing and materials are strong, yet the overall effect remains restful and easy on sun-blasted eyes. Its colour palette recedes into the landscape, letting the structure speak softly but surely, rather than shout. This approach is understated and unassailable, like the methods of persuasion of an educated and worldly aristocrat, as opposed to the braying of a tropical troppo arriviste. Take heed ye Bali builders of dream villas. Braying tries our patience terribly and will not wear well in the long run.

Study this house, for example and then go to its obvious sources of inspiration – – Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, and there’s a dash of Philip Johnson mixed with Walter Gropius windows and a base note of Rietveld in the marinade. A fine recipe, not slavish to the chefs who went before, but adapted to the context, the moment, and fresh local ingredients. Like all good cuisine du marché. Delicious.

Take a hint here for quality in tropical home design, the usual elements but without being clichéd.

The established repertoire of tropical minimalist modernism is deployed not randomly, but relevantly, and with quality finishing, precision, proportion and restraint (above). The reflected landscape in the low-heat-transfer windows is surely intentional. How many so-called architects here think that far? And how many villa impressarios pick the right Dedon knock-offs in the right colour in the right place? How many infinity pools have been thought out as completely, and integrated into the overall composition of planes and lines and landscape so thoughtfully as this one?

Tropical modern bedroom with subdued palette and fine proportions.

The palette and surface finishes of the bedroom (above) are certainly transferable to Bali. The care, attention and proper placement of works of art is exceptional. Not at all like what we see in so-called super-villas here of late. There’s nothing lacking, nothing in excess, everything in its proper place and with nature playing the leading role, as it should. Pay close attention.

Alright, this house is just a suburban Arizona house, but if the suburban Arizona designers of a suburban Arizona house can get so much right, why can’t the upstart crows on this island get a little bit closer?

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