A Timeless Blend of Vernacular & Modernity

Cover/aboveVilla Sati [House of Consciousness], Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand [2021]. Architecture: Erix Design Concepts. Photography: Soopakorn Srisakul.


A new architectural awareness is on the rise. In its various individual expressions, the new awareness rejects not only the reductive rationale of a dogmatic and universal modernism, but also the equally rootless and value free norms of consumerist populism. Often taking a critical attitude towards both of them, these still-developing intentions aim at redefining and recreating a profound sense of place with and within architecture. This sense…is correctly assumed to be rooted in the particular cultural heritage, the qualities of a specific locality, and the urban conditions specific to a certain region. 

Over the last three decades, a ‘new wave’ of prolific architects and architectural studios have delivered a diverse body of work that stand in stark contrast to the universal standards, cultural homogenisation and placelessness of modernism. In the works of men like Maximilian Jencquel, Kengo Kuma & Associates, Toshihito Yokouchi & Associates, Ando-Komuten and Nattapak Phatanapromchai, what strikes you is the surprising simplicity that combines the forms of the modern movement with Balinese, Japanese and Thai traditions in building, spirituality and, the association between architecture and nature.

Above. Uma Hati Villa, Ubud, Bali [2017]. Architecture: Studio Jenquel Bali

Uma Hati Villa

Studio Jenquel

Umah Hati [Tranquil Heart] is an understated and humble private villa, yet also is a subtly audacious hybrid, bridging the West and the East. It seamlessly blends with the environment, giving it the feeling of a large cabin - but far more precious. Working closely with the client, the design process yielded a timeless blend of Balinese vernacular and modernity. The L-shaped, single floor villa [...] hosts three bedrooms with en suite baths, living room, dining area, kitchen, powder room, pantry, laundry, and staff quarters. In traditional Balinese style, many parts of the house are open to nature. 

Local materials were carefully chosen for the project, including reclaimed Indonesian ironwood for the roof and structure. A key feature is the roof design, constructed with immaculate detail and fine craftsmanship. Rafters are made of Bankirai wood, sanded smooth and left natural. Japanese joining techniques bind the main roof ridge. Woven rattan from Sulawesi beautifully lines the interior, while ironwood shingles secure the roof cover. Modest proportions and height lend an intimate, sheltered feel to the proceedings, and an appearance of simplicity that hides the complexity of its execution.

Workers surprisingly discovered a beautiful garden space hidden along the river’s edge of the property and furnished it with a wood platform - a reminder that sometimes the land talks to us, if we listen.

Above. PC Garden, Tokyo, Japan [2013]. Architecture: Kengo Kuma & Associates [KKAA]. Photography: Mitsumasa Fujitsuka.

PC Garden

Kengo Kuma & Associates [KKAA]

Designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma & Associates, PC Garden is based on a windmill formation, with the design process starting from the central area of the house, and working its way outwards. The single-storey house is constructed with four rooms, each positioned where the arms of a windmill would normally be situated. A garden encircles the home, with each area relating its neighbouring room allowing the dwelling to form a strong association with the natural environment. This adds to the serene, nature-fused feel to the place, allowing individuals to relax. Large glazed sliding doors dissolve the boundary between indoor and outdoor space, bringing a sense of brightness and clarity inside the family home. Each room features a different material finish, establishing identifiable and clearly defined volumes, yet there it still feels incredibly harmonious in design.

Above. The Drawers House, Vung Tao, Vietnam [2016]. Architecture: MIA Design Studio, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The Drawers House

MIA Design Studio

There are reoccurring impressions on the spatial quality – the green of nature struck the eyes every early morning, the rustling of leaves each night.  These sensations are brought to the coastal city of Vung Tau through a refreshing concept, a welcoming home for a family of 4 who love the freshness of nature. With constant interactions with nature, man and trees become more intimate; space is opened up but maintains privacy of individuals. This is the daunting problem of living in metropolitan area with cramped space and pollution.

'The Drawer House' is a single – story located on a 470 square meters piece of land with a dedicated 60% of land usage for landscape. That 60% is creatively arranged through partitions so that nature is never out sight. With the remaining 180 square meters, the architects divided it into 'drawers' containing functional spaces, at the same time insert in between them 'drawers of landscape'. These 'drawers' are aligned on the same direction, however by creating alternating partitions; dwellers have an impression of unevenly put rooms. Just as drawers being pulled in and out randomly, the architects hope the tenants and nature intermingle without any obvious intention. Clients when live inside the space will have different sensations at different rooms because of continuous altering of solidity – emptiness, brightness – darkness.

'Drawers' is connected by elongated hallway going throughout the entire length of the project, decorated by refreshing line of Bridal Veil Creepers. This method of allocating green zone as a natural blind reducing the intense tropical sunlight as well as generate intriguing patterns which change as the sun moves during the day.

As the partition finishes, the in between gardens creating privacy while act as transition to the next space. The sunlight passing through, cascading shadow onto the floor forming captivating views. The boundary between the interior and exterior is being diminished, letting man sense the fluctuations of nature. By opening up and closing down 'drawers', accommodate better ventilation, hence cooing down the entire living space. The entire house acts as a living body, with a mission to connect man with man and man with nature.

The ideology behind the design of MIA Design Studio is to maximise the connection between functional spaces with natural light, wind and gardens while still preserve the privacy for each individual rooms. With the philosophy in mind, the concept for 'The Drawers House' of constructing blocks, harmonious space, using minimal but effective materials, produce a project carrying the breath of nature with suitable methods in order to bring out the best quality of life for users.

'A number of architects reject the Modem Movement not because of its particular notions concerning architecture, but because of its associations with Western forms of rationality and the technological applications of that rationality. They turn to their tradition ... not to evoke a nostalgic sense of the familiar ... but as an alternative and counter to modern Western modes of logic.'

- Adrian Snodgrass


Above. Kazutsu no le [House with a Wind Chimney], Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan [2012]. Architecture: Toshihito Yokouchi Architect & Associate. Photography: Shigeo Ogawa.

Kazutsu no le 

Toshihito Yokouchi Architect & Associate

A house with a square tiered tiled roof on a hill in the suburbs of Kumamoto City. In order to soften the strong sunlight in Kumamoto's summer, it is surrounded by earth eaves and has deep eaves. In addition, we installed a wind ledge at the top of the square roof, and by opening it, we tried to create a constant flow of cool air inside the house in the summer through the central atrium. Since the site is large, we have created gardens with different characteristics on the four sides of the house according to the purpose of each room. Since the second floor will be a room for three children, we intentionally planned to create a low-floor atmosphere like an attic.

Above. Villa Sati [House of Consciousness], Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand [2021]. Architecture: Erix Design Concepts. Photography: Soopakorn Srisakul.

Villa Sati

Erix Design Concepts

The brainchild of Nattapak Phatanapromchai of Erix Design Concepts, the minimalist home is aptly named House of Consciousness [Villa Sati], to communicate the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings. Gable roof design proves a perfect complement to the platforms along the outside, while gorgeous open floorplans increase natural light and bring the outdoors into the home. Come in through the front door, and you find the stand-alone Butterfly Stool, a 1954 icon of Japanese industrial design by Sori Yanagi. The bedroom that looks out over the field is on the right. Straight ahead is the kitchenette that connects to a living area that doubles as multipurpose room. Nearby, a set of stairs with dark clapboard siding leads to the attic that the artist has turned into a bedroom. The farthest end of the house is open to let southeasterly winds enter, a great way to ventilate the entire home. From here, the rolling sugarcane fields and mountains beyond can be seen in full view. Commenting on design details, architect Nattapak said the platforms along the outside of the house afford beautiful panoramic views of the lush mountain landscape: where he likes to sit under moonlight at 2 in the morning. Nature is on his doorstep.

Above. ​​​​​​​Nanki's House, Okayama Prefecture, Japan [2017]. Architecture: Ando-Komuten, Fukushima Japan.. 

Nanki's House


The client's request is 'I want to live like a one-story house', "I want a garden [separate from the parking lot]; The flow line from the laundry to the drying area is short', 'Which room do you live in?' There were many things such as 'I can watch TV even if I do'. Nonetheless, a three-storey house stood close to the border to the south, houses were said to be built in the future in the east, and a prefectural road ran right next to it in the north. After careful consideration, we decided to place the garden in the 'north' direction and set up a large opening to ensure stable lighting. In order to gently connect the inside and the outside, we intentionally adopted textured 'wooden fixtures' and 'inset window', and pursued details that can compete with the airtightness and heat insulation of aluminum sashes. As a result, we were able to achieve surprising [indoor] comfort. In order to create an open and comfortable space while protecting the privacy of residents from the eyes of passers-by and cars, the design and construction of the 'outer wall' and 'planting' are also finished at a high level. 

Above. K House, Godauda, Sri Lanka [2018]. Architecture: AIM Architecture & Norm Architects. Photography: Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen, Noah Sheldon.

K House

AIM Architecture & Norm Architects

The exclusive villa resort is comprised of two individual buildings; the east house placed a top a hilly part of the property, opening up to the sea, and the west house slightly tucked away, providing a more sheltered feel. Together the two form an L-shape, framing the garden and centrally placed pool area. The barn-like structure effortlessly blends into the landscape, enclosing the outdoor common areas while framing the general view towards the sea. The architecture is composed of natural materials; local teak wood, polished terrazzo, facades of polished cement and outdoor areas of local granite stone. The roof is made of recycled terracotta tiles which complements the overall natural look and tactile feel of the house. Due to the warm and pleasant climate, the architecture can blend into the nature using soft transitions. There are outdoor living and dining spaces, porches, with switching levels defining thresholds between them. Large sliding doors open up key spaces to the garden. Shutters are made of wood to avoid glazed openings. The generous roofs of the two buildings cover these indoor/outdoor spaces from rain and sun, allowing this special feeling of beingin nature in a protected and comfortable manner. The common areas of the east house open up towards each other and are generally bright and spacious, whereas the living and dining room of the west house have a more intimate and enclosed feel. The rooms, too, are withdrawn and private, with minimal interiors and décor, providing space to retreat to when needed.

Above. Baan Jihang Saen, Chiang Mai, Thailand [2022]. Architecture: Housescape Design Lab. Photography: Rungkit Charoenwat.

Baan Jihang Saen

Housescape Design Lab

The owner and designer's initial intention was to demolish a 60-year-old wooden house and reuse all the original house’s woods to build a one story house with more modern living spaces than the former.

'We began by exploring the old house and what kind of perception to the residents the house's previous living spaces conveyed. We realised that the residents’ daily activities are linked to different levels of natural light. Thus, these things give occupants a special relationship with the meaning of various materials rather than architectural materials that architects have been familiar with. We, therefore, tried to use materials that showcase their simplicity as much as possible, especially wood - a material that homeowners are familiar with. Additionally, another part is the roof. As the climate of northern Thailand is hot and humid with heavy rainfall, the seamless roofs are therefore used with a purpose of budgetary control and its potential withstanding such an extreme weather. One more significant and necessary thing is the overhanging eaves that cover the entire building. As we have mentioned, the weather in this region is severe affecting not only human being but also the materials such as cement and concrete. They will display signs of rupture after two years of being directly exposed to this kind of weather, causing residents to become uncomfortable with it. Besides, there is another part that has a cultural meaning provided by local folks of northern Thailand called Han Nam. It is like a reception area at the house’s forefront consisting of large drinking water flasks and seats for guests to relax and to have a conversation with each other for a while. It is also an area to welcome guests for a spell that is not located in the house’s private zones. The northern individuals customarily come and talk to each other in the neighborhood.'
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