browse 74 THE SUSTAINABLE ASIAN HOUSE by Dr Paul McGillick Photography by Masano Kawana 2013 Tuttle Publishing EKAMAI HOUSE, Bangkok, Thailand, Chat Architects (p28) Review by Joanne Goh | Images from the book courtesy Tuttle Publishing Dr Paul McGillick is a writer and editor based in Sydney. Specialising in architecture, art and design, he is the author of numerous articles, catalogue essays and books, including 25 Houses in Singapore and Malaysia for Periplus; Concrete, Steel, Glass, a study of leading Malaysian commercial architectural practice Hijjas Kasturi; a monograph on leading Australian architect Alex Popov, and a history of Sydney Architecture. Award-winning photographer Masano Kawana is one of the most exciting food, interior, and landscape photographers in Asia. Born in Japan and based in Singapore, Kawana has travelled, lived and surfed throughout the region, photographing a wide variety of subjects. His book Shunji: New Japanese Cuisine won a James Beard Award for best cookbook photography. nyone looking to find houses looking like glorified huts harnessing wind or solar energy or houses that eschew airconditioning throughout will be sorely disappointed. Flipping through the book for the first time, it is tempting to miss the point of the book’s title. Sleek-looking, well-crafted houses abound, and there is glass – a lot of glass. (There are, to be fair, lots of timber screens too but that is not the point – yet.) This is not a book about sustainable architecture – as we traditionally know it. As editor Paul McGillick is quick to point out in the introduction, the scope of this book is greater than that of houses that ‘minimize their impact on their immediate physical environment as well as minimize their use of non-renewable resources (energy and materials) in the building and running of those houses – with the implication that they do so in a way that still enables a comfortable way of life and provides for the needs of a diverse range of inhabitants.’ Good news for someone who has long tired of the fashion that is Sustainable Architecture. The introduction is key to a full understanding and appreciation of the context of the book. From the onset, McGillick carefully establishes everything that the book is not before going on to expand on what the book sets out to do. (‘Nor do I wish to comprehensively discuss the recent evolution of the tropical Southeast Asian house.’) Here he cites Robert Powell and Amanda Achmadi in respectful deference to those, he shares, who are greater authorities on the topic. KUBIK HOUSE, Ipoh, Malaysia, Marra + Yeh (p50) What this book sets out to do is to look at sustainability in a broader sense. In the individual write-ups, or the introduction, there are no traces of discussions regarding the aesthetics of the houses. The beauty of the craft or form here is distinctly not a subject of debate or discussion. The book remains confidently and steadfastly focused in its aim to discuss the context of present sustainability. Ecology, McGillick posits, is the precursor of sustainability. Sustainability here covers solely the home, and the book explores how ‘architecture is responding to changing demographics in Southeast Asian societies...Not only do we all need a home, we all want one that will sustain us in our chosen way of life.’ McGillick then expands on themes of privacy and community – factors that are changing together with urbanization and that are also unique to the different Asian countries listed in the book. A number of the houses selected are centred around providing for the extended family whilst retaining a sense of privacy for individuals, for example, the Batangas House in the Phillipines by Archipelago Architects, as well as the Prachachuen House in Thailand by Kanoon Studio. Looking at a sense of community on a greater scale, there is also a house that can be opened out to the street, a somewhat more radical way of bringing back to life the nostalgia of a ‘street culture’. HOUSE AT DAMANSARA, Kuala Lumpur, RT+Q Architects (p58) On the other spectrum, there are also houses that are built for retreat, such as the Cove Grove House 2 in Singapore by Bedmar & Shi, and the Carphenie House in Malaysia by Design Collective Architects. A strong emphasis is also placed on the house as a place of ‘refuge and prospect’, bringing us back to the point of a dwelling being able to sustain the occupants in a way they are most comfortable with. Many of the houses have internal courts (arguably a very common yet infinitely sensible feature), and where possible because of the advantages of space and land, open out to beautiful views of nature. McGillick stresses the importance this with regard CAIRNHILL SHOPHOUSE, Singapore, Richard Ho Architects (p108) BRAWIJAYA HOUSE, Jakarta, Indonesia, Han Awal Architects (p136) to ‘healthy living both in the physical and in the emotional sense...living with the tropical climate has been extended to celebrating and enjoying the tropical landscape rather than keeping it at arm’s length’. There are, to be fair, references to recycled material used, and interesting examples of ‘urban renewal’, that is, creating comfortable modern dwellings in old shophouses so they are not entirely torn down (Bangkok House in Thailand by Scott Whittaker, Cairnhill Shophouse in Singapore by Richard Ho Architects). Again, these are not given inflated attention, but brought in as complementary asides to the main issues of social and cultural sustainability. However (and understandably so), not every aspect is addressed, nor every question answered. It was highlighted in the introduction that creating the illusion of being a part of a landscape is ‘nowhere more urgent than in an apartment’ but in the write-up of the Brookvale Apartment in Singapore, there was minimal description on how the apartment engaged with the landscape around it. The perennial question of identity was also raised, highlighting the propensity amongst (Asian) architects of adopting an international style, where many homes from Bali to Manila ‘inescapably reek of inauthenticity’. In the Equilibrium House in Thailand by Vaslab Architecture, the architect and his client were described as being fans of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, with the same ‘aesthetic predisposition for clean, geometric lines and a fondness for concrete.’ This is in no way saying that the Equilibrium House is a product of the international style without regard to any form of identity, but it does leave further questions yet to be addressed on the extent of modernist influences in Asian countries, and the limit to which it can be adopted THE PARTY HOUSE, Singapore, W Architects (p128) SENJAYA HOUSE, Jakarta, Indonesia, RT+Q Architects (p147) HOUSE 2, TANAH TEDUH, Jakarta, Indonesia, Andra Matin Architect (p160) BATANGAS HOUSE, Batangas, The Philippines, Archipelago Architects (p174) VIDAL HOUSE, Laguna De Bay, The Philippines, Renato Vidal (p182) BANGKOK HOUSE, Bangkok, Thailand, Scott Whittaker (p34) before a project runs the risk of losing its vernacular identity. This is especially so in the context of globalisation, which was also highlighted earlier. Questions remain too regarding the ‘modified’ definition of sustainable architecture. The houses are for individual clients and the furthest extent to which communities are directly engaged includes the clients’ extended families and close friends. It remains highly personal and unique to the individual. Perhaps, as with the urbanization that McGillick discusses, this sustenance also pays heed to a growing affluence amongst individuals equipped with the means to establish and accommodate a lifestyle that they aspire towards. These questions bring us back to the beginning of the introduction where McGillick owns that things are ‘a lot more complex than is sometimes suggested’. Following the neatly arranged introduction, I did wonder if it would have been better to categorise the houses according to the specific issues they addressed instead of by their respective countries, but remembered that this book is not a definitive compendium of the sustainable Asian house. What it sets out to do, and has succeeded in doing, is not only make a case for the suggestion of a new wave of sustainable houses in today’s constantly and rapidly shifting context, but to also serve as a springboard for further thoughts and dialogue on the subject.
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