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Tropical Modernism on Koh Samui

The tropical climate subverted and softened modernism into a new form – taking the formal qualities and essential concepts of modernism, yet adapting the style with local materials and techniques better suited to the environment. Methods of passive cooling and sustainable construction developed over the centuries by local architects, builders and designers familiar with the challenges – and advantages – of the warm, humid temperatures of the tropics were employed within the definition of modernism to create a new style now considered a movement of its own.



Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa pioneered this style, that has become ubiquitous in Southeast Asia’s resorts. Bawa’s work is characterised by a sensitivity to site and context. He produced ‘sustainable architecture’ long before the term was coined, and had developed his own ‘regional modernist’ stance well in advance of the theoreticians. His designs broke down the barriers between inside and outside, between interior design and landscape architecture and reduced buildings to a series of scenographically conceived spaces separated by courtyards and gardens.



Mandalay Samui Developments is reinterpreting traditional tropical architecture as many affluent home buyers ask for the laid-back look called tropical modern. Tropical modernism, a design movement in which sensitivity for local context combines with the form-making principles of modernism. This aesthetic combines the clean lines and muted color palette of contemporary design with the exotic woods and stone found in island homes. With its distinct long overhangs and roof planes, this style of architecture has taken on a much more glamorous and seductive high-end feel. At the same time, the designs are borrowing from local vernacular traditions, with a sensitivity to history, location, local vocabulary, and context.



Tropical modernism likely emerged in parts of Asia in the 1940s and ’50s when modern architects adapted designs popular during the British Empire to build practical and affordable homes. Heavy furnishings and window treatments were replaced with louvered walls and windows to facilitate cross ventilation and breezy interiors. Ornate tilework was replaced with poured-concrete foundations and walls. The tropical modern residence is a refreshing architectural expression the traditional tropical atmosphere. Inherent to its modern design is extraordinary natural light and views of lush vegetation achieved with the tactful use of wide-gauge glass and organic materials like exotic woods and polished stones—blending architectural harmoniously into the landscape upon which it sits.


The angle of inclination gives a strong presence to the roof, creating a certain pavilion-like character. Modernism is typically associated with thin horizontal roof planes intended to lightly float or even disappear. When you look at a building, one of the first things you identify with is the roof. The roof tends to give instant character to the building. These pavilions are just simple shelters, so how you handle a select few components like the roof massing, the eave, and the wall is critical.

“You don’t have to overwork the elements—the forms can be kept simple, and with contemporary detailing, the overall effect can be powerful,”

The edges and eaves of a roof are key to achieving pleasing architectural proportions. In Bali, thatched roofs will often flare out at the bottom and create beautiful overall forms. This edge detail is integral to the craftsmanship, and the crisp edge that is almost horizontal has a very different feel than upturning, which causes the roof to lose its elegance.


#RealEstate agents report #luxury buyers are demanding modern homes with an island vibe and forgoing more traditional tropical-style homes. In recent years, tropical-modern homes have been selling at a premium of as much as 30% compared with other styles. Tropical modern is what it is now - everybody is looking for something similar.

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