top of page
  • miaja5

Designing Homes 'Tropical Modernism' - Sensible Isabelle Miaja


My great grandfather was a mason, he was the one who built our family country home and spending my summers in that house, I never paid attention to the fact that we could stay inside during the summer months and never feel hot – on the contrary, we would be running outside under the scorching sun, and at the hour of the “ quatre heure” the French tea time break, my mother would call out and as soon as we stepped in the house we would feel cool – almost chilly - the shutters would be almost closed and the summer rays would filter through and create beautiful shadows, and that amazing dust light dancing in the air. Built out of local stones,  the thick walls of the house were made to last several lifetimes and my great grandfather would be proud to see several generations of children to this date, still taking refuge in its refreshing interiors.

Moving from France to designing homes in California. From Craftsman bungalows to Beverly Hills luxurious residences recreating Mediterranean, colonial, or English Tudor styles. I came to Asia where a whole new learning curve was awaiting me.

We all find ourselves, mentors, as we go through life. One of my earlier ones is Frank Lloyd Wright. A visionary whose work continues to serve as an inspiration. The bedrock upon which much of modernist architecture is built. ”Falling Waters” Residence built-in 1938, in Bear Run, a summer camp in western Pennsylvania is set atop a waterfall. The concrete-and-limestone home, entwined with the body of water that gives it its name, is a symbolic masterpiece, referencing the surrounding natural forms. Wright chose locally sourced sandstone to make up the body of the house, and a limited colour palette for the exterior to ensure that the property blended into its surroundings. In doing this, Wright presented an example of "organic architecture", a philosophy that promotes the harmony between design and nature.

To follow Wright’s footpath, the materials, motifs, and basic ordering principles repeat themselves throughout the building as a whole. The idea of organic architecture refers not only to the building’s' literal relationship to the natural surroundings but how the building’s' design is carefully thought about as if it were a unified organism. Geometries throughout Wright's buildings build a central mood and theme.

Coming to Asia, the principles of “organic architecture” had to be adapted to this new environment. The weather already is one of the main considerations and the building materials available in this part of the world another important factor. To learn new ways to design and to adapt to the new set of laws of building in Asia, I could not find a better guide than Geoffrey Bawa.

Bawa was a Sri Lankan architect and amongst the most influential Asian architects of his generation. He is the principal force behind what is today known globally as “Tropical Modernism”. Much like Frank Lloyd Wright, Bawa's architecture is at one with the land: inside and outside blend seamlessly, and it is designed for the maximum pleasure of its inhabitants. He was influenced by colonial and traditional Ceylonese architecture. Lunuganga estate, an abandoned rubber plantation near Bentota, was designed around his philosophy of ‘a house is a garden’ and it resonates nowhere more so than at Lunuganga. The expanse of the tamed wilderness was his place of awakening. Bawa’s style described by one architect gives a perfect insight “his lyrical understanding of space and climate is distilled in the essence of all his works, which are profoundly evocative of tradition.”

Learning from the past is the best way to go forward and visiting Singapore’s Black and White houses is a great way to learn how to build in our climate, using Nature’s elements to design the best living conditions. The perfect example of such a house was built in 1903 on Cluny Road by a gifted architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell. He built landmarks like the Raffles Hotel and Singapore Cricket Club.

Studying his construction methods we can see how Black and White houses were strategically built to combat the relentless tropical weather, in rain or shine. Its foundation borrows from the indigenous Malay style of elevating the house off the ground with pillars and arches. The ground floor is laid with tiles to retain most of its night-time coolness throughout the day. Timber is the primary material used for the second-floor, which absorbs solar radiation less rapidly. Outside, the wide verandas have overhanging eaves to minimise direct sunlight. The high-steeped roofs of a Black and White house serve a dual purpose of controlling rainfall while doubling as a chimney-like system, drawing hot air to the highest point, creating a well-ventilated space for the homeowners.

Tradition, Space and Climate are what makes a home belong and thrive in its natural surroundings – Designing this house and continuing in the footsteps of Wright and Bawa, we too, intend to break down the artificial segregation of inside and outside, building and landscape. Creating a seamless experience between vegetation and living spaces.

Realising an architecture that is "climate responsive", relying on natural ventilation and other elements such as water features and extra-wide eaves gives us the chance to reduce a building's carbon footprint and forgo air conditioning without discomfort.

Being half Spanish, I love the idea of a shaded courtyard, adding pools, ponds, and water features as they pre-cool air entering the house. I often select slab stone floors as passively shaded areas around earth-coupled slabs keep surface ground temperatures lower during the day and allow night-time cooling.

Building homes with sensibility and Sustainability brings us back to a time when technology was mindful of our world by using what was at hand and understanding the environment and make the best of it. Contemporary creations of organic architecture are about avoiding materials of construction that require more embodied energy to build and sustain it; when the building blends naturally and sits seamlessly to its surroundings, reflecting cultural continuity, it is 'organic' and idealistic.

And to finish my personal journey on how I became an “Organicist”, I bring to you the principles of the Gaia Charter proposed by Architect and planner David Pearson:

“Let the design be inspired by nature and be sustainable, healthy, conserving, and diverse

                  Let the design unfold, like an organism, from the seed within.

                  Let the design exist in the "continuous present" and "begin again and again".

            Let the design follow the flows and be flexible and adaptable.

            Let the design satisfy social, physical, and spiritual needs.

            Let the design "grow out of the site" and be unique.

            Let the design celebrate the spirit of youth, play, and surprise.

            Let the design express the rhythm of music and the power of dance…..”

"Every great architect is - necessarily - a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age." - Frank Lloyd Wright.

Isabelle Miaja

June 2020


Stefanie Hauger recently signed up with our Gallery – Miaja Art Collections – Her large-scale paintings, bold and colourful canvases are designed to literally and aesthetically influence the spaces that they find themselves in. Her intention and wish for the viewer to have an uninhibited engagement and interaction with the imagery, allowing it to ‘get under your skin’ she explains, and thus leading to a deeper dialogue with its complex visual language. Aesthetic conviction and fearlessness are two of her distinctive traits.

‘Stone Stacks’ fits perfectly with our Tropical Modern home, her oil paintings tell a story. Also known as Cairns or Rock Stacks, her paintings represent mounds of stones balanced precariously on top of one another in seemingly physically impossible positions, with gravity playing a key role in the success of the structure. The act of stacking stones is a practice of great patience, huge physical effort, and concentration, thereby translating into a vehicle for meditation.

Energetic colour combinations and undulating, intertwining oversized brushstrokes that appear to vibrate in a rhythmic dance. With wide sweeping brushstrokes she binds and stitches them together to stabilize them visually and symbolically. She transforms what was an uncomfortably unbalanced composition into a solid, confident celebration.

Her paintings celebrate life and the outburst of colours are very much a part of the tropical exuberance we are surrounded with. They resonate the simplicity of the space with an expression of freedom and yet, calculated restraint – Her work to me has a strong Asian influence. Her stroke-like paintings remind me of Chinese brush paintings, they are both meaning to be an expression of the essence of the subject.

Stefanie Augier’s inner journey depicted in her paintings, “Stone Stacks”, like the practice of Chinese painting Masters, is very much about her quest in Finding the “Chi” -the movement of the life force.


Guillaume Roche is one of the first artists to join our Gallery – Miaja Art Collections. The life of nature is his source of inspiration – the chaos of stones, the ever-changing winds, the many changing colours of the sea, the clear or violent skies. Energy and eruption are keywords within his works, while his shapes are purified and softened by the erosion of time. His mastership of evanescent colours and the luminosity of stainless steel shaded from white to black are to be noted. His works, with its controlled stability, are right at the limit of the fulcrum and invite us into a world where duality is pacified and celebrated.

Guillaume Roche’s sculpture 'Energy Splash' adds to the elements by bringing metal energy to the house – a forever student of Feng Shui – bringing in the five elements to balance the Chi of the House, adding to the well-being of its occupants. Guillaume’s sculpture represents water flowing and splashing with elegance. By adding movement and grace, his sculptures become an inherent part of its surroundings, the reflectivity of the metal, an intrinsic part of the nature it stands in.


Renowned photographer Adrian Houston’s latest exhibition, A Portrait of the Tree is one of the most ambitious projects of his career. Adrian has spent the last four years traveling the world photographing trees and hearing the stories behind them. These trees hold a special meaning for a great group of people including Richard Branson, Raymond Blanc, Goldie Hawn, and many others.

Adrian decided to embark on this project that would give trees a voice and raise awareness of tree preservation as so many of our trees are being wiped out by disease and global warming. I asked what the inspiration was behind the idea and where Adrian’s love of trees started.

“By photographing people’s favourite trees and hearing their stories and history about them, this exhibition is all about giving trees a voice and making people aware of the importance of trees and what they do for us."

Adrian came to Singapore recently, meeting with the head of the Arboretum at the Botanical Gardens to photograph some of its famous heritage trees – amongst them the Giant Kola Tree a native to the tropical rainforests of Africa. Parts of the plant are often used in its places of origin in treating various sicknesses. The nut, which is high in caffeine content, is bitter in flavour. This Tree was dedicated to Mr. Nelson Mandela of South Africa, to commemorate his visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1997. It was endorsed as a Heritage Tree in 2014.

As Singapore progresses, there is a danger of losing these mature trees. In view of this concern, the Heritage Trees Scheme was announced on 17 Aug 2001 with the objectives to conserve and to educate the community on the importance of protecting our mature trees.

Everyone hold one tree close to their heart, we often use them to rest our back to read a book, in a park for some shade or admire the forest with its smells and sounds, every tree tells a story and Adrian with his lenses captures that unique breathing moment between dawn and twilight.




Coffee Table:

Side Table:

by Fiam

Outdoor Lounge Chair:

Outdoor Side Tabler:

Area Rug:

Custom Design

Feature Wall Lighting:

Table Lamp:

Spaghetti Vase (Green) - Gaetano Pesce

Feature Wall:




Artwork (above):

Stone Stack, Year 5: Exploration II (2019)

190 x 160 - By Stefanie Hauger

Price Available Upon Request.

Artwork (above):

Stone Stack, Year 5: Exploration IV (2020)

180 x 150 - By Stefanie Hauger

Price Available Upon Request.

Artwork (above):

Kola Tree (2020)

Price Available Upon Request.

Sculpture (above):

Energy Splash

Price Available Upon Request.


Original Design by Isabelle Miaja.

For more information and project enquiry, please visit:

For more information and artwork enquiry, please visit:

413 views0 comments


bottom of page