14 Best Tropical Modern Homes That Upgrade the Island Style

Built for warm climes and lush surroundings, these tropical modern homes take a sophisticated approach to being laid-back.
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What does the modernist tenet of "form follows function" look like in the warm, humid climes of the tropics? Tropical modernism, a movement that adapted traditional modernism, answers this question with new techniques and materials, such as passive cooling and stone floors, better suited for the local environment.

Throughout balmy locales such as Sri Lanka, Brazil, Hawaii, and Florida, architects including Geoffrey Manning Bawa, Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Vladimir Ossipoff, and Paul Rudolph made their mark on tropical modernism. The breezy, tropical modern homes below showcase the melding between indoors and out with thatched roofs, glass doors, and fresh color palettes enlivened by lush greenery.

This "No Footprint" Prefab Embraces Tropical Modernism and Sustainable Design

On the fringes of a tropical rainforest, this prefab abode in Ojochal, Costa Rica, responds to the environment using passive climate control. Designed by the firm A-01, it has a permeable louvered facade backed by mosquito netting that lets air pass through while providing shade. The open kitchen outside capitalizes on both views and natural ventilation.

Calling to mind Paul Rudolph's low-slung, midcentury glass pavilions, this new-build is an homage to the Sarasota School. Seibert Architects went back in time while adhering to current FEMA codes, such as a roof that can handle hurricane winds. Although the owners' art collection is a focal point of the house, so are the glass walls. Sliding doors open onto a courtyard that is home to a giant aloe and two Madagascar palms.

An old mango tree, welcoming visitors to the grounds, inspired the arrangement of this Semarang home designed by architect Tamara Wibowo for her family of five. Three volumes—living, service, and office and garage—are clad in concrete to alleviate solar gain and maximize cross-breezes through large openings lined with teak. Floor-to-ceiling glass opens the dining room, marked by geometric Tegel Kunci tiles, onto greenery.

Near São Paulo, this vacation home by architecture studio RMAA is defined by two linear structures stacked upon each other. Flaunting exposed concrete, aluminum, and glass, it has large eaves that offer shading. Living spaces are extended by the large overhang that in essence creates an al fresco porch, while floor-to-glass sliding panels open up the indoors completely to the outdoors. 

Comprising two volumes, one exclusively for guests, this indoor/outdoor villa in Bali balances tropical and Mediterranean styles. Design studio Word of Mouth opted for a blue-and-white palette throughout the open-plan space, buoyed by materials like bamboo and concrete/pebble flooring. All bedrooms open onto terraces, and to cool the double-story main building, ceiling fans foster cross-ventilation.

Brick walls covered in stucco set a minimalist tone at this Colima home designed by the architectural practice CDM. A circular garden decked out with palm trees is undoubtedly the star—and helps direct airflow from the infinity-edge pool and terrace to the bedrooms on the opposite side of the house—but there are other striking elements, including a limestone partition. Veiling the indoor courtyard from the garage, its angled surfaces allow wind to circulate. The thatched, palapa-style roof also helps deflect solar heat gain while staying true to the local vernacular. 

Pascali Semerdjian Arquitetos designed this four-story dwelling in São Paulo with natural lighting and ventilation in mind, maintaining a dialogue with the outdoors at all times. For instance, the living and dining rooms, set on a floor of reclaimed wood, lead directly to the garden.

Slatted wood folding doors and glass walls that open onto the garden are signature elements at this house outside of Campinas designed by Studio Otto Felix. To minimize site impact and eliminate the need for concrete or bricks, a Light Steel Frame system was employed. Cleverly, the structure seems to float above the koi fish-filled natural pool.

Fouché Architects extended this abode, in the suburbs of Brisbane, with a rear addition that brings in light and fresh air. The kitchen, found on the upper level, opens directly to the living room, which then leads to an al fresco dining area. Like the louvered windows in the kitchen and bathroom, the floor-to-ceiling glass doors allow for natural ventilation.

For his Rio de Janeiro pied-à-terre overlooking the water, a European fashion designer turned to InTown Arquitetura to realize his dreams for an easy-to-maintain hub for social gatherings. There's built-in bench seating in the dining room, epoxy "rugs," wood-covered walls and pillars, and a wall of windows over 42 feet long. But the highlight is the master suite. Reached from the rest of the apartment along an open walkway that increases natural lighting and ventilation, it is surrounded in glossy blue Colortil tile. 

Casa Pueblo Tulum, a 16-room boutique hotel, is like a contemporary hacienda, with antique pottery effortlessly mixing with hand-made banquette upholstery and sculptural, polished concrete sinks. The materials palette is soothing, featuring white plaster walls and Caribbean ipe wood. Surrounded in greenery,  including a stand-out Chaca tree, the atrium is one of the hotel's loveliest spots.

Near to San Jose in Costa Rica, photographer Sergio Pucci's live-work space is crafted from massive metal shipping containers plucked from the country's hectic Caribbean port. Architect Maria Jose Trejos stacked the boxes like puzzle pieces, creating an indoor courtyard and gallery space that wrap around a cedar tree and bring in abundant sunlight, with sliding bamboo panels coming to a shady rescue. Above, the terrace is lined with artificial grass; inside there are numerous reusable materials on display, like shipping pallet tables. 

For this holiday getaway on Brazil's Pipa Beach, architecture firm Vilela Florez created two separate volumes, with a series of bridges that connect the bedrooms and open up with glazed sliding doors to the open-plan living area. Along with freestanding walls of natural stone, concrete masonry blocks shape the home's architectural identity, its vertical ribs fitted with bamboo panels arranged in a chevron pattern that help shade the facade. 

In Mexico City, architect Yuri Zagorin Alazraki created a home of stacked boxes, complete with lush garden. It features an outdoor dining room, a bedroom shaded by sustainable tropical wood, and several courtyards. This one lines concrete walls with soft yellow jasmine.

Related Reading: Modern Homes in Brazil


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