Lost in Space

I’ve done a lot of travelling during the past 20 or so years, and one thing I’ve noticed each time I return from an overseas trip is how Australians are taking ideas from across the seas and adapting them to the way we live – a bit of European-style apartment living here, a Japanese or Balinese garden there. An igloo? Maybe not. Except when the beer needs chilling.

Often, Aussie home owners might not even be aware that that’s what they’re doing, or why. But that’s globalisation for you. Trends that originate from across the planet can be on their way to your living room at the click of a mouse.

Before sliding in behind the editor’s desk at AHJ, I spent six months living by a beach in a rented apartment in Sri Lanka. While there, I came across some of Geoffrey Bawa’s creations. Bawa was one of the Asia’s most influential architects, until his death in 2003. There was an unmatched tranquillity about the spaces he designed, and he had an uncanny knack of melding interior designs with the tropical foliage outside so that the two blended seamlessly.

Bawa’s work was characterised by sensitivity to site and context. He invented sustainable architecture before the term was invented. Houses, hotels and even office buildings grew out of their landscape. It wasn’t uncommon for rooms or courtyards to be constructed around boulders or twisted trees. He designed the furniture for hotels that he built, commissioned artists he knew to decorate their walls and engaged sculptors to craft pieces to enhance atmosphere, picturing the project as a whole instead of as a sum of many parts. Gardens always played a prominent part, whether as compact courtyards or expansive lawns.

Clean lines and open spaces were typical of Bawa’s designs, and in Australia, we’ve done something similar by slowly eliminating clutter in our homes. The shift to a more condensed style of living, in townhouses and apartments, has necessitated better use of space. Kitchens are sleeker and bathrooms easier on the eye. The emergence of the Fifth Room has led to a wider range of barbecue options, water features and flat-screen TVs. We are creating sanctuaries at home, allowing space to reflect mood.

Colours and materials are chosen because they add warmth to an area (timber decking), are environmentally friendly (water tanks, solar panels), protective (paints and stains) or just because they look good. Modern technology has allowed consumers to purchase products that either age naturally or come with ready-aged appearances that bypass the time factor. We can get rusted walls, oxygenated copper doors and faded wallpapers, and laminates that replicate old stone.

Stainless steel features prominently in kitchen and bathroom fittings. Furniture, particularly electronics, can be cleverly hidden behind purpose-built doors and cupboards. Televisions screens have grown in size, but can now be attached to walls. Stereos have shrunk, but still produce cleaner sounds with improved output.

None of this would be possible if Aussie manufacturers and importers weren’t out there sourcing ideas from abroad or spending dollars on research and development. They’re bringing the world closer, and that’s a good thing.

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