PHOTOGRAPHY ALAÏA & HANS FONK | TEXT IZABEL SPIKE
Coconut Grove, just south of Miami, is a subtropical jungle. The vegetation is imposing. Old strangler figs span the road like a tunnel. Houses are camouflaged by a luxuriant green symphony of trees and shrubs – like the house the architect Max Strang built for his family, just across the way from David Fairchild’s famous Kampong. It is a substantial, rectangular house set carefully among old trees. The first floor forms a striking element. It is designed like an open terrace immediately below the roof trusses and seems to float between treetops.
It was designed according to the principles of the traditional ‘Long House’ and is intended for outdoor living. A large terrace extending the full length of the house and immediately beneath the steel trusses of the roof: a homage to Miami’s and, more particularly, Coconut Grove’s climate. It seems to float between the crowns of the royal palms, strangler figs and royal Poinciana, which, when in flower, conjure up a spectacular show of colour. The house was designed by the architect Max Strang, who lives there with his wife and two children. It is his vision of the eco-friendly, modern architecture that his studio practises.
“Here, a lot of people have houses like air-conditioned boxes. We wanted to enjoy the climate and outdoor living. The house is a bit like a tree cabin and was inspired by some of the houses we saw on Bali. We translated that approach into the here and now. After all, it is a kind of jungle here, at least that’s what it feels like with the profusion of greenery all around.”
Coconut Grove (known as The Grove) is an extremely pleasant place to live. The vast expanses of mangrove at the coast gradually make way for a veritable jungle of subtropical and tropical vegetation (including the baobab in Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden introduced by the late David Fairchild, one of the most important plant explorers of all time). Strangely-shaped strangler figs with a latticework of trunks and aerial roots arch over the roads to form a tunnel and most houses hide in the riotous greenery of their gardens.
“The basic idea was to have a long house with high ceilings. We wanted to regulate the indoor climate by means of cross ventilation. The width is 24 feet (around 7 metres), so you’re never further than 12 feet from a window or door, all of which can be opened”, the architect explained, and went on: “The house was designed from the top downwards. We wanted to live upstairs among the treetops. The roof serves as an umbrella sheltering the whole house”.
The entire first floor is indeed geared to outdoor living, with large terraces, bars and changing rooms, but the ground floor is furnished for the ‘everyday’. The layout is as simple as it is efficient. A polished concrete floor running end to end makes for unity, and that is further accentuated by the high ceilings.
At one end, the architect planned the large living area. The dark ebony-coloured window frames are also surrounds for the view of the garden. The kitchen is in the middle and the master bedroom is at the other end – as are the children’s rooms, a small office and the utility rooms. The house is furnished in an eclectic mixture of Asian furniture and objects, alongside ‘modern classics’.
The kitchen has a work block made from Dade County pine, a hard timber which was once widely available in the county. It is termite-proof and much in demand for house-building, so much so that there are practically no trees left – so no new timber available. The Strang table was made from old beams recycled from their last house and crosscut to form a sturdy table.
Max Strang has carried off a good number of architecture prizes for this house and the project has established his reputation as an architect. Moreover, it serves as a popular location for fashion productions and films.