Book Review: Tropical Restraint

By Michael Webb

New Brazilian House. Dominic Bradbury. Photographs by Richard Powers. Thames & Hudson. $40.

Richard Powers is an exemplary photographer of residential interiors and Dominic Bradbury is a fluent writer. They’ve collaborated before, to great advantage, on The Iconic House and The Iconic Interior, but they are unable to strike a spark with this new collection. Layout, graphics, and landscapes are undeniably beautiful, but too much of the architecture seems to be no more than a standard-issue retreat from a frenzied city or a foil to nature. And the interiors feel inert, as though they were expensive showrooms, never to be inhabited by real people.

It pains me to say this because I love Brazil and the inventiveness of its mid-century modern architecture. Brasilia is a visionary enterprise, despite its many shortcomings—far superior in its architecture to Washington DC and other invented capitals. There are wonderful buildings in Rio and Sao Paolo, and the vibrancy of those cities compensates for their dangers. But these houses seem to belong on another planet; an off-world colony out of Blade Runner, where the affluent can fly in by helicopter and ignore the reality of everyday life. I’ve visited some of these houses with their architects and it’s an oddly disorienting experience. As spreads in House & Garden, these apparitions would be entirely appropriate, but one could wish that the authors had strayed off this well- manicured path.

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