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PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 March, 2006, 12:00am

Not all the buildings in Tropical Style: Contemporary Dream Houses in Malaysia (Periplus, $230) are still residences. And many didn't begin their lives as modern dwellings. In fact, few of the 35 entries can be described as Malaysian. But rather than flaws, these apparent inconsistencies are highlights of Gillian Beal's book, which is new in paperback. Tropical Style shows how houses can be turned into resort villas; how they can be updated and preserved for future generations; and how Malaysia has made the most of its ethnic diversity in terms of architecture.

A case in point is the rotting Malay wooden house Lim In Chong bought, dismantled and reassembled with new timber where necessary, retaining about one-third of the original structure. Another memorable home is that of fashion designer Bill Keith, whose two-storey house is pictured on the cover. His Chinese, Indian and Malay collections, in a range of colours, textures and styles, underscore the eclecticism of many of the 'Malaysian' homes selected.

Also from Periplus is New Directions in Tropical Asian Architecture ($395) by Philip Goad and Anoma Pieris, with photography by Patrick Bingham-Hall. The book aims to widen the focus, where publishing is concerned, to include not only the 'tropical house' or 'tropical resort', says Goad, but also other structures such as public housing and public buildings. Eleven influential architects are profiled, many of them returnees with an acute sense of where they came from, be it India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. They include India's Rahul Mehrotra, who is known for his conservation of historic buildings, and Malaysian-born Chan Soo Khian of SCDA Architects. Ironically, one of SCDA's smallest projects is also the best example of its vision: a house and pavilion built within the decrepit walls of a Chinese shophouse in Malacca, Malaysia. For the expert commentary, descriptions and information, New Directions is worth a lengthy look.

The title of Philip Jodidio's enormous tome, Renzo Piano Building Workshop 1966-2005 (Taschen, US$125), may give the impression the Italian architect is no longer making headlines around the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Piano's current projects include the New York Times Tower, a 52-storey skyscraper in Times Square slated for completion in 2006-2007, and London Bridge Tower, which, at 390 metres in height, will be Europe's tallest building when completed in 2010. Piano, who gave us the Pompidou Centre in Paris and Kansai International Airport terminal in Osaka, is honoured with photographs and sketches of his main projects. What little is revealed of the private individual can be gleaned from notes scribbled on plans, which typically contain impetuous-looking triple exclamation marks. There is also a revealing quote about his affinity for eavesdropping: 'I never get involved in a project,' Piano says, 'without having spent some time on the site ... listening.'