Versatility and Timelessness: Traditional Rattan in the Modern World

September 1, 2021



Shan Arcega

Rattan is an ancient material that grows in the tropical jungles of Asia. Mainly, Malaysia, China, and of course, the Philippines – the largest source of this vine-like palm. Locally, rattan can be seen in a traditional Philippine household as everyday material. Some households make use of rattan baskets and mats, primarily functional items while some households have rattan furniture, maybe even both. Overall, rattan has flown through time for being such a maneuverable material. It can be bent, curved, and can be used both indoors and outdoors, and has a golden color that highlights its tropical roots while presenting immense durability against tough weather or pesky insects. 

The 19th century British Empire was privy to the boom of tropical furniture and saw many families use bamboo and other tropical materials brought back from the tropical and Asian countries. In the next century, Philippine-made rattan furniture started appearing in the U.S. and were usually in the flamboyant Victorian style, which was quite perfect for the Hollywood set-up these pieces were mostly spotted in. 

In international design, the sturdy rattan is an incredibly popular trend that can be seen all over homes and public spaces. Its versatility and timelessness became the strength that transformed it into a flexible material for ventilation, privacy, and even natural lighting. Soon enough, rattan had become such a well-known material that designers from all over the world have used it in a multitude of ways. 

Nitton Architects for one created a 90 square meter urban home in Singapore. Its minimalist design mainly focuses on the materials to put personality into the space. Among its many notable features, the apartment uses a system of pivot and sliding doors for flexible partitioning. Since the center pivot doors were used as a centerpiece in the open layout, they were a point of interest and attracted the eye with their use of plywood panels sandwiched by natural rattan.

Ho Chi Minh City has the City Oasis Apartments created by K.A. Studio. An apartment complex with 27 rooms, this structure worked as a green and refreshing retreat from the polluted and noisy city. Its nature-centered design features a façade with natural-looking, curving lines wrapped by layers of many small tropical trees that vary in species depending on the position. Its interiors meanwhile use eco-friendly materials and traditional hand-made materials including rattan, naturally regenerating woods, lightweight concrete, terrazzo, and local split stones. 

The Cilandak Stackhouse completed by Atelier Riri in South Jakarta is an example of a contemporary home that features the traditional. One of its decorative elements is a wall and roof extension made of synthetic rattan. Merging function and form just like how the entire home design intended, the rattan element was a personalized second layer that allows natural air to flow into the home and reduces solar heat.

The Pizza 4P’s Restuarant, Landmark 72 in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi was crafted on the idea of separating itself from the monotony of Hanoi’s jungle of high-rise buildings and commercial spaces. With a five-meter high ceiling, Landmark 72 was designed with seven levitating cylinder columns that encase the ceiling lights. Anchored and suspended from the upper floor’s reinforced concrete slab, these cylinders are also supported by T-columns. Alongside these wooden cylinders are local materials like rattan, a local species of fast-growing acacia, tanned wood surfaces, and sanded terrazzo with other steel elements. 


The Odori Hotel by Nimara Architects in Indonesia is another notable piece that stands out from its neighborhood. Alongside an abstract facade highlighted by protruding windows, its finish materials are also made up of wash paint that resembles steel material, black metal plat stripes, and synthetic rattan ceiling for the ground floor entrance that brings forth a natural impression. 

Rattan’s versatility, however has become a bit of a problem. According to research, rattan is already being used by almost 700 million people worldwide. Being one of the world’s most valuable non-timber forest products, rattan is already in danger of overuse and is facing sustainability problems due to its high demand. 

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