Tropicality-in-motion: Situating tropical architecture

Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 32, no.3 (Special Issue on Tropical architecture) (2011): 277-82. (United Kingdom). Co-authored with J H Chang.


One of the most fascinating aspects of tropical architecture is its material diversity and semantic density, that is, the different forms of built environment labelled as ‘tropical’ and the meanings these spaces potentially carry. The current diversity and density of tropical architecture contrasts with what it was during its ‘founding moment’. Tropical architecture was institutionalized in the mid-twentieth century with the establishment of educational and research units such as the Department of Tropical Architecture at the Architectural Association in London and the Tropical Building Division at the Building Research Station in Garston, UK, the publication of key texts such as Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew’s (1964) Tropical Architecture in the Dry and Humid Zones, and the completion of built exemplars in places such as Chandigarh and Ibadan (Wakely, 1983; Le Roux, 2003; Chang, 2010a). At its inception, tropical architecture was conceived as a ‘dialect’ of the so-called international style modern architecture adapted to the tropical climate, or what Fry (1959: 8) regarded as the ‘determining factor of architecture’, by incorporating ‘passive cooling’ strategies of cross-ventilation and sun-shading to ensure comfort and by specifying construction material that would resist fungal growth and corrosion caused by humidity (see also Atkinson, 1950; Koenigsberger et al., 1974). In other words, tropical architecture was, in the mid-twentieth century, primarily constructed as a technical discourse by its metropolitan protagonists such as Fry and Drew, Otto Koenigsberger and George Atkinson.

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