Recently, I’ve been thinking about the virtues of our tropical climate and how it might allow us to better deal with the pandemic, which has us all locked down once again in our homes.
It certainly helps that we have not been faced with too much rain so far this wet season, and that we do not have a winter season to face come December. Perhaps there are more ways we can embrace our climate and figure out a more sustainable lifestyle as we move forward.
Last Tuesday, while standing around my terribly wasted 20-meter long office balcony, I was trying to figure out how we could have our studio opened up to have fresh air blowing through instead of airconditioning. We certainly had that opportunity with huge trees on two sides of the office, wide eaves and wraparound balconies, and a creek behind to cool the surroundings.
We could have had an outdoor terrace pantry and with high enough ceilings, we could have had a well ventilated and passively cooled workspace. Alas, as with most spaces, our studio also fell victim to corporate reliability and an entrenched hesitance to embrace something different. So now, we are trying to recognize how to better adapt our spaces to the tropics and identify the obstacles to a more sustainable and local architectural understanding.
Tropical architecture predominantly has this imagery of wood as a primary material component. Certainly, the romance of a local architecture of rich native materials has always captured our imagination, just consider the desirability of narra planks for our homes. Yet if we are to truly pursue an architecture that can be sustainable for the tropics, the predominance of slow-growing hardwoods and the lack of native fast-growing softwoods preclude us from considering wood as a primary building material. Tropical architecture is not—or at least should not be—built in timber. Our rainforests are too valuable and our trees are our treasure.
We must revisit our ideas on sustainable tropical architecture. Vernacular architecture should not embrace predetermined tradition or self-reinforcing perceptions as a starting point. We should instead look into climate and lifestyle to define the development of a more sustainable local architecture.
Tropical built geometry
“Roofs in tropical countries should do two things, shelter from rain and provide a comfortable microclimate.” Florian Heinzelmann of SHAU Architects explores roof geometry that allows for greater volumes and cross ventilation. Imagine all the houses with ceilings that cover up roof structures that could serve to better cool our homes. Most of them simply serve to hide avoidable wirings and beams that could even serve to better articulate our rooms.
Tropical architecture should have one overarching goal, the increased movement of air to disperse heat and increase evaporation in our hot and humid climate. Expansive windows shaded by wide overhangs require broader building setbacks instead of the minimums that our building codes require. These would have the added benefit of bigger gardens that can lessen heat gain and provide space for trees that can provide additional shade for the building.