DARWIN - TROPICAL ARCHITECTURE IDEAS
Tropical Architecture Study
Casey Temby
 
Since living in Darwin, I have been amazed at how unsuited the current residential and commercial architecture is to the climate.

Of course the rush to rebuild and rehouse the residents and services after Cyclone Tracey in 1974 was a necessity and the design of buildings was most likely an afterthought. Perhaps they were intended to be short-term buildings and then when things had stabilised these would be replaced with more thought out designed buildings. However, I am not sure if this is the rationale because I still see being built today the concrete blocks that are prevalent in every Australian city, even cities with completely different climates. Whatever the reasoning may be, today Darwin is left with these buildings that are not only an eyesore but also energy inefficient structures that leave a large footprint on the immediate environment.
 
This study examines tropical architecture in northern Australia and collates the ideas of others who have examined this topic before, resulting in a mock-up residential design. It is worth noting that I have not taken into account cyclonic architecture. In researching this topic, there was a scarcity of information on innovative tropical architecture. The National Archive of Australia, Darwin office housed some literature from the seventies focusing on residential housing design for Darwin which seemed to be the most informed, clear and comprehensive study and this paper refers frequently to its ideas.

The air is thick and humid in the tropics, the heat extreme, the wet is a welcome relief from the heat however it can be torrential, and extreme dust in the dry season. It is essential that air flows to cool things down but also for insects, as the tropics are a haven for mosquitoes. The environment is demanding especially on man-made environments.
 
These factors need to be taken into account when designing for the tropics and the main recurrent design themes from my studies are:

* Elevation – prevent ants, vehicle shelter, play area, laundry, security, dust, and dissipation
* Orientation – east/west axis
* One-room wide houses – promote cross ventilation
* External awnings
* Shade trees
* White roof (current movement in California)

These themes represent a typology that we sometimes associate with typical tropical architecture but nonetheless a common sense typology that is still relevant today.

An example of pre-Cyclone Tracey typical tropical architecture is Burnett House at Myilly Point that survived the Cyclone and the World War Two bombing.
Quote from the signboard at Myilly Point (above):

Designing for the tropics
Stretching west down Myilly Point [in east-central Darwin] is a group of four tropical houses designed in 1937 by B.C.G. Burnett, principal Government Architect for the Northern Territory. His previous experience in China and Malaya enabled him to understand the local climate. He designed elevated houses with steep- pitched roofs and open eaves to catch the refreshing sea breezes. Further innovations included replacing the external walls with asbestos-cement [ie., fibrolite] louvres that could be adjusted according to the weather conditions. The living areas and bedrooms were separated by three-quarter height partitions to allow for cross-ventilation. Burnett's practical and aesthetic designs established a regional architectural style that continues to influence contemporary housing designs.
      Burnett House with Louvered walls                                                                         3/4 partitions and louvres for air flow
Burnett’s selection of ideas and also the aforementioned themes on tropical architecture have informed my design process for a single dwelling home illustrated by basic conceptual sketches below.
My study does not consider urban density for example, tropical architecture for high density apartment blocks which is important for the future. It primarily looks at single dwelling structures. However, with future trends in architecture such as the invention of new materials and the use of new technologies perhaps tropical architecture will evolve into another typology that will be more suited to urban density amid the increased population forecasts.
The environmental factors must be taken into account when designing for the tropics and its extremities in weather but why has this been forgotten over the last few decades?
Adapted to to a tropical climate? A residential apartment building fin Darwin
Perhaps it is the allure of cheap, quick real estate with the promise of making quick money from property, however how long can man conquer the environment? Perhaps it will take something like the NT Government’s current mini budget initiative to heavily increase power taxes for people to realise they cannot continue to live in energy inefficient buildings in which one leaves the air conditioning on all day and night. A move back to the traditional concepts of tropical architecture will hopefully be a more alluring proposition enabling Territorians can live more harmoniously with the environment.
DARWIN - TROPICAL ARCHITECTURE IDEAS
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DARWIN - TROPICAL ARCHITECTURE IDEAS

My tropical architecture study - Darwin
12
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Published:

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