Tropical Architecture: The Art of Living in the Tropics


The hot and humid climate in tropical areas might pose serious problems but thanks to the principles of tropical architecture, the climate conditions are more bearable. Without further ado, let's discover these climate-oriented architectural solutions and works in Indonesia and globally.

Tresno House in Indonesia | Source:

A Functional and Aesthetic Way of Living

As tropical climates see a high level of rainfall and humidity along with year-round sunshine, temperature in the evening normally ranges from 25-27°C and even warmer at night, from 25-30°C. Not only does this condition affect the culture of tropical countries citizens, but it also influences the way they build their residences and other constructions.

Best known for its great fit in tropical regions, and how it helps regulate indoor temperatures, tropical architecture has increasingly been the go-t0 choice for homes, resorts, spas, airports and other buildings for countries situated around the equator line. For instance, the second largest airport in the Philippines, Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) has a terminal that features a high pitch roof and low eaves to protect interior spaces from retaining hot air.

MCIA in the Philippines | Source:

To curb hot temperatures lead to exquisite design, it blends in with nature in an aesthetic way, while keeping in mind sustainability, cultural influences, and more importantly, a function-first way of creating an architectural identity.

Passive Design Is the Key

Passive design scheme | Source:

Ventilation is among the many things to thoroughly plan for when it comes to building in hot or tropical climates. This is something that can be achieved through passive design, the process of regulating indoor temperatures by making the climate work in our favour. In doing so, there's less of a need for artificial systems to achieve a favourable temperature we all seek in our shelter.

For example, a shallow building oriented perpendicular to wind directions with openings on both sides would promote natural air circulation. Furthermore, it would bring in natural light and will allow cross ventilation if oriented properly. With proper design, artificial lighting, cooling systems, and mechanical ventilations would not be needed as much.

House 24 in Singapore | Source:
Nilo Houses in Colombia | Source:

On the same note, taller structures could utilize stack ventilation to draw outside air through its body, and in deeper structures, yards or atrium can enable light to penetrate into the focal point of the floor plan. That said, partitions inside the building should work in tandem and not block air movement.

The Met Condo in Thailand | Source:

Most tropical houses also have big roof overhangs or double roof systems to fend off solar heat and glare. But since tropical countries also have wet months, angles are crucial in making sure rain water flows away from the building, which is why sloped roofs are the way to go. The roof materials are the next thing that could help a house curb heat. Clay is heat resistant by nature and is the traditional choice, but reflective metal roofs can also keep buildings cooler.

Jungle Frame House in Costa Rica | Source:

Tropical Architecture Around the World

It's hard not to talk about Paulo Mendes da Rocha when we're talking about tropical design. The Brazilian architect is prominent thanks to his sustainable approach and great tropical architecture works, like the Sao Pedro Chapel or Saint Peter Chapel.

The worship site is designed as one single element and focused around a single central pillar. Its concrete body and concrete roof help maintain a moderate temperature in a hot climate, and are flanked by a glass facade cladding system.

The Sao Pedro Chapel in Brazil | Source:‌‌

Another noteworthy tropical design is Maleny House by Bark Design Architects. Located in Sunshine Coast, Australia, this residence straddling the mountainside overlooking a stunning landscape. The tropical design starts with natural ventilation and lighting through transparent internal spaces, and the use of timber elements to release heat as soon as the sun goes down.

Maleny House in Australia | Source:

Tropical Design in Indonesia

As the country with the greatest length of the equatorial line across both land and sea, Indonesia would greatly benefit in applying tropical architecture in its constructions. Below we'll explore some notable works in a tropical paradise of "Nusantara".

Brennan House in Bali | Source: Indonesia Design Magazine Vol. X No. 57

Hidden in lush, green tropical woods, Brennan House, designed by Alessandro Landi, is an out-of-the-world residence in Bali. All of the exterior walls are made of frameless glass, with sliding doors suspended from steel beams, which can be removed from slender steel columns when the outdoor temperature is favourable.

Tropical Modern House in South Jakarta | Source: Indonesia Design Magazine Vol. VIII No. 45

Next, a house inside the urban dense jungle of South Jakarta portrays how a tropical modern residence is a refreshing work of architecture. Architecture consultancy Gouw Architects opted for a west-facing orientation and a rectangular facade that can benefit from the natural environment. A frangipani tree sits near thewaiting area, and a teak canopy helps protect the house from rainwater and heat.

Tropical Colonial House in Surabaya | Source: Indonesia Design Magazine Vol. XVI No. 93

Heading to Western Surabaya, here comes 1129 sqm tropical colonial dwelling by principal designer Raynaldo Kurnioseputro. First built in the early 2000s with resort-like style, the three-storey house seems more appealing with a minimalist glasshouse touch in the front side after renovation. Going further inside almost all spaces of the building, the owner and guest can behold the beautiful water fountain and pleasant green garden.

Tropical Colonial House in Surabaya | Source: Indonesia Design Magazine Vol. XVI No. 93

Part of this article was originally published in the Indonesia Design edition titled "Cozy Homes" , Vol 8, no. 45 in 2011; "Tropical Designs", vol 10, no. 57 in 2013; and "Inspiring Interiors", vol XVI, no. 93 in 2019.

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Awal Hidayat