top of page

Monthly Design Review - January 2022

This month, as I'm writing from Brazil, I picked the somewhat hard-to-categorize theme of "Tropical Modernism", an architecture style prevalent in South America, East Asia and Africa mixing modernist elements with local materials and building methods.



British architects Fry and Drew worked in West Africa during the 1940s and 50s. Mostly active in Ghana and Nigeria, they constructed schools, universities, houses, villages, office buildings and museums. Their on-site experience was conceptualized in this manual, which presents three parameters that influence architecture in the tropics: materials and construction systems, population and its needs and climate.

Though the manual is now regarded by some as part of a late–colonial agenda for raising living standards and welfare to "westernized" ideals, it is a seminal study that influenced generations of builders, and is often discussed as a forerunner to green architecture due to its contribution to knowledge about regional low-cost housing in the tropics.

Find the book in a library near you here.


THE BREEZE BLOCK BOOK (Sam Marshall, 2020)

The breeze block, an architectural element used in many mid-century tropical modernist buildings, is enjoying surging popularity. Contemporary designers are finding new ways to enhance its basic qualities as an inexpensive, robust, and highly expressive material. Deploying the techniques of 21st-century design, from digital design tools to robotic fabrication, complex new forms and patterns are now possible in breeze block.

Edited by Australian architect Sam Marshall, owner of the popular Instagram account @breezeblockhead, this book is both a survey and celebration of contemporary global breeze block architecture.

Buy the book here.


IN SEARCH OF BAWA: Master Architect of Sri Lanka (David Robson, 2017)

Geoffrey Bawa was Sri Lanka's pre-eminent architect and a pioneer of tropical modernism. This book offers a a site-by-site tour of 45 of his buildings, many considered "pilgrimage sites" by architects and designers. Insightful texts, contemporary and archive photographs and a plethora of drawings illustrate the buildings that range from private dwellings to public buildings, schools and hotels.

Buy the book here.


ROBERTO BURLE MARX LECTURES: Landscape as Art and Urbanism (Gareth Doherty, 2020)

Roberto Burle Marx remains one of the most important landscape architects in the history of the field, celebrated for his famous curving mosaic walkways at Copacabana Beach in Rio and the beautiful rooftop garden at Banco Safra in São Paulo.

This collection features a dozen of Burle Marx’s lectures that address topics such as landscape composition, gardens and ecology, and garden lighting. The lectures paint a picture of Burle Marx not just as a gardener, artist and botanist, but as a landscape architect whose ambition was to bring radical change to cities and society.


Buy the book here.


LINA BO BARDI 100: Brazil's Alternative Path to Modernism (Hatje Cantz, 2015)

The Italian-Brazilian architect and designer Lina Bo Bardi forged a unique path with her bold, modern designs. Spanning architecture, stage design, fashion and furniture, her work drew inspiration from the International Style, which she translated into her own visual language. Fundamental to her work was her thoughtful engagement with her adopted country of Brazil - its culture, society, politics and indigenous design traditions - and her ideas about the social possibilities of design.

Buy the book here.


TIKI MODERN (Sven A Kirsten, 2007)

With a mixture of ironic detachment and genuine enthusiasm for the subject, author Sven Kirsten explores the intersection between Polynesian and mid-century modern design.

Tiki style, a result of post-WWII American fascination with island culture, prevailed in popular culture during the 1950s and 60s. This book showcases architecture, decor, fashion, popular music, eating and drinking that were influenced by the Tiki trend.

Buy the book here.



bottom of page