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Dossier: Entanglements of Architecture and Comfort beyond the Temperate Zone - 2

Editorial: Historicizing Entanglements of Architecture and Comfort beyond the Temperate Zone - part 2

Éditorial : faire l'histoire des liens entre architecture et confort au-delà de la zone tempérée - partie 2
Daniel J. Ryan et Jiat-Hwee Chang

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  • 1 Jiat-Hwee Chang and Daniel J. Ryan, “Editorial: Historicizing Entanglements of Architecture and Co (...)

1When we put out our call for papers on Entanglements of Architecture and Comfort beyond the Temperate Zone at the end of 2018, we were not expecting such a response as to require a double issue. Yet it is clear that this is an issue that a wide range of scholars are working on at the moment. Many of the papers look at how seemingly peripheral visions of comfort from the Global South were not so peripheral at all, investigating the power dynamics and changing cultural expectations around being at ease in an environment. Our previous editorial set out two historical lines of inquiry to consider this.1 Firstly how, since the eighteenth century, standards of thermal comfort have been used to categorize geographies and bodies and, secondly, how to resituate comfort and the built environment in relation to contexts of unequal cross-cultural and cross climatic encounters.

2Cross-cultural encounters whether voluntary or forced, often entailed confrontation around ideas of comfort. Examples in this issue look at the role of travel and design competitions to unsettle firmly held beliefs about comfort, architecture and urbanity. This can also occur through lived experience as Pedro Guedes attests. Equally, just who is to be made comfortable, where and for what ends, opens questions of power, productivity and population control. These questions crop up in a number of papers that look at comfort and architecture’s entanglement with settler colonial histories. As Warwick Anderson reminds us in his débat piece in this issue, the settler-colonial antecedents to mid-century tropical architecture have tended to be overlooked. The links between white anxieties about tropical living and the representation and design for comfort are taken up in Deborah Van der Plaat’s paper on the design and promotion of a 1920’s bank building in Australia’s tropical north. This micro-history is a study of an exemplar that had little impact, a reminder that lessons are often learnt for a short period of time, if at all.

3The settler colonial antecedents to modern tropical architecture were rarely buildings, but rather medical knowledge and practices from the early twentieth century. Anderson argues that tropical medicine’s racialised ideas about environmental suitability and comfort went underground during the 1940’s, just as it was coming into contact with tropical architecture. Rather than seeing the universal tendencies of thermal comfort research after the war as one that was no longer interested in race, he suggests the field was, and continues to be, haunted by race. This is alluded to in Daniel Ryan’s paper on the development of the Commonwealth Experimental Building Station’s Climate and House Design Program during the 1940’s. Ryan shows how medical experts, who had previously advised government on the ‘problems of European tropical settlement, were intimately involved in the climatic evaluation of house designs and materials for post-war housing. He argues that this formed part of a move to thermal nationalism, where scientific bodies used certain climate-induced problems, such as the problem of overheating, to set an alternative agenda for scientific research from what was happening in Europe or the United States. Yet, given the previous emphasis on warm climate as debilitating to Europeans, the research served to entrench racialized ideas of comfort into building design.

4Yet just as comfort can be racialized, so too can care. Indeed, both Warwick Anderson and William Taylor indicate how the provision of comfort under the guise of care can re-enact colonial power imbalances even when care is supposedly well-meaning. In Taylor’s study of nineteenth century accounts of the Fuegian Jemmy Button’s capture, travels to London and return to Tierra del Fuego we see how comfort and care were part of a failed civilizing mission by missionaries and scientists. Taylor explores the spaces subjects and sojourners moved through, how the comfort of the city was experienced on both land and sea and how neither the city nor extreme climates seemed to civilize its inhabitants. Attempts to bring indigenous people to the metropolis only heightened British awareness of the health risks of industrial cities. In this way, Taylor uses the voyage of Jemmy Button to draw attention to how both urban and natural environments were pathologized at the same time. He argues that the capture of native peoples and their transport to Britain unsettled colonial beliefs in the power of cities and temperate climates to civilize. Instead, he shows how power acted through colonial practices of comfort and care.

5Metropolitan comfort is examined in both Taylor and Cathelijne Nuijsink’s essays. Where Taylor considers this in relation to nineteenth century civilizing missions, Nuijsink considers how comfort is a useful analytical tool to consider different ideas of the metropolis in Asia and Europe during the late twentieth century. Taking the case of two iterations of the Shinkenchiku Residential House competition, organised by Peter Cook and Toyo Ito in 1977 and 1988, Nuijsink examines comfort not through a colonial but a cross-cultural lens. She compares how British and Japanese architects used looser definitions of comfort to express the role of architecture in making inhabitants feel at ease in their city. Nuijsink argues that Cook, viewed the house as a form of defense against the city and contrasts this with Ito who sought to enable the sensory penetration of the consumerist and ephemeral city into the home. In both cases Nuijsink shows how the discussion of comfort in architecture during the 70’s and 80’s could rest not on physiology or climate but on speed, consumption and artificiality.

  • 2 Julie Willis and Sandra Kaji-O’Grady, “Conditions Connections and Change: Reviewing Australian Arc (...)
  • 3 Robin Boyd, Australia’s Home: its Origins, Builders and Occupiers, Carlton: Melbourne University P (...)

6Finally, it’s worth drawing attention to the number of Australian contributors and foregrounding of Australian medical, social and architectural histories in these two issues, particularly this one. We don’t wish to give the impression that “comfort in the Global South” is an Australian phenomenon, but rather this joint issue shows the depth of interest in this theme among Antipodean historians. Climate, as Julie Willis and Sandra Kaji-O’Gray noted in 2003, is one of the enduring themes of any writing on Australian architecture.2 For example, Robin Boyd’s Australia’s Home: Its Origins, Builder’s and Occupiers, first published in 1952, featured chapters on the environment, solar living and the one that was impishly titled ‘insects, children, animals’.3

  • 4 See for example David Bridgman, “The Anglo-Asian Bungalow in Australia’s Northern Territory,” Limi (...)
  • 5 Two key early publications are Warwick Anderson, The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and (...)
  • 6 This has been done so more in Asia than in Australia. See Robert Peckham and David M. Pomfret (eds (...)

7Throughout the twentieth century there was a well-worn argument that differences in the environment helped to explain variations in architecture across the continent of Australia as well as the transformation of imported building models. However, it’s only in the last twenty years that this environmental explanation of both Australian society and Australian architecture has been picked apart. 4 Much of the more recent scholarship in architectural history is indebted to the work of historians of medicine and population, such as Warwick Anderson and Alison Bashford, who, since the late 1990’s, have looked at how ideas of race and place were constructed both nationally and globally during the twentieth century.5 To some extent this migration of ideas from tropical medicine to tropical architecture during the first half of the twentieth century, is paralleled by how historians of medicine have provided a base for historians of architecture to interrogate their own field in the past two decades. And yet, the spatial turn that history has undertaken more broadly of late, shows how many of the concerns of architectural historians about space and place can be taken up more broadly.6 It is this interdisciplinary concern that makes such work all the more rewarding.

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Notes

1 Jiat-Hwee Chang and Daniel J. Ryan, “Editorial: Historicizing Entanglements of Architecture and Comfort beyond the Temperate Zone,” ABE Journal, no. 17, 2020. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.7998.

2 Julie Willis and Sandra Kaji-O’Grady, “Conditions Connections and Change: Reviewing Australian Architectural Theory 1880-2000,” Architectural Theory Review, vol. 8, no. 2, 2003, p. 225. DOI: 10.1080/13264820309478497.

3 Robin Boyd, Australia’s Home: its Origins, Builders and Occupiers, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1952.

4 See for example David Bridgman, “The Anglo-Asian Bungalow in Australia’s Northern Territory,” Limits: Proceedings of the 21st Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand September 2004, Melbourne: RMIT University, 2004, p  58-63; Naomi Stead, Deborah van der Plaat and John Macarthur, “A Taste for Place: The Cultivation of an Audience for Climate-Responsive Architecture in Queensland,” Audience, 28th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand, July 2011, Brisbane, CD Publication; Stuart King, “Colony and Climate: Positioning Public Architecture in Queensland 1859-1909,” ABE Journal, no. 2, 2012. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.402; Philip Goldswain, Nicole Sully and William M. Taylor (eds.), Out of Place (Gwalia): Occasional Essays on Australian Regional Communities and Built Environments in Transition, Crawley: UWA Publishing, 2014; John Macarthur, Deborah van der Plaat, Janina Gosseye and Andrew Wilson (eds.), Hot Modernism: Queensland Architecture 1945-75, London: Artifice Books, 2015; Daniel A. Barber, Lee Stickwells, Daniel J. Ryan, Maren Koehler, Andrew Leach, Philip Goad, Deborah van der Plaat, Cathy Keys, Farhan Karim and William M. Taylor, “Architecture, Environment, History: Questions and Consequences,” Architectural Theory Review, vol. 22, no. 2, 2018, p. 249-286. DOI: 10.1080/13264826.2018.1482725.

5 Two key early publications are Warwick Anderson, The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and Racial Destiny in Australia, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2002; Alison Bashford, “’Is White Australia Possible?’ Race, Colonialism and Tropical Medicine,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, 2000, P. 248-271. DOI: 10.1080/014198700329042. For a more extensive list of relevant publications see footnotes in Warwick Anderson’s débat piece in this issue of ABE. URL: https://journals.openedition.org/abe/9215.

6 This has been done so more in Asia than in Australia. See Robert Peckham and David M. Pomfret (eds.), Imperial Contagions: Medicine, Hygiene and Cultures of Planning in Asia, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013.

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Daniel J. Ryan et Jiat-Hwee Chang, « Editorial: Historicizing Entanglements of Architecture and Comfort beyond the Temperate Zone - part 2 »ABE Journal [En ligne], 18 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2021, consulté le 28 janvier 2023. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/abe/9934 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.9934

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Auteurs

Daniel J. Ryan

Lecturer, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

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Jiat-Hwee Chang

Associate Professor, National University of Singapore, Singapore

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