V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition

V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition

Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence at V&A

 

After debuting at the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum presents its Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence exhibition in London from March 2nd to September 22nd, 2024. The showcase delves into Tropical Modernism, a distinct British contribution to International Modernism, stemming from colonial architecture crafted by architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry amid the anti-colonial movements in late 1940s India and West Africa. Through an extensive selection of drawings, photographs, and archival materials, the exhibit traces the colonial roots of Tropical Modernism in British West Africa. It also examines how this architectural style endured in the post-colonial era, symbolizing the independence and progress of nations like India and Ghana. Moreover, it raises a pertinent question: ‘As we look to a new future in an era of climate change, might Tropical Modernism, serve as a useful guide?’. 

V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition
Tropical Modernism – Architecture and Independence at the V&A South Kensington | all images © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, unless stated otherwise

 

 

from colonial roots to postcolonial futures

 

In the late 1940s, British architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry developed Tropical Modernism in West Africa by adapting Modernist principles to the region’s hot, humid climate. This style, a British contribution to International Modernism, emerged amidst anti-colonial movements. Drew and Fry’s work in Ghana and India exemplified this approach. After independence, leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Kwame Nkrumah embraced Tropical Modernism for nation-building, showcasing its internationalism and progressiveness. Local architects then crafted unique Modernisms, sensitive to their contexts. Despite its colonial origins, Tropical Modernism symbolized a postcolonial future, embodying the hope of breaking with the past and embracing new freedoms through architecture.

 

The exhibition at V&A (find more here) presents models, drawings, letters, photographs, and archival items showcasing pivotal figures and moments of the Tropical Modernist movement. Additionally, a thirty-minute film installation on three screens is part of the display. These artifacts not only highlight architectural aspects but also delve into modernism’s broader significance in narratives surrounding decolonization and the shaping of national identity.

 

‘The story of Tropical Modernism is one of colonialism and decolonization, politics and power, defiance and independence; it is not just about the past, but also about the present and the future,’ says Christopher Turner, the V&A’s Keeper of Art, Architecture, Photography & Design and Curator of the exhibition. 

V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition
the exhibition presents an extensive selection of models, drawings, and photographs

V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition
the vibrant exhibition design of Tropical Modernism – Architecture and Independence

V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition
the exhibition includes archival items showcasing pivotal figures and moments of the Tropical Modernist movement

V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition
the show also examines the style of Tropical Modernism as a useful guide for the future

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the artifacts on view not only highlight architectural aspects but also delve into modernism’s broader significance

V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition
the show takes visitors through Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry’s work in Ghana and India

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V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition
V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition

V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition

V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition
Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry with a model of one of their many buildings for the Gold Coast, 1945. Image courtesy of RIBA

V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition
Maxwell Fry in his London office with John Noah, an architect from Sierra Leone, 1940s, Central Office of Information London, Ghana. Courtesy of RIBA

V&A examines tropical modernism as a guide for the future in major london exhibition
Le Corbusier in Chandigarh with the plan of the city and a model of the Modular Man, his universal system of proportion, 1951 © FDL, ADAGP 2014

 

 

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University College, Ibadan: Library veranda. courtesy of RIBA
University College, Ibadan: Library veranda. courtesy of RIBA
Boy and concrete screen at University College Ibadan, 1962. courtesy of RIBA
Boy and concrete screen at University College Ibadan, 1962. courtesy of RIBA
Sick Hagemeyer shop assistant as a seventies icon posing in front of the United Trading Company headquarters, Accra, 1971 © James Barnor. courtesy of galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière
Sick Hagemeyer shop assistant as a seventies icon posing in front of the United Trading Company headquarters, Accra, 1971 © James Barnor. courtesy of galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière
Community Centre, Accra, 1953. image courtesy RIBA
Community Centre, Accra, 1953. image courtesy RIBA
Pierre Jeanneret, portrait of model makers, Rattan Singh and Dhani Ram, at work on the model for Capitol Complex, Sector 1, Chandigarh, India, circa 1960. Pierre Jeanneret fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Jacqueline Jeanneret. © CCA
Pierre Jeanneret, portrait of model makers, Rattan Singh and Dhani Ram, at work on the model for Capitol Complex, Sector 1, Chandigarh, India, circa 1960. Pierre Jeanneret fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Jacqueline Jeanneret. © CCA
Pierre Jeanneret, Giani Rattan Singh (standing) at the Architects’ Office, Sector 19, with 2 components of a model for the Capitol Complex, Chandigarh, India, circa 1953 and 1954. Pierre Jeanneret fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Jacqueline Jeanneret. © CCA
Pierre Jeanneret, Giani Rattan Singh (standing) at the Architects’ Office, Sector 19, with 2 components of a model for the Capitol Complex, Chandigarh, India, circa 1953 and 1954. Pierre Jeanneret fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Jacqueline Jeanneret. © CCA
Pierre Jeanneret, view of the model for High Court, Capitol Complex, Sector 1, Chandigarh, India, between 1951 and 1965. Pierre Jeanneret fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Jacqueline Jeanneret. © CCA
Pierre Jeanneret, view of the model for High Court, Capitol Complex, Sector 1, Chandigarh, India, between 1951 and 1965. Pierre Jeanneret fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Jacqueline Jeanneret. © CCA
Suresh Kumar, photographer. Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret at Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh, India, circa 1960. Pierre Jeanneret fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Jacqueline Jeanneret. © Suresh Kumar
Suresh Kumar, photographer. Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret at Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh, India, circa 1960. Pierre Jeanneret fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Jacqueline Jeanneret. © Suresh Kumar
illustration from The Architectural Review, 1953. courtesy RIBA Collections © Gordon Cullen Estate
illustration from The Architectural Review, 1953. courtesy RIBA Collections © Gordon Cullen Estate
Aditya Prakash, photo album of architectural projects, people, landscapes, and Aditya Prakash, circa 1960s-2000s © Aditya Prakash fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Vikramaditya Prakash
Aditya Prakash, photo album of architectural projects, people, landscapes, and Aditya Prakash, circa 1960s-2000s © Aditya Prakash fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Vikramaditya Prakash
Eduardo Paolozzi, Klokvormig Masker, 1946-47. Courtesy Flowers Gallery, London (c) Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation, licensed by DACS
Eduardo Paolozzi, Klokvormig Masker, 1946-47. Courtesy Flowers Gallery, London (c) Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation, licensed by DACS
Aditya Prakash, sketch perspective of Linear City, Chandigarh, India, 1975-1987 © Aditya Prakash fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Vikramaditya Prakash.
Aditya Prakash, sketch perspective of Linear City, Chandigarh, India, 1975-1987 © Aditya Prakash fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture. gift of Vikramaditya Prakash.
diagram of a brise soleil at Aburi Girl’s School, Ghana, from Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zone, 1956, publisher B.T Batsford, Courtesy of RIBA.
diagram of a brise soleil at Aburi Girl’s School, Ghana, from Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zone, 1956, publisher B.T Batsford, Courtesy of RIBA.
film still of Unity Hall, KNUST, Kumasi by John Owuso Addo and Miro Marasović - for 'Tropical Modernism - Architecture and Independence' © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
film still of Unity Hall, KNUST, Kumasi by John Owuso Addo and Miro Marasović - for 'Tropical Modernism - Architecture and Independence' © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Film still of Senior Staff Club House, KNUST, Kumasi by Miro Marasović, Nikso Ciko and John Owuso Addo - for 'Tropical Modernism - Architecture and Independence' © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Film still of Senior Staff Club House, KNUST, Kumasi by Miro Marasović, Nikso Ciko and John Owuso Addo - for 'Tropical Modernism - Architecture and Independence' © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

project info: 

 

name: Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence 
location: Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum, London
dates: 2 March – 22 September, 2024

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