Blades and Shades

Since the beginning of human civilisation the form that shelter has taken has, to a large degree, been dictated by available local materials and climate. Whether the purpose was to keep the rain out or the heat in, the practical structural features that protect against the elements have generally preceded those of a stylistic or decorative nature.

This notion of the practical needs dictating the form of a building was famously espoused by the Modernist architects of the early 20th century, although it was related more to overall function rather than specific climactic issues. Stripped of superfluous ornamentation, the resulting designs were meant to represent an architecture in its purest form; an architecture firmly of the present, devoid of any historical or cultural references.

In this sense, Modernist architecture was seen as a global template that could be applied to any urban environment with little heed paid to local conditions. The adoption by the corporate world of the glass curtained skyscraper as the universal built form of capitalism during the 1950s and 60s is the most evident example of this ‘International Style’. Subsequently maligned as contributing to the generic aesthetics of many modern cities, the dependency of many such designs (essentially hermetically sealed glass boxes) on internal climate control systems, especially in warmer regions, was also criticised.

Of course, not all Modernist practitioners disregarded the unique environmental aspects of a site for the sake of clean design. Swiss French architect Le Courbusier incorporated ‘brise-soleil’, or sun-breakers, into many of his early post-war designs, including the government complex at Chandigarh, India.


*image courtesy Wikipedia

The corporate skyscraper also evolved, with the increased use of solid, modular concrete facades throughout the 1960s and 70s. Australian architect Harry Seidler designed a series of office towers, mainly in Sydney, that utilised various forms of window recesses and shading to control the heat from the harsh southern hemisphere sun.

Australia Square Tower (1967) & MLC Tower (1977)

Thus Modernism, like any other architectural style, was gradually adapted to the particular environments in which it appeared; an organic process that enabled a far more practical and liveable built outcome than its rather uncompromising, machine derived origins would have permitted.

The South-East Asia region provides particularly rich examples of this climate driven design due to its harsh tropical environment. From Singapore and Thailand to Cambodia and Laos, egg crate facades, projecting vertical blades and perforated concrete screens can be found adorning all kinds of mid-century era buildings. These architectural features lend the streetscapes a geometrically textural quality that, along with the often weather worn painted surfaces, produce a unique regional urban play of light and form.


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