As Hardly Found in the Art of Tropical Architecture

Work from the peripheries of the Department of Tropical Studies archive
36 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3ES
Mon–Sat 11 am–7 pm

Following its establishment in 1953 at the Architectural Association in London (AA), the Department of Tropical Studies (DTS) exported climate-based architectural models of practice to countries in the Global South. These models were subsequently developed as the DTS reshaped architectural institutions and their curricula, regulated planning practice and legislation, and trained leading architects in and from the area. The bulk of the DTS’s archive within the AA consists of department director Otto Koenigsberger’s papers, encompassing 52 boxes of drawings, photographs, press cuttings, publications, letters, invoices, CVs, lectures and, mostly, piles of planning reports about the architecture of countries all over the Global South.

As a global institution operating from a neocolonial metropolis (where post-colonial control is exerted through economic, social, cultural, educational, religious, environmental, and other means) the AA inevitably presents a singular perspective within this archive, framed as it is by the papers of the DTS directors. As a result, the current DTS archive appears to be a coherent whole without much space for dissent. The real DTS archive could only ever exist as an exhaustive collection of papers from all those throughout the world whose hard work is hardly found in the archive, including the artists, architects, typists, graphic designers, masons, surveyors, and others who collaborated with DTS architects — who at times were excluded and at times rejected to be present.

This exhibition recentres their rich and diverse ecological approaches to the built environment through an ensemble of archival documents, fictional archival reconstructions, and artworks by Magda Cordell, Avinash Chandra, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Susanne Wenger, and others who worked with DTS architects. Finally, the exhibition includes commissions by artists Ato Jackson and Mariana Castillo Deball that explore hardly found marks in the archive as potential histories for alternative futures.

The exhibition will be open in the AA Gallery and Front Members Room Monday to Saturday, 11am - 7pm.