Fry and Drew: Conference

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 5

Jacopo Galli, ‘Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew – Architecture as a Climatic Device’.

With their numerous designs in West Africa from 1949 to 1960 Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew established an innovative design system that was later conceptualized in their book Tropical Architecture in the Dry and Humid Tropics in 1964. What is now known as Tropical Architecture consisted in a process of transculturalization of European modernism that was heavily influenced by climatic and social concerns. This design system can been seen as the sum and intersection of different climatic devices that were specifically thought in order to respond to one or more climatic inputs. Otto Koenisberger saw African vernacular architecture as a pedagogic model for the design of climatic devices: materials and technologies were used in order to achieve a balance with the environment.

Fry & Drew applied this concept and generated an impressive amount of architectural devices that were modified and overlapped in an anti-vernacular way. This can be considered an embryonic step towards a quantitative architecture not solely based on the designer’s genius but on a set of scientific data that influenced and transformed architecture.

This assumption does not affect the audacity and boldness of design: the research on innovative building materials or the regeneration of historical building techniques. Every design choice in Tropical Architecture was taken respecting the concepts of convenience and opportunity, shading devices or breathing walls took form based solely on climate and are a great example of anti-vernacular regional modernism.

Through a critical redrawing of the buildings it is possible to comprehend design mechanisms in order to verify how the different devices were used in response to the different climatic conditions. The research does not intend to verify the technological functionality of the devices but the architectural coherence displayed in their use. Understanding this design system allows us to retrace how architectural design could be shaped by climatic factors and scientific data, in order to comprehend an important step in the history of transnational modernism.


Jacopo Galli is a PhD candidate at IUAV University in Venice. He holds a bachelor degree in Architecture from the University of Parma and a masters degree in Sustainable Architecture from IUAV University in Venice. He is currently working on a dissertation that investigates British Tropical architecture in West Africa of the 1940s and ’50s as an innovative design system representing an embryonic stage of climate responsive design. The dissertation is particularly focused on the book Tropical Architecture in the Dry and Humid Tropics seen as the masterpiece of Edwin Maxwell Fry’s and Jane Drew’s entire career. The analysis of the book will be carried out through an understanding of the main influences on Fry and Drew’s African designs such as Tropical Medicine and Colonial Technologies and through a critical redrawing and analysis of the buildings used as examples in the manual.

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