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Bridging Past and Future: Tropical Modernism in West Africa and India

V&A Exhibition Explores Colonial and Postcolonial Architecture

Tropical Modernism
Architecture and Independence
March 2–September 22, 2024

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London is set to present a major exhibition titled “Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence.” Opening on March 2, 2024, and running until September 22, 2024, the exhibition delves into the architectural style of Tropical Modernism, which emerged in West Africa and India during the mid-20th century.

Tropical Modernism was pioneered by British architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry in the late 1940s. They adapted the principles of Modernism, emphasizing functionality over ornamentation, to the hot and humid conditions of West Africa. This unique colonial architecture served as a tool for nation-building and symbolized internationalism and progressiveness.

Following independence, Tropical Modernism gained prominence in India and Ghana, where prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Kwame Nkrumah commissioned significant projects in this style. A new generation of national architects emerged, sensitive to local contexts, giving rise to distinctive variations of Modernism.

The exhibition celebrates these practitioners and their contributions to Tropical Modernism. It features models, drawings, letters, photographs, and archival materials that document key figures and moments of the movement. A half-hour film installation displayed on three screens further enriches the narrative.

Christopher Turner, the V&A’s Keeper of Art, Architecture, Photography & Design and Curator of the exhibition, highlights the multifaceted nature of Tropical Modernism. He notes that the exhibition explores colonialism, decolonization, politics, power, defiance, and independence, making it relevant to the present and future.

Turner emphasizes the importance of examining Tropical Modernism’s colonial origins and its survival in the post-colonial era, symbolizing independence and progressiveness. The exhibition deliberately centers South Asian and West African perspectives to provide a nuanced understanding of the architectural style.

In an era of climate change, the exhibition also raises the question of whether Tropical Modernism, with its focus on passive cooling techniques, can serve as a guide for sustainable architecture in the future.

“Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence” is supported by James Bartos and Celia and Edward Atkin CBE.

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
London SW7 2RL
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