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Nikifor Solovyov
Nikifor Solovyov

How George Atkinson and Otto Koenigsberger Shaped Climatic Design for the Tropics

How George Atkinson and Otto Koenigsberger Shaped Climatic Design for the Tropics

Climatic design is the art and science of designing buildings that are adapted to the local climate and provide thermal comfort for the occupants. Climatic design for the tropics is especially challenging, as it has to deal with high temperatures, humidity, solar radiation, and rainfall.

In this article, we will explore how climatic design for the tropics was socio-technically constructed at its moment of inception in the mid-twentieth century by two of its best known proponents: George Atkinson at the Tropical Building Division, Building Research Station and Otto Koenigsberger at the Department of Tropical Studies, The Architectural Association School of Architecture[^1^].

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George Atkinson and the Tropical Building Division

George Atkinson was a British architect and engineer who worked for the Colonial Office from 1938 to 1955. He was the head of the Tropical Building Division, a research unit that aimed to provide practical guidance on building design and construction in tropical regions. The Tropical Building Division produced a series of publications, such as Tropical Housing and Planning, Tropical Architecture, and Tropical Building Notes, that disseminated their findings and recommendations to architects, engineers, and builders working in the colonies.

Atkinson's approach to climatic design was based on a mechanistic and reductive understanding of thermal comfort, derived from the research done by the air-conditioning industry in the United States in the early twentieth century[^2^]. He assumed that human comfort depended on a narrow range of environmental variables, such as air temperature, humidity, and air movement, and that these variables could be measured and controlled by technical means. He advocated for the use of mechanical ventilation, insulation, shading devices, and reflective materials to achieve optimal indoor conditions.

Otto Koenigsberger and the Department of Tropical Studies

Otto Koenigsberger was a German-born architect and planner who worked for various governments and international organizations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America from 1939 to 1978. He was the founder and director of the Department of Tropical Studies at The Architectural Association School of Architecture from 1954 to 1957. The Department of Tropical Studies offered a postgraduate course on tropical architecture that attracted students from all over the world. The course covered topics such as climate analysis, site planning, building materials, construction techniques, vernacular architecture, and urban design.

Koenigsberger's approach to climatic design was based on a holistic and contextual understanding of thermal comfort, influenced by his own experience and observation of different cultures and climates. He recognized that human comfort depended on a complex interaction of physiological, psychological, social, and cultural factors, and that these factors varied according to time, place, and situation. He advocated for the use of passive design strategies, such as natural ventilation, orientation, massing, landscaping, and local materials to achieve adaptive indoor conditions.


George Atkinson and Otto Koenigsberger were two influential figures who shaped climatic design for the tropics in the mid-twentieth century. They had different perspectives and methods on how to achieve thermal comfort in tropical regions. Atkinson relied on technical solutions based on quantitative measurements and standards. Koenigsberger relied on passive solutions based on qualitative analysis and adaptation. Their work reflects the historical, political, economic, and cultural contexts of their time. 0efd9a6b88


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