Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence

2 March 2024 to 22 September 2024 V&A South Kensington

A low-angle view of a multi-story building with numerous balconies, each filled with colorful laundry hanging out to dry. Two tall palm trees rise beside the building, contrasting against the partly cloudy sky.

Major V&A Exhibition to Explore Architectural Style of Tropical Modernism in West Africa and India

In the late 1940s, British architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry developed the tools of Tropical Modernism in West Africa, adapting a Modernist aesthetic that valued function over ornament to the hot, humid conditions of the region. Britain’s unique contribution to International Modernism was a colonial architecture, developed against the background of anti-colonial struggle.

Drew and Fry worked primarily in Ghana and India. Following independence, Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Ghanaian prime minister Kwame Nkrumah commissioned major new projects in this style, using Tropical Modernism as a tool for nation-building and as a symbol of their internationalism and progressiveness.

A new generation of national architects more sensitive to local context gave birth to distinctive alternative Modernisms. The exhibition centres and celebrates these practitioners and the alternative Modernisms they created.

Tropical Modernism, despite its colonial associations, became an architectural symbol of a postcolonial future, symbolising the utopian possibility of the transitional moment in which a break with the past was articulated through architecture and new freedoms were won.

The exhibition will include models, drawings, letters, photographs, and archival ephemera documenting the key figures and moments of the Tropical Modernist movement, and a half hour film installation displayed on three screens. These artifacts won’t just speak to architecture, but also about modernism’s wider role in narratives about decolonisation and the construction of national identity.

Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence will run from 2 March 2024 – 22 September 2024.

Venue:  Porter Gallery V&A South Kensington

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