A Glimpse into the Future Past: The Marvel of Tropical Modernism

Written by: Nauradika Of London



Time to read 2 min

As I meandered through the serene halls of the Porter Gallery at V&A South Kensington, I couldn't help but feel as though I was traversing through a portal—a gateway that bridged the rich history of West Africa, India, and Ghana with their ambitious leap towards modernity and independence. The "Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence" exhibition was not just an architectural showcase; it was a profound narrative of resilience, innovation, and the assertion of a new identity distinct from colonial impositions.

The Soul of the Exhibition

Nestled in the vibrant heart of London, this exhibition presented a captivating exploration of Tropical Modernism, an architectural style that emerged in the 1940s under the sweltering sun and the dense humidity of West Africa. It was a testament to how nations like India and Ghana, in their post-independence fervor, embraced this style as a beacon of progressiveness and a declaration of their cultural renaissance.

The Mfantsipim School: A Beacon of Educational Modernity

One of the first highlights that caught my eye was the exterior of the Mfantsipim School in Cape Coast. Crafted by Fry, Drew & Partners, this building wasn't just a structure; it was a statement—a declaration of the new world that awaited post-colonial Africa. The elegance of its design, captured in a film still, spoke volumes of the harmonious balance between functionality and aesthetic appeal, making education not just accessible but inviting.

Visionaries in Architecture: Drew and Fry

Further into the exhibition, a captivating image of architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry examining a model of their architectural endeavors for the Gold Coast in 1945 encapsulated their pioneering spirit. Their work, a blend of modernist principles with local climatic and cultural sensitivities, paved the way for a new architectural vocabulary that was both global in its outlook and local in its essence.

Scott House: A Symbol of Urban Elegance

Kenneth Scott's Scott House in Accra was another gem. With a bicycle casually parked outside, this building represented the seamless integration of modern architectural design into the daily lives of the people. It was a testament to how architecture could be both a backdrop and a protagonist in the urban narrative.

The Cultural Mosaic: Eduardo Paolozzi's Influence

The exhibition also ventured into the artistic intersections with architecture, showcased through Eduardo Paolozzi's collage featuring African masks and motifs. This piece highlighted the dialogue between traditional African art forms and modernist design, enriching the architectural narrative with a depth of cultural heritage.

Capturing a Dynamic Era: James Barnor's Photographic Excellence

James Barnor's photograph of a Sick Hagemeyer shop assistant posed in front of the United Trading Company headquarters in Accra captured the essence of a changing era. This image, resonating with the energy of the 1970s, provided a vibrant glimpse into the socio-cultural transformations accompanying the architectural revolution.

Reflections on Modernity and Identity

Walking through the exhibition, it was clear that Tropical Modernism was more than an architectural style—it was a bold step towards forging a new, independent identity. It encapsulated a period of transition, where architecture became a medium of expressing the newfound autonomy and aspirations of nations stepping out of the shadows of colonial rule.

The exhibition not only showcased the physical structures but also celebrated the visionary architects, designers, and artists who played a pivotal role in this architectural saga. Their work, a testament to the enduring spirit of innovation and cultural pride, continues to inspire architects and designers across the globe.

As I left the Porter Gallery, the echoes of Tropical Modernism lingered in my thoughts. This exhibition was not just an architectural journey; it was a vivid reminder of the power of design to shape our world, reflect our identities, and inspire progress. It was, indeed, a glimpse into the future past, where the lines between tradition and modernity, independence and interconnectedness, are beautifully blurred.