Essay On Four Key Drivers For Building Designs In The Tropics

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Real Estate, Environment, Building, Psychology, Solar Energy, Theory, Nature, Temperature

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2021/01/09


Building designs in the tropics are driven by many factors that tend to make the thermal ambient environment comfortable to the inhabitants. The key factors that drive tropical building designs include temperature, humidity, radiation and wind speed. These factors determine the way by which tropical homes are structured, their orientation, openings in the home, window spaces and so forth. Needless to say, culture and tradition of the people is a vital force responsible for building design styles in the tropics. Environmental psychology is a vital concern itself regarding the way the environment affects man. It tends to emphasize on the appropriate building designs that would give room for optimum performance of the dwellers. Environmental psychology also emphasizes the importance of nature in the environment. The living environment has become excessively urbanized, even in the tropics, such that most people tend to eliminate natural contents from the environment. However, environmental psychology emphasizes that natural features have positive effects on human functionality and also reduce stress. This forms a vital facet of tropical architectural designs today.


Tropical countries are regions of the world lying between the two parallel latitudes on the terrestrial globe positioned at latitudes 23o27’ north to 23o27’ south of the equator (Tropics, 2009). The common characteristic of the tropics is the prevalence of heat load in the region. The intensity of heat load in the tropics is seasonal. Furthermore, in equatorial cities, there is a prevalence of high sultry conditions such as high heat and humidity. Comfort is drastically reduced in the tropics because of the high radiation levels in this region of the world.
Obviously, the heat load in the tropics is reflected in the building designs. Homes and other buildings are designed accordingly to minimize the indoor heat load and make it more comfortable to the inhabitants. Environmental psychology needs to be considered for the most appropriate designs and patterns. It also maintains the beautiful grandeur of the natural tropical environment. Evans, (1996) explained environmental psychology as a vital part of psychology. This sprung up as a result of the mutual desire of designers and social scientists including architects. It is imperative to consider that environmental psychology is now imbibed into other fields of psychology including interior design, planning and so forth. Architecture as a discipline and profession is specifically affected by environmental psychology. Consequently, this forms a major cornerstone in every architectural design (Butera & Adhikari, 2014; Shojazadeh et al., 2013). Hence, this paper delineates key drivers for building in the tropics and their relationships with environmental psychology.

Building Designs in the Tropics and Environmental Psychology

The nature is a vital force to human existence. Joye (2007) pointed out that humans are attracted esthetically to natural contents as well as to some landscape configurations. He ascertained that natural contents have positive effects on humans and go a long way to reducing stress. Unlikely, urbanization has robbed many good things accorded by nature.
Environmental psychology, therefore, demands that the modern urban life denies mankind of the vital elements of nature whose ends are for the benefits of mankind. Further, environmental psychology asserts that such an evolution, as evidenced in the modern urban life, has an unpropitious effect on the physiological and psychological well-being of mankind and ultimately affecting him. This explains why environmental psychologists emphasize on incorporating some distinctive parts of natural contents and structural landscape into the environment. Environmental psychology emphasizes that the so-called urban environment is artificial, and this limits mankind in a variety of ways.. The imprint of environmental psychology in tropical building designs, today is quite spelt out. The natural forms serve as perennial sources of inspiration for architecture. This is very true for building designs in the tropics that are designed in such a way as to reflect and convey the beauty of nature in a great way (Joye, 2007; Yalçin, 2015).

Key Drivers for Building Designs in the Tropics

Prevailing environmental conditions in the tropics goes a long way to affect the building designs and architectural styles.In the quest for survival and comfort, buildings are constructed keeping the indoor air quality and living condition adaptable. Ossen et al. (2008) pointed out that the indoor thermal environment is usually affected by the local climate. Thus, in tropical climatic conditions, solar heat gains origins for overheating of buildings. Consequently, appropriate measures are considered in the architectural styles of tropical buildings in order to maintain the comfortable indoor condition and keep the indoor temperature low.
Ossen et al. (2008) pointed out that four environmental parameters determine or influence the thermal comfort index in the tropics. These parameters which can also be referred as the drivers for building designs in the tropics include temperature, radiation, humidity and wind speed. The indoor thermal environment is affected greatly by environmental factors including air temperature, humidity, air movement, and radiation. Temperature is a significant factor because the human body needs to be maintained at approximately 37oC. It implies that environmental factors must be well balanced in order to meet this temperature requirement. Thus, to ensure excellent performance, maximum productivity and so forth, it is important to make sure that the thermal condition in a building is kept within an acceptable range. (Jamaludin et al., 2014). Since the outside environmental conditions affect the indoor thermal comfort, it means that the indoor condition in the tropics would usually be uncomfortable during the year. This explains why many homes in the tropics make use of air conditioner.
Sustainable building in the tropics requires careful considerations and its relationship with environmental psychology. It is imperative to consider all environmental concerns and key drivers at the early stage of building designs in the tropics. Humidity is also a key consideration in tropical building designs. High humidity and temperatures tend to reduce the evaporation rate of moisture from the human skin. However, due to high solar radiation in tropical climates, continuous evaporation takes place on the human body that lead to indoor discomfort. As a result, the orientation of buildings in the tropics is also an important factor to consider in tropical building designs (Jamaludin et al., 2014; Kwong, Adam, & Sahari, 2014).
In residential home designs in the tropics, buildings are always oriented to face the north or the east direction in order to minimize the solar heat. (Kwong et al., 2014). Hence, it gives room for natural ventilation in the living space. Wind movement is greatly considered in tropic home designs, and buildings are usually oriented in angles facing the direction of the wind. (Jamaludin et al. 2014).

Why these are the most important factors for building designs in the tropics

As mentioned before, the four most important factors under consideration include temperature, radiation, humidity and wind speed. These factors should be considered because the essence of tropical building design principle application is to reduce internal heat gain and high temperature in the room for sustainable indoor environmental comfort. Thus, it would be necessary to understand the temperature, solar radiation, and humidity, as well as wind profiles of the outside environment. This will also facilitate to save a lot of energy in the living space (Ossen et al. 2008).


Temperature is an important driver of building designs in the tropics. Irrespective of the prevailing environmental condition, the human body must be maintained at its optimum temperature. Perspiration occurs in order to balance the temperature of the human body with that of the external environment. Thus, to maximize the quality life of the occupants in a residential apartment, it is important to keep the indoor temperature low. Of course, biological and physical nature of humans demands thermal comfort, and tropical design styles take this into consideration to create a habitable living space. (Ossen et al. 2008; Sadeghifam et al., 2015).


Tropical countries often have high humidity and the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere increases with an increase in temperature. Hence, the atmosphere is saturated with water vapor that lead to a high level of discomfort (Ossen et al. 2008). That is why building designer in the tropics take humidity into consideration. Al-Tamimi et al. (2011) predicted that high and humid daytime temperatures cause the indoor temperature to go beyond the ASHRAE summertime comfort upper limit of 26oC for most of the year. Further, Jamaludin et al. (2014) stated that the rate of evaporation of moisture from the human skin is reduced in climatic conditions having high humidity and temperatures. Thus, to ensure reduced humidity and maintain indoor thermal comfort, sustainable building design comes to play in tropical building design.


Natural ventilation is a vital asset in the living space as well as in offices and other structures in the tropics. One of the factors to deal with in order to ensure maximum comfort in tropical climates is solar radiation. Wahab & Ismail (2012) pointed out that in the tropical region of Malaysia, the solar radiation is between 4000 and 5000 Whr/m2 and the monthly average daily sunshine duration between 4hrs and 8 hrs. Thus, in traditional Malay houses, the passive home design strategies are done in such a way as to control direct solar radiation, and consequently it ensure optimum comfort to the occupants. In fact, the solar radiation received in the equatorial region is the major cause of continuous evaporation initiated by solar heat and rainfall (Jamaludin et al. 2014).

Wind Speed

Natural cooling in the tropics is usually achieved via wind movement, and it is usually important to orient buildings in directions of the wind. This facilitates natural ventilation for cooling of the home. Thus, tropical home designs encourage openings in order to let in fresh air (Jamaludin et al. 2014). Studies show that tropical buildings should be oriented in the east and north direction for wind movement and to encourage natural ventilation. Thus, architectures take wind direction and movement into consideration in order to ensure effective cross ventilation (Al-Tamimi et al. 2011; Rattanongphisata & Rordprapa, 2014).

Cultural Factors Affecting Tropical Building Designs

Tropical cultures are well reflected in their building designs. The culture characterizes houses in tropical countries for the thermal comfort of the community. In other words, one can define a certain tradition in the tropics by their building designs. Kumar (1996) mentioned that a number of factors in tropical environments such as family types, individual roles, and activities that affect building designs. Cultural elements in the tropics that affect and influence building designs include the structure of the family and kinship, myths and the people's belief and priorities. Thus, cultural changes affect the housing designs. However, tradition, the element of culture which does not change, explains the reason, why there is a footprint of the tropical culture even in urban housing designs in the tropical environments. (Kumar (1996; Rattanongphisata & Rordprapa, 2014).

Key Environmental Psychological Theories on Tropical Architecture

There are several environment psychological theories that border on architecture and finds relevance in tropical architecture. Four of these theories are of vital including cyclonic theory, the theory of personal space, the theory of human interactions with nature and the control theories. (Kwong et al., 2014; Morrissey & Reser, 2003).
The relevance of environmental psychology to regions prone to a tropical cyclone (Morrissey & Reser, 2003). Psychological factors become prevalent during pre-cyclonic periods, and these include chronic anxiety, avoidant coping styles, prior traumatic experience and so forth. The theory of tropical cyclone is an important part of the fundamental psychological process. The theory of personal space is another important theory of environmental psychology regarding tropical architecture. This theory emphasizes the management of social space. It also talks about territoriality, crowding, privacy and the physical aspect of complex everyday behavior. This might include learning, working and the community lifestyle. Another vital environmental, psychological theory is the theory of human interactions with nature. It is imperative to consider that psychology plays vital roles in climatic change. It encompasses physical activities such as heat and noise effect on performances in the living environment. The control theories make emphasis on the relevance of the real, perceived or desired control of an individual over stimulation. This theory is closely related to the boundary regulation theories that talks about human boundaries. Other theories of environmental psychology exist, and they include social psychology-based theories, the stress theories, the operant approaches and so forth (Din et al., 2014; Gifford et al. 2011).
The psychological comfort is associated with the surrounding environment including temperature, humidity, noise, space and so forth. All environmental psychology theories emphasize on comfortable living space having a moderate temperature that avoid human from stress. Healthy environment enhances the working potential and ensures healthy lifestyle. These theories provide a way towards the construction of sustainable buildings in tropics. Consequently, these sustainable buildings can provide the quality of life for the people in the environment.

Sustainable Building and Green Spaces in the Tropics

Sustainability can be achieved by incorporating comfortable indoor thermal environment for the inhabitants. Thus, sustainable building will help to maintain a healthy environment for the occupants but it needs to do a lot with the environment. Sustainable building relates largely to green spaces especially in consideration of the architectural designs in the tropics. In sustainable building, the environmental issue related to the building design is the most important aspect. The building must be constructed of taking into account energy saving and resources like recycle materials (Jamaludin et al., 2014). It also reduces the rate at which toxic substances are released into the environment throughout the lifecycle of the building. Furthermore, sustainable building tends to ensure that immediate environment, culture, tradition and the local climate are in good harmony with each other throughout the lifecycle of the building. In addition, it maintains the capacity of the ecosystem both at the local as well as the global scale. Sustainable buildings reported from the Malay culture can be presented as a good example in which the building designs help to encourage energy efficiency, improved quality of the indoor environment, sustainable site planning and management. The Singaporean building design is also a good example of architectural styles that encourage the concept of sustainability and green space. The Green Mark certified buildings in Singapore has experienced an exponential increase and by 2030, up to 80% of buildings in the nation will be green certified. (Singapore Leading the .., 2013; López-Mosquera & Sánchez, 2010).


Environmental psychology influences urban building designs in the tropics. Four key drivers including temperature, humidity, wind speed and radiation determine building designs in the tropics. Of course, these factors also go a long way giving room to sustainable building and architectural designs in the tropics. With hot tropical temperature, the indoor thermal condition and ambient condition should be balanced with the body temperature. This explains why environmental psychology and its theories are very relevant in tropical building designs.


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