Tropicality 1) 1971 untitled, Iriomote Island, Okinawa by Tomatsu, Shomei 2) The islands of Okinawa by Wataru Kohayakawa

This is an archive page for Tropicality

Forthcoming dates for this school to be announced.


Okinawa, Japan

Saturday 11 – Saturday 25 August 2018

“Happy Immortals” was the name given to the inhabitants of the Ryukyu Islands by the scribes of 3rd century BCE Chinese emperor missions. The missions, which named the islands Liuqiu, meaning ‘Lapiz Lazuli Gems,’ were tasked with uncovering the secrets of immortality. The islands, two-thirds of which now are administered as Okinawa prefecture, Japan, have been like a seam in a fabric torn at by distant powers ever since. Attacked and colonized since the 7th century by China then Japan, and later by the United States – the latter two still occupy the islands today.

A history of the physical traces, the urban landscape and houses of the Ryukyu and Okinawa paint a vivid portrait of this society: its experience and struggle with adaptation, autonomy, colonization and domestication. ‘Traditional’ is a word often used to describe the Nuchijaa house of the islands but this house only occupies - and in changing forms – 400 years of a history which as we now know stretches back at least 32,000 years there. On these islands, people have dwelled and worshiped in so many forms: in caves, earth-pit dwellings, palm and grass thatched huts, elevated wooden houses, and now, they live in clustered expanses of reinforced concrete boxes not entirely unique from those of Japanese cities to the north. 

Tradition, in the proper sense, has long disappeared here – over the past 2000 years change has swept the foundations out from beneath the inhabitants of Ryukyu in “tsunamis” of bronze, iron, steel, silicon and symbols - change is perpetual and always accelerating. We might however, consider this destruction in a positive way, for destruction also ‘opens up’ a possibility here for a bare encounter with total urbanization, with the networked boxes of concrete, pulsing with flows of energy and information whose rythym starkly contrasts against a backdrop of the flows of wind, sand and the lapiz lazuli sea.

This year Tropicality will, in our 4th year, continue our interrogation of Tropical housing, identity and aesthetics in tropical, post-colonial, urban contexts. The Ryukyu Islands, is markedly different from the other places we have visited (San Jose, Costa Rica; Saigon, Vietnam; Colombo, Sri Lanka) but exposes that which is obscured by the use of the prefix ‘post’ in those cities: namely the continued imposition of sovereign power; of economy over the political (in the proper sense), Nature and life. Yet, we come to the tropics because we always encounter modes of life which simply reject (and sometimes extrapolate) many of the desires of the post-fordist metropolis and therefor open up possibilities for architecture. This year we will explore - through form, contents, film, and drawing -  how the physical, representational and symbolic features of the Okinawan domestic setting, from the scale of the domestic object, to that of the urban, are entangled in the forming and definition of the ‘self’ as a relationship to others and the landscape – domesticated, urban and ‘natural’.  We aspire to build architectural inquiries that are of the most fundamental importance to seeing as a form of, and prerequisite to projecting.

Prominent Features of the workshop/ skills developed

  • Local architect lectures in Okinawa, Japan
  • Local University professor lectures on architecture, context/history
  • Instruction in drawing in Rhino 3d and Adobe Illustrator
  • Surveys of existing architecture
  • Conceptual Architectural design and composition
  • Model making with with foam and plaster
  • Interview and Presentation Techniques
  • Cinematographic language
  • Professional film and sound equipment instruction
  • Film editing


1) You can make an application by completing the online application found under ‘Links and Downloads’ on the AA Visiting School page. If you are not able to make an online application, email for instructions to pay by bank transfer. 

2) Once you complete the online application and make a full payment, you are registered to the programme. A CV or a portfolio is not required.

The deadline for applications is the 10th August 2018

All participants are responsible for securing any visa required, and are advised to contact their home embassy early. After payment of fees, the AA School can provide a letter confirming participation in the workshop.

Please note that there is a limit to the number of student intake for this programme. Please contact us to secure your place.


Okinawa, Japan

For more information please contact


The AA Visiting School requires a fee of £760 per participant, which includes a £60 Visiting membership fee.

Fees do not include flights or accommodation, but accommodation options can be advised. Students need to bring their own laptops, digital equipment and model making tools. Please ensure this equipment is covered by your own insurance as the AA takes no responsibility for items lost or stolen at the workshop.


The workshop is open to all especially current architecture, design, film, sociology, ethnography, anthropology, and archaeology students, phd candidates and young professionals.


Brendon Carlin has been a Unit Master at the Architectural Association since 2011, is a Lecturer at the Royal College of Art leading the Masters design studio ADS9, is a candidate with AA PhD by Design, and contributor to The City as a Project. Brendon has practised and taught extensively at distinguished practices and institutions worldwide including several AA Visiting School Programmes.

Maria Paez Gonzalez is a practicing architect and researcher based in London. Currently, she is an associate with Foster + Partners and an invited tutor with ADS9 at the Royal College of Arts. She is also the founding member of Fundacion HCGB, an organisation working to preserve the architectural heritage of Coro, Venezuela a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Andrew Houston is a film theory scholar and currently lectures on the development of film expression, contemporary global cinema, Italian Neo-Realism and French New Wave cinema in addition to tutoring post production studio at the prestigious Colorado Film School. Andrew has won several awards as a short filmmaker and is releasing his first feature length film this year.


Waseda University School of Architecture


Programme Heads
Brendon Carlin
Maria Paez Gonzalez

Programme Tutor
Andrew Houston

Japan Coordinator
Takeshi Yamamura - Waseda School of Architecture

Head of Visiting School

Christopher Pierce

T +44 20 7887 4014
F +44 20 7414 0782

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Visiting School Prospectus


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