The air-conditioner is the greatest invention of last century. That’s according to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding prime minister of Singapore, a bustling city right in the heart of the tropics.
In a 2001 documentary chronicling Singapore’s rapid rise from Third to First World in just over three decades, Lee not only revealed his choice, but also how he kept the temperature in his office at 22 °C (71.6 °F) and his bedroom at 19 °C (66.2 °F) when Singapore’s equatorial climate averages around 30 °C (86 °F).
Air-condition technology certainly allowed Singapore to rapidly modernize to standards of Western cities by importing its architecture wholesale. Steel skyscrapers and glass buildings could thrive anywhere because this technology allowed them to ignore climatic conditions.
Such modern buildings quickly replaced tropical architecture, however, as seen in the image above. Air-condition units are attached to the back of shophouses which originally were designed with features to keep the interiors cool without the energy-guzzling air-condition. The rise of architecture that ignores local climates and the loss of tropical ways have gave rise to unsustainable lifestyles in Singapore. Today, its people adopt Western fashion like cardigans and suits while eating food from all round the world.
It takes a lot of energy to maintain this city’s artificial climate, and it has become ridiculous. In 2008, when asked about climate change Lee said that he now needed warm clothing more often in Singapore than when he traveled to Europe because the air-conditioned offices were freezing!
Written for Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi’s Cultural Theory class at D-Crit in response to “Beyond Sustainability: Architecture in the Renewable City” by Peter Droege