Eco-architect Ken Yeang is best known for green architecture in the urban context, where he focuses on the bio integration of human-made, with nature to form constructed ecosystems. His designs are climate-responsive passive designs that require less mechanical power and are a subset of ecological design as they have less destructive effects on the environment and keep the user comfortable. 

His firm T.Z.Hamza and Yeang Sdn. Bhd. has received over 70 awards, including the prestigious Aga Khan Award for architecture. In 2008 the UK Guardian newspaper named him one of the 50 individuals who could save the planet.

Book in Focus: Tropical urban regionalism by Ken Yeang - Sheet1
Eco-architect Ken Yeang ©

A glance through the book 

The book Tropical Urban Regionalism authored by Ken Yeang deals with the growing concerns of population-concentrated urban context through analysis and interpretation of elements from vernacular architecture. As the name suggests, the vernacular architecture of the tropical region, mainly Malaysia, is placed under the microscope for analysis as he is interested in the development of the Malaysian and Asian architectural profession. 

Projects from the formative years of Ken Yeang’s career have been elaborately discussed by the architect along with its context, climate, and passive design strategies. So if you have been trying to find a relation between regionalism and contemporary architecture, this is your go-to book for easy understanding.

Book in Focus: Tropical urban regionalism by Ken Yeang - Sheet2
Book under review ©


The book consists of four divisions: On Building and Thinking, Regionalist Design Intentions, An Armature for Interpretations, and Consequences. In the first part, the architect emphasizes the urgent need for urban architecture in the equatorial belt where development is rapid as most of the buildings had been largely influenced by the contemporary models from western countries rather than the region itself. 

Ken Yeang’s intention is not to provide a manual for regionalist designs but to create analogies that will be useful in the design process and analysis of architectural heritage. A gist about what the book is going to explore is given here.

The second part, Regionalistic Design Intentions, ventures about how a linkage between technology and culture can be made through the regionalist design approach. Keeping the spirit of the place alive is essential as we tend to miss out on it while adopting traditional design solutions to contemporary designs. 

Though literal adoption of this is not possible because of the changing context and the new concentrated population, he says we have to find devices, built forms, and aesthetics from our architectural heritage from rural context and apply them in contemporary designs. For this, we need to first analyze and understand what our heritage holds, the solutions it has been offering so far, with respective climate studies. 

Every element of a house, like the walls, roof, doors, windows, orientation, shading devices, passive designs, etc have to be understood in the architectural heritage and validly be linked to the contemporary design either directly or indirectly.

Yeang, in An Armature for Interpretations, expresses the need for a holistic design approach rather than just having vernacular appendages to a modern building from the west. Adhering to a particular aesthetic or form hampers one’s ability to explore the design opportunities of that region. A building should be a reflection of its time and heritage and fuse with its context. 

For this, he has established various analogies to make the readers understand how a building envelope should behave. These analogies have been explained through multiple projects done by the architect himself, where he takes out elements from vernacular architecture, compares them with simple objects such as a sieve, and interprets them for the urban context. You can find the site analysis, master plan, sections, and views of his projects with an adequate amount of detailing in this book.

The architect concludes the book by regarding the building as an environmental filter and stresses that each element of the building should act as a filter rather than a closed system. He explains in detail using an example, the climatic factors to consider while designing to form a link between the building and its context. 

The passive design strategies in response to the tropical climate are discussed in detail with the aid of sections and plans. The consequences of an operable design system with regional and climatic influences are collected and saved for future references as they form a framework for experiments and the development of innovations.

What I liked the most about the book is the way Ken Yeang has chosen to explain every detail with as many aids as possible and has focused on making the readers understand easily the importance of regional design. Understanding vernacular architecture and modern architecture are two different things, but this book helps in interpreting the elements to meet the urgent urban demands. 

The various analogies made help in understanding the properties of operable filter systems of the building envelope. Ken Yeang’s latest green skyscrapers are even more interesting, for which this book is fundamental. 


Karpagam is a 3rd year undergraduate student who is very passionate about architecture and takes advantage of any opportunity that comes her way to build herself as an architect .She believes that through healthy discussions, critical changes can be brought in the society.

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