Welcome to Future Talks by RTF, where we have the privilege of delving into the minds of design pioneers who breathe life into architectural narratives. Today, we are honored to be in conversation with Hugh Holder, the ingenious mind behind Architropics, a platform that serves as a wellspring of knowledge and resources for those venturing into the world of tropical architecture.
Hailing from the picturesque island of Barbados, which has shaped his perspective in more ways than one, Hugh Holder embodies the essence of architectural innovation. With over eighteen years of professional experience under his belt, his journey in architecture began with an undergraduate degree in Architectural Studies, followed by a Master of Architecture (M.Arch) degree. These formidable credentials have been the pillars upon which he’s built his career and his passion for designing spaces that are not just functional but responsive to their environment.
What sets Hugh apart is his unwavering commitment to architecture that harmoniously syncs with its surroundings, taking into account the unique climate, context, and culture of the place and its people. With a career deeply rooted in tropical architecture, Hugh Holder’s journey is one that promises to enlighten and inspire us all. Join us as we unravel the captivating world of Architropics and the brilliant mind behind it, in a conversation that is bound to broaden our horizons and reshape our understanding of architectural design.
RTF: What made you build Architropics? And what are the key areas of focus in the architectural designs featured in Architropics?
Hugh: When I went to university to do my undergraduate degree in architecture, we did a course that touched on climate. I did my first degree in Jamaica, which is also a tropical country in the Caribbean. It wasn’t a large part of the course and was perhaps just a few weeks of one semester, but it had a tremendous impact on me. I was fascinated by the idea that we can manipulate a building’s elements to increase airflow and reduce heat gain passively.
I started to think more about how we could do simple things that would impact how homes and buildings could be cooler naturally. Designs more suited for the tropics. After that, I was hooked. I wanted to learn more about designing better for tropical climates.
In Barbados, houses are, for the most part, passive and do not use air conditioning. However, I often feel like we can do even more. We aren’t intentional enough about designing homes specific to our climate.
But though I had these thoughts for a long time, it was years afterwards that I got the idea to start Architropics. I wanted to express and share some of the interests I had for many years. However, I didn’t have any solutions on what could be done. I just had some knowledge and ideas floating around in my head.
I am using Architropics to put some of those thoughts and ideas out there and find like-minded people to start a conversation with.
In addition, it is easy to find information online about homes in temperate regions like the US and Europe. However, it is more challenging to find resources for smaller tropical countries. Architropics provides resources for these regions.
RTF: Being a native of the Island, How has the tropical land of Barbados shaped your perception towards architectural design?
Hugh: I grew up in a low-income neighbourhood in a very modest home. It was a dense neighbourhood in Barbadian terms and was reasonably close to the capital city. Hence, I never really got a full appreciation for the actual “paradise” of living in a tropical country that most people who don’t live in tropical countries think about. To me, it was just a normal life.
It was only when I went to secondary (high) school, which was in a rural part of the country that I got a greater appreciation for the beautiful tropical landscape of Barbados and its various architecture.
I was interested in architecture from a very early age, but honestly, I didn’t necessarily link the functional aspects. My focus was more on design and how things looked. I am talking about my early to mid-teens. I would look at buildings and think about what I liked and what I would change about them to make them more interesting.
But I also knew my house was hot, and we often complained about it. It was a significant part of our existence.
As I got older and more interested and educated in architecture, I started to think about its response to the climate more.
RTF: How would you want to shape the architecture of Barbados with the stories on Architropics?
Hugh: I want Architropics to be a place where Barbadians and people in the Caribbean can find other options to what they already know. We have come to believe that there is just one way a house should look and how it should be built. It should have certain types of windows arranged in a certain way. Walls should be of a certain material, and a house should fit a certain style or appearance. I want us to explore other possibilities.
But more importantly, I want us to be more intentional about building in a tropical climate and what that means. Making decisions that will help improve the thermal comfort of a home and not just accept that what we do is the way it has to be.
RTF: What were the challenges that Architropics had to face initially? And how did you react to carry it to where it is today?
Hugh: Starting a blog or a website was all new to me. I’d never done anything like this before, and it was a steep learning curve.
When I first started, I wanted it to be a place to share my thoughts. It could force me to learn more and explore other ideas. In addition, I do not consider myself to be a good writer. In fact, I do not like writing at all. I am also extremely introverted and often shy away from attention.
However, I am passionate about the topic. I have been interested in it for a long time and would love others to see the importance of climate-responsive architecture from a sustainable point of view. So, that motivated me to push past my introversion and dislike for writing to start the blog.
I will not for a second pretend that I have all the answers. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, I have few answers, and as I learn more, I recognise how challenging it is to come up with an ideal response for residential architecture in tropical climates. There are so many things to consider, which sometimes contradict each other.
For example, lightweight materials are excellent for your walls to cool down quickly but won’t stand up as well to strong tropical hurricanes as concrete walls would.
But I like that a conversation is happening. I like that Architropics introduces me to people interested in creating sustainable climate-responsive architecture for tropical regions. I think it is with these types of discussions and sharing these stories that we will be able to find innovative solutions and ideas that suit the climate in our regions.
RTF: What are the other paths that you stroll on when not working?
Hugh: I am a full-time caregiver for my mother. It was one of the main reasons I started the blog. Once I decided to take care of her full-time, I could no longer work in an architectural office.
Being a carer can also be very demanding. As such, I wanted to create something that I could still be involved in architecture but would give me the flexibility to do at my own pace.
Caregiving for a parent can be challenging. It is a 24-hour job but one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
In addition, I like participating in architectural and design competitions. Recently, my friend and I won a national competition in Barbados to design a monument in the heart of the capital city of Bridgetown. The National Heroes Square Monument commemorates the journey of the Barbadian Family. It is currently under construction, and I am working with the team to bring it to reality.
RTF: How have the architecture and design platforms worldwide inspired you to create Architropics, alongside your motivation to work for the architectural development of Barbados?
Hugh: Tremendously. I am always learning so much from these platforms. By seeing work and articles on websites like Rethinking The Future and others, I realise there are other approaches to design and architecture that we could learn from.
I am always looking to learn more about other design responses that suit hot, humid climates, and these websites greatly help with that.
RTF: How would you advise young architects and designers who aspire to create a difference not only by creating buildings but also by imparting architectural knowledge to the masses?
Hugh: We all have something that we can share.
Sometimes, we get caught up in our own development, but it is good to share what interests you, especially with strange and peculiar ideas. These things can challenge conventional thoughts and patterns, which is where growth and innovation can occur.
They should be mindful of the peculiarities of their country and region. It’s culture, climate and environment. Challenge yourself to think about ways you can improve the built and natural environment around you.
I encourage anyone who thinks they have an idea, especially if it differs from what is normally accepted, to put their ideas out there. I assure you other people have similar ideas and ideals to yours.
RTF: How would you describe Architropics’ influence on people in tropical regions?
Hugh: I’m encouraged by the people who reach out to me through Architropics to share the same views and are interested in being more sustainable and climate-responsive. People from several tropical regions are looking for information and inspiration to create their tropical homes. It’s wonderful.
I want the website to be a place where the people of the tropics can find and share ideas about design that fits their region. To learn about approaches in other tropical countries and see how they could apply them to theirs.
Our regions have different peculiarities, but we share much in common. We can learn a lot from each other.