Tropical Town

The Tropical Town project develops architectural, technological and urban planning ‘seed packages’, for rapidly urbanising cities in Southeast Asia. In this sense the Tropical Town is not a rigid master plan, but an approach to evolving environmentally sustainable and economically resilient settlements over time. At the centre of this project is an incremental unit we have dubbed Rubah, or Rumah Tambah (‘expandable house’ in Bahasa Indonesia). The Rubah unit encourages vertical densification up to four floors in the context of nested neighbourhood, village and township scales. The wider planning strategies embed public space, productive landscapes, and wastewater treatment, solar energy generation and rainwater harvesting infrastructures.

The Tropical Town is intended to be ‘scaleable’, that is, implementable in similar urbanizing regions throughout tropical Southeast Asia. To this end, the project is being trialed on two distinctive sites in Indonesia. The first site, at Marunda, East Jakarta, is located within a government social housing programme, designed to accommodate communities displaced by the flooding of the Ciliwung River, in Jakarta’s inner city. It is a highly urbanised site surrounded by large industrial estates. The second is a peri-urban site in the city of Batam in the Riau Archipelago, near Singapore. This site is within a traditional land holding.

The project is lead by Stephen Cairns with Kees Christiaanse and Dirk Hebel, and includes expertise from four Modules (I, IV, IX and AP Hebel) at Future Cities Laboratory (FCL).


The project was developed through a number of events in 2011-12: three workshops held in Batam and Singapore (February and July 2011, and February 2012); a design studio run through the Department of Architecture at the National University of Singapore (September – November 2011); an intensive design workshop at Future Cities Laboratory at the Singapore-ETH Centre (December 2011 – March 2012); at the 5th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, ‘Making City’ (April 2012); at international conferences at Engelberg, Switzerland (September 2012); at a two-day workshop on urban kampungs at Kali Ciliwung in Jakarta, hosted by Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy (26-27 October); and at workshop in preparation for the ‘Smart City: The Next Generation’ exhibition and symposium at the AEDES Gallery, Berlin (17 May – 4 July 2013).

Tropical Town 2

Tropical Town

Screenshot of a model designed to study the relationship between the growth of the built fabric, population, disposable income and overall economic capacity of the Tropical Town (Eva-Maria Friedrich) Figure 2. Tropical Town/Rubah installation at International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) ‘Making City’, 2012