Building & Renovating

Building 101: Glossary of Tropical Architecture

Get familiar with terms related to tropical homes


What's evaporative cooling? How about cross ventilation? If you're building a tropical home anytime soon, then it's best that you familiarize yourself with the terms below.

During the construction process, take note of this tip from Architect Liza Crespo -- “A lot of these passive cooling techniques are dependent on sun exposure. The architect has to know where the afternoon sun is – that’s the hottest – and put windows or thicken up walls on that part of the house or insulate it. Also, know and understand the wind flow patterns, because that varies from location to location. Understand the topography. It really is site- specific, so understanding the site is the first step in greening a home before you get started.”

Home photos by Ocs Alvarez / ACME Visual Productions and At Maculangan.

Read the original article in the March 2014 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App now! Log on to for more details. 

Take note of these terms:

Cross Ventilation

An aspect of passive cooling. “You put one window in one end, and another in one end, so the air flow is crossing the space,” says architect Liza Crespo of environmentally- friendly design firm Liza Crespo Ecotecture. The positions and elevations of windows should be studied and planned to direct the flow of air that is beneficial to the occupants of the house and building. 

Evaporative Cooling

Cooling air that enters  a house through evaporating water, like that from ponds and water features at home. However, Liza cautions: “One thing that people have to bear in mind is that we’re in a tropical country, and it’s hot and humid. When you introduce a water feature, you introduce more humidity to a space. When you increase the humidity in a space, it makes it more uncomfortable.” Therefore, the use of water features to cool down a space depends on the location, how the water feature is done, and the amount of heat and humidity in the area.


Protecting a home or space from heat or sound by using certain materials. “Here, I noticed that people do not insulate. The heat really comes from the roof, from the walls. People also have to start looking for more energy- efficient windows, like double pane or those with two panes of glass so that you’re not letting heat in,” Liza explains. 

Passive Cooling

Using non- mechanical means to minimize heat gain and cool off a home or a building. “Passive cooling is integrated into the design, like taking advantage of the windows – where they are situated to make sure there is good air flow inside the house,” explains Liza. “It’s not as simple as just putting a window. You have to situate it in such a way that you’re directing the flow, so that it becomes beneficial to the occupants.” It also involves studying how light and wind flows to better incorporate passive cooling techniques in the house.

Time Lag Cooling

Delaying heat gain by using thick walls, allowing more time for heat to get in. Liza says this is applicable in Middle Eastern countries, where temperatures are different during daytime and night time. “What they do is they thicken up the walls so that during the day, it’s hot so there’s a delay for the heat to go into the space. By the time heat penetrates, it’s night time, and you already need the heat.” Liza says it’s more of an insulation issue in a tropical country like ours. 

Tubular Daylight Device (TDD)

A means of passive lighting that harnesses sunlight to illuminate a space. Liza says this minimizes the use of electricity because you don’t have to turn on the lights during the day. Solatube is a popular TDD brand. 

Wind Corridor

A passive cooling technique wherein “you have air flow through a funnel. If the wind is funnelled through a space, mas mabilis yung flow. By doing that, you’re directing it and inducing air flow within a space,” explains Liza. The “neck” of the funnel is what some architects call the squeeze point. It can be located at the main door, like in the house of architect Gelo Mañosa. “When you stand right at the doorjamb, you’ll feel the wind velocity. Wind increases, that’s because this is my squeeze point. When I open my main door, you feel that constant breeze, and that throws the breeze into the house,” he explains. 

Looking for tropical design inspiration? Check out these two homes:

Recycled Wood Completes a Modern Tropical House in Quezon City

An Asian Tropical Dream Home with a Warm and Earthy Palette

For more home features, click here.


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