This thesis examines how the thermal performance of the house in tropical Queensland became, during the first half of the twentieth century, an issue located between politics, medicine and architecture. Drawing from medical history, settler-colonial studies and environmental design history the work is concerned with the mobility of architecture’s agency in solving the “problem” of climate at the domestic scale, and how the control and measurement of residential indoor temperatures were racialised, politicised and medicalised. The chapters trace the development of a common culture within medicine about tropical housing design, the role of northern Queensland as a counter-case to other colonial housing models, the emergence of the white settler housewife as a privileged subject of housing reform and the eventual accommodation of a physiological world view in Australian architectural practice.
The thesis integrates an extensive range of primary sources from medical, governmental and community organisations. It argues that a distinctive medical and political discourse developed during the early twentieth century around the tropical house in northern Queensland – a discourse driven by racial anxieties about white women’s role in the tropics, emergent research on physical limits to work in high temperature environments and northern Queensland’s unusual socio-political form as a tropical settler-colonial society. Far from seeing climatically responsive design as a recent phenomenon, the study highlights the deep historical links between architecture, climatology, medicine and the politics of regional development—all bound to the history of colonisation and settlement. As such the thesis helps reassess the relationship between architecture, climate, and the colonial project and to the historiography of architecture’s response to environmental politics and thought.