Past Events

Thermal Governance: Air-conditioning Complexes and Climate Modulation in Urban Asia

Research Seminar – Jiat-Hwee Chang, Kim Förster

  • 24 May 2023
  • 5:00 – 7:00 pm
  • Architecture Summer Series

    A series of talks and discussions showcasing new research and approaches to thinking about buildings, cities, and landscapes in Britain and elsewhere.
  • Paul Mellon Centre and Online

As temperature rises and heat waves become more frequent and intense due to the climate crisis, air conditioning has received much attention from international media and global environmental NGOs. Among other things, they have highlighted the projected escalation in demand for mechanical cooling and the attendant problems in energy demand and carbon emission. Some have also foregrounded the vulnerabilities associated with uneven access to cooling in an unequal world, and argued that access to air conditioning is no longer a luxury but a necessity, or even a right. The crux of the matter seems to be: how do we cool the world’s population in an equitable manner without warming the planet?

This lecture seeks to address this question concerning the global future of cooling by understanding how we have arrived at the present through cases drawn from two cities in hot climatic regions that are heavily dependent on air conditioning – Singapore and Doha. It develops the concept of thermal governance to bring together the whole array of techniques and technologies – with air conditioning as a major one – deployed by a modern state to modulate heat under a single analytical framework of rethinking political power. The “thermal” in the concept emphasises the spatial connections of thermal exchanges across different scales – bodies, interiors, buildings, cities and the planet. It also enables the lecture to bring together scholarships from various disciplines concerning thermal energetic mediation. The “governance” in the concept allows the lecture to move away from techno-centric and even techno-determinist understandings of managing heat to critique the uneven socio-spatio-technical configurations and unequal techno-politics of cooling.

Respondent: Kim Förster

A Research Seminar Series co-organised with Rixt Woudstra (Assistant Professor in Architectural History, University of Amsterdam).

About the speakers

  • Jiat-Hwee Chang headshot

    Jiat-Hwee Chang is associate professor of Architecture and Research Leader of the STS (Science, Technology and Society) Cluster at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. He is an interdisciplinary researcher working at the intersections of architecture, environment and STS. He is the author of A Genealogy of Tropical Architecture: Colonial Networks, Nature and Technoscience (2016), which was awarded an International Planning History Society Book Prize in 2018 and shortlisted for the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies Humanities Book Prize 2017. He is currently working on a book manuscript on the sociocultural histories and techno-politics of air conditioning and climate change in urban Asia.

    Jiat-Hwee’s latest book (with Justin Zhuang and Darren Soh) Everyday Modernism: Architecture and Society in Singapore follows his other research trajectory on modernism in Asia. The book builds on his earlier co-edited volumes Non West Modernist Past (2011) and Southeast Asia’s Modern Architecture (2018). Informed by his work with the NGO Singapore Chapter of Docomomo International, the book is an attempt to expand our understanding of modernism and modernist heritage through its focus on the social histories of ordinary buildings, infrastructures and landscapes in Singapore.

    Jiat-Hwee’s research has been supported by institutions in North America, Britain, Germany, Australia, Cyprus, Qatar and Singapore. He was recently a Carson Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Spring 2020, a Manton Fellow at the Clark Art Institute in Fall 2019, and a Canadian Centre for Architecture–Mellon Foundation Researcher, 201719.

  • Kim Förster is an architectural historian, working as a curator, editor, educator and lecturer in architectural studies at the University of Manchester, member of Manchester Architecture Research Group (MARG ) and currently Visiting Professor at EPFL Lausanne. With an academic background in American studies and English language and literature, geography and pedagogy, at Humboldt University Berlin, the University of Toronto and University of Münster, Förster earned his doctorate in architecture from ETH Zurich (2007–2011), where he taught as an assistant in architecture theory at the gta Institute and, as a postdoctoral scholar, conceived and taught the methods seminar in the Doctoral Program in the History and Theory of Architecture. His doctoral dissertation focused on cultural production on the example of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies. Previously, Förster was Associate Director of Research at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montréal (2016–2018), leading, next to various programmes for different cohorts of researchers, the multidisciplinary research project on “Architecture and/for the Environment” as part of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Initiative. His current research and teaching focus on environmental, energy and material history, particularly on the global history of cement as commodity; a modern, still critical and yet destructive building material. Most recently, Förster published on environmental issues in Architectural Histories, Candide, Werk, Bauen + Wohnen; he contributed essays to The Routledge Companion to Architecture and Social Engagement (2018), Überbau. Produktionsverhältnisse der Architektur im Anthropozän (2021) and Beyond Concrete (2022). Part of the architecture group common room, Förster published Negotiating Ungers. The Aesthetics of Sustainability in 2020 and in 2022 curated and edited an exhibition and common book titled Disquietude. Architecture and Energy in Portugal. The digital series Environmental Histories of Architecture that he edited for the CCA is currently published through Library Stack.