Architecture has a responsibilityPhoto Peter Stepan


Bruno Stagno, Prince Claus Fund Laureate 1997

Website Prince Claus Fund - Prince Claus Awards 1997

Bruno Stagno arquitecto


Bruno Stagno's website

Instituto de Arquitectura Tropical





Culture is not a luxury?

Architecture is an expression of culture, perhaps the one that has the most direct impact on society. Architecture is a public form of creation, it’s out there on the street, in the city; it can be freely appreciated, because it belongs to everyone.
It is probably the most public of all the arts, and for this reason, it has a responsibility, in the sense that it defines the human habitat, and from that perspective, I have always insisted that we must avoid a globalized architecture that erases national cultural identities. I’m in favour of a regional architecture that is able to adapt itself to its society, its site and its climate – in other words, to its local culture – but using appropriate modern technology and a contemporary language.

The Prince Claus Award

The Prince Claus Award first of all enabled me to turn into reality a long-cherished dream: the first Encuentro de Arquitectura Tropical, held in 1997. We invited 10 architects with whom to talk about tropical architecture, and we realised that we had so much to share, and had so many things in common, because we all lived in the tropics. 
Perhaps the most important thing on a personal level was to establish a close relationship with the Prince Claus Fund, and through it to meet people and make contacts, which I would never have been able to do as an individual. It was a wonderful, enriching and unforgettable experience. Since receiving the award we have carried out various joint projects, and this has enabled us to emerge from our "zone of silence" and to make our voices heard worldwide. On one occasion I told Prince Claus, "Your generosity changed my life". The book funded by the Prince Claus Fund, Tropical Architecture: Critical Regionalism in the Age of Globalization, is sold out and has become a benchmark publication all over the world.


The Instituto de Arquitectura Tropical has succeeded in establishing relationships with architects from most parts of the tropics (I don’t say all parts, because we haven’t managed to make links with African countries). The Instituto de Arquitectura Tropical in Costa Rica has become a reference point of first resort, so much so that we receive requests from Brazil for information about Brazilian tropical architects. We have been asked for advice on setting up a similar centre in Ecuador, and for assistance to students writing their dissertations. Students in a number of countries have received help from their counterparts in Costa Rica. At James Cook University, in Australia, there is a centre for tropical studies, and efforts are being made in Singapore to create an institute modelled on ours. Our on-line service, which is supported by the Prince Claus Fund, is used by over 14,000 people a week, with an average connect-time of 7.2 minutes. 


Architecture should reflect a place and a society. I wrote some years ago, "tropicality is a mental state resulting from the immersion of the individual in a universe of sensuality, exalted by an overwhelming complexity.” The more we consider this reality (very often overcharged and chaotic), the less tropicality is perceived as an extravagant incongruity but instead, as a genuine entity, highly evolved and rich in possibilities. It is, perhaps, this very richness that makes it hard to unravel and probably (in keeping with an attitude typical of tropicality) it is best not to rationalize but simply to submerge yourself in its universe. The biodiversity of life is an evident reflection of the wealth of possibilities that arise in that human life which maintains a close relationship between humanity and nature. Mother Nature is characterized by an uninhibited sensual pleasure, and also by an overlapping simultaneity of situations and experiences.  Good examples include contemporary Islamic architecture, and forms of European colonial architecture that were adapted to tropical climates and ways of life. They all differ in their specific elements, which reflect the place and the society in which they are found. The worst mistake, from a cultural perspective, is the kind of globalized hotel architecture that produces exactly the same thing in Germany, Nepal, Barbados, or Argentina.