Interview and investigation about suitable materials for tropical regions


The longevity of materials is relevant to ecology, economy, and the standard of living. By 2050 around 50 percent of the world‘s population will be living in tropical regions. That most materials suffer under the climate of such regions is well known among experts, still, it‘s hard to find topic-related literature and studies. The problem is linked to economical and political issues in the former colonies. I held interviews with Puerto Rico based designers and started an investigation. I want to build synergies between Puerto Rican organizations, rethink production from the waste perspective and think about suitable materials for tropical regions.

Paseo Puerta de Tierra
Paseo Puerta de Tierra (Puerto Rico) visible decay, signs of rust

Looking for partners and resources to kick-off a project

To deepen my research and evaluate possible projects to realize as part of my possible bachelor dissertation, I would like to collaborate with students from other disciplines. Therefore, I will present my ideas at the student conference StuCon 2021.

Submitted poster for the student conference StuCon 2021

Introduction from the thesis

How often do you need to replace your can opener? How often do you buy a new microwave? And how often do you put a new door handle on your front door?

If this is not the case at least every three years, you probably don’t live in a tropical region.

Materials that are considered durable in Switzerland, such as steel, wood, textiles, or plastics, reach their limits in tropical regions. The climate is extreme – the demands are many. Objects made of any material must withstand not only the high salt content in the air, but also strong UV radiation, rainfall, temperature fluctuations, tropical storms and hurricanes, and even earthquakes.

I observe that everyday objects, which can be used for years in Switzerland if treated properly, break within a few months in Puerto Rico, an island in the tropics.

Areas on the tropical ring are among the world’s financially weakest countries. To be able to manufacture long-lasting products, however, more resistant and therefore often also more expensive materials or processing methods would have to be used.

The issue is relevant and hot. As James Cook University Australia reports in «State of the tropics 2020», by 2050 around 50 percent of the world’s population will live in tropical regions. The longevity of materials is already relevant to the standard of living of around 40 percent of the world’s population.

I soon discover that no literature can be found on (industrial design specific) materials for the tropics. Those materials suffer from the climate of typical tropical regions, on the other hand, can be confirmed.

Mock-Up: Extract from the written work

To be able to analyze the problem from the perspective of affected people, I arranged interview appointments with two experts from Puerto Rico. In addition, I was able to communicate regularly with the Swiss honorary consul on-site and conduct a small decay study with objects from the household.

I started my research on this topic with the following questions

  • What materials can be used for industrial production?
  • What is already known about the problem and what happened as a result of these insights?
  • Is it possible to produce in a way that is suitable for the tropical climate?