There's something about the tropics that conjures up images of hula girls under palm trees, ukulele music and cocktails with lurid names. Let's face it, frolicking on the beach just wouldn't be the same in frigid Copenhagen. Just as evocative is the design and architecture endemic to the steamy areas between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, particularly across the Pacific Rim. Indigenous tropical architecture is typified by several common elements: the use of lightweight building materials (right); walls that can be opened up; large and shady eaves; and elevated floors. 'If you look at Pacific Rim architecture, from Hawaii to New Guinea, to coastal China, to Korea, to coastal India, the houses are off the ground, providing good ventilation,' says Pritzker Prize-winning architect Glenn Murcutt. However, when Europeans colonised the Pacific Rim, rather than adopt the local architecture, they brought their own. So the region ended up with heavy brick terraces and bungalows, far more suited to the chilly climate of northern Europe than the hot, humid conditions of Oceania. This meant people needed to switch on air conditioners to stay cool. 'Once you pump air conditioning into buildings, you cease having to respond to the environment,' Murcutt says. 'Think of the way we dress and how we put layers on and take layers off according to the weather,' says Murcutt. 'My buildings are similarly layered. The edges are dynamic; they open up and close down and have different components, so sometimes you can have glass there, sometimes an insect screen, sometimes a timber screen, you can have none of them there, or any combination of them. 'To open the house up and let it breathe is fantastic. To pad around in bare feet and just a pair of swimmers is wonderful. And in winter time, you simply close the house down and get the warmth going.' Murcutt has influenced an entire generation of architects keen to avoid the mistakes of their Eurocentric predecessors. One is Lena Yali of Australian firm Troppo Architects, which often uses high rooflines to shift heat away from the home's in- habitants. A steep pitch is essential for quickly shedding tropical downpours. Like Murcutt, Yali favours elevated houses with flexible walls. Big eaves and shady verandahs (below left) keep the heat from penetrating too far into the house in summer. 'It's all about working with the elements,' Yali says. As for interior design, the key is to keep things uncluttered and simple. Designer Ian Halliday says he starts with a clean white palette, then introduces the colours of the tropics - turquoise, greens or fuchsia (think tropical orchids) - as accents on cushions, or courtyard walls. The fabrics he uses are natural linens and cottons. For furnishings, stick with woven cane, wicker or rattan. And if you can, invest in a pair of iconic Palla chairs, manufactured by Bonacina since 1966. Then sit back, put your feet up and enjoy a pina colada.