In attempting to honor and preserve the differences in local cultures, climates, and topographies, Regionalist architecture resists the ongoing march of homogenization in contemporary society. While applauded by many for planting human features on the face of modernity, regionalism sometimes betrays... [more]
In attempting to honor and preserve the differences in local cultures, climates, and topographies, Regionalist architecture resists the ongoing march of homogenization in contemporary society. While applauded by many for planting human features on the face of modernity, regionalism sometimes betrays an undercurrent of conservativism - the natural consequence of its back-to-the-roots advocacy - especially when it becomes narrowly focused on stemming the universalizing tide of our almost post-industrial, Internet-connected culture. In its worst guise, regionalism resorts to a misguided use of the vernacular as a source of architectural forms, which, employed in the slavish service of style, become severed from the mooring of historical context. As an antidote to this knee-jerk decorative appropriation of the local, Critical Regionalism seeks to recognize architectural traditions that are intimately rooted in and evolving from local conditions, but that nevertheless point the way to a highly evolved and intelligent modern architecture. Most prominently theorized by the contemporary architectural historian Kenneth Frampton, Critical Regionalism understands culture "not as something given and relatively immutable but rather as something which has, at least today, to be self-consciously cultivated."
Unsurprisingly, the ascendancy of the International Style pushed this approach to the margins of architectural practice. Yet, through a studied and careful appreciation of provincial traditions, regionalism in the post-war years resulted in designs imbued with sensitivity to the specifics of local climates and materials, topographies and building methods. The Southern California work of Richard Neutra in the 1930s, for example, or the brilliant projects designed by the Barcelona architect J. A. Coderch, demonstrate a variety of ingenious adaptations of local forms and methods to the requirements of modern functionality. The results are formally and conceptually divorced from received notions of style, as in the case of Coderch's celebrated ISM apartment block (1951), which presents a modern brick veneer mediated by carefully realized interpolations of traditional elements such as full-height wood shutters and thin overhanging cornices.
In its broadest sense, then, the Critical Regionalist sensibility looks to the uniqueness of site and location when deriving the formal aspects of any given project. Its influence can be felt in the work of the Tichino School in Switzerland, the sophisticated urban insertions of many contemporary Spanish architects (including Rafael Moneo), or the austere concrete forms of the Japanese master Tadao Ando. All point to a design method that is assuredly modern but relies on the organic unity of local material, climatic, and cultural characteristics to lend coherence to the finished work. The result is an architecture suited to light and touch.