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Critical Regionalism Was First Introduced Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3011 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The idea of critical regionalism has been heard in architecture society. Vitruvius discussed regional variations in architecture in his ten books, and the Romantics propounded picturesque regionalism during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, regionalism seems to against the theory of modernism and postmodernism, both of which were thought to have failed to address the human condition in their extreme stances towards historicism. Thus from the question, “how to become modern and to return to sources?” by Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre hypothesize critical regionalism as the solution. The term was originally introduced by Tzonis and Lefaivre in their article “The Grid and the Pathway,” where critical regionalism was presented as the third and latest type of regionalism in Greece, succeeding the English picturesque of “nationalist regionalism” and the Neoclassical “historicist regionalism.” Here, modern architecture is thought to be remote and massive, destroying the humanistic character in architectural term which would be stated by a new form of regionalism.

Frampton follows the lead of Tzonis and Lefaivre in exploring the theory critical regionalism. In the article “Towards a Critical Regionalism,” Frampton defines critical regionalism as “an architecture of resistance”, seeking “to mediate the impact of universal civilization with elements derived indirectly from the peculiarities of a particular place,”

Thus aiming “to reflect and serve the limited constituencies in which it was grounded.” It is a resistance in the sense that it is a reaction against universal standards, culture homogenization and placeless modernism, but at the same time critical in its outlook; self-evaluating such that is is confrontational with not only the world but also to itself. According to Tzonis and Lefaivre, this self-reflective function is executed through the method of defamiliarization, in contrast to the romantic regionalism of familiarization, which employed nostalgic picturesque elements from a foregone era. This process entails selecting regional elements and incorporating them in a way that may appear distant, as if it were “the sense of place in a strange sense of displacement,” seeking to disrupt the sentimental link between the building and the place, and thus in this sense a reaction agaist the romantic sentimentality of pictureresque follies.

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Postmodernism, as its name suggests, aspired to succeed modernism whose ideals and norms were seen as responsible for the numerous failures that characterized most reconstruction and urban renewal projects realized since World War II. Having pledged to bring architecture out of a state of stagnation and disrepute due to reductive, technocratic and bureaucratic dogmas of modernism as well as its indifference, if not hostility towards history and culture, postmodernism buildings, apart from their superficial features, were qualitatively not much different from their predecessors. With few exceptions, museum buildings, such as the National Gallery in London and pricate houses in the United states, such as those by Robert Stern, the re-introduction of historical knowledge and cultural issues to design was merely skin-deep.

Regionalism was not the term the architects themselves were reffering to. It was a conceptual device that we chose to use as a tool of analysis. The concept of regionalism here indicated an approach to design giving priority to the identity of the particular rather than universal dogmas.

The awareness of a regional architecture as an idiom having a distinct identity and being associated with an identifiable group, and having this association used for further manipulating the group’s identity. Goes as far back as ancient Greece. It was the Greeks that in the context of the politics of control and competition between their polis and their colonies used architectural elements to represent the identity of a group occupying a piece of land, or the virtual presence of a group among other groups in a Pan-Hellenic institution such as Delphi or Olympia. Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, were not abstract decorative terms. They originated in the concrete historical context of fission and fusion of regions and identities and their use was frequently loaded with complex political meanings, carving supra-regional identities and relations.

The Roman architect and author, Vitruvius, who extensively discussed the Doric or Ionic temples without referring to the term Classical, does refer by name regional architecture, pointing to the difference in building around the world which he explains through climatic conditions and draws a parallel to the variations in the physique of people and concludes that the arrangement of buildings should be guided by locality and climate. In the very end, however, he did not imply regional pluralism and respect for difference.

The new global order consists of an effective interconnection of the whole planet by means of a reticular network of communication and exchange. It threatens individual variety and difference throught universalization of practices, but also accentuates the worst of a world of differences. It polarizes further a hierarchical dependance of regional differences rather than encouraging the diversity necessary for creativity.

Enhancing a world to come about within which preserving, exploring and mining regional differences brings about a world more genuinely global.

The picture of critical regionalism that emerges from these contributions is in great contrast to the simplistic ideas that the local is good by definition, that sustaining community and nature means both blind conservation and resistance to change and that understanding the context is a simple process that requires no special effort or analysis. The traditions are always contested, transformed, resisted and invented.

One of the most significant aspects of the quality ofn the built environment whish has been systematically ignored and violated by superficial thinking, biased judgement and seductive illusions is the skin of buildings. The impact of bad choices of materials on the skin of a building is not immediate. It is here that deep knowledge of the materials and the climatic attributes of a particular area is needed that cannot be substituted by reductive technical descriptions and even more by photographic media reproductions. The thoughtless transfer of glass as well as concrete to the tropical region led to indifferent if not hostile environments.

American architect Ralph T.Walker, like Mumford, he was highly critical of the older. He spoke out at length, and his comments deserve to be reproduced:

I have been around South America recently and I have just came back from Europe, and I find everywhere that modern architecture means a slab on pillars. It means the same thing in the United States because you pick up the architectural magazines and practically every issue has as its leading number a slab on pillars… Functionalism of materials has blazed our thinking around the world because you will find that the building in Rio for the Education Ministry looks exactly like a building that was designed for a giraffe in the London Zoo, and it looks exactly like the building that has been designed for the United Nations. In other words, you have a cover of unthinking uncritical acceptance of things.

He went on to argue that what was needed was humanism because it is the basis of all art and what we are trying to do first of all is to develop surroundings for people to live in, that will give them the greatest amount of the happiness and warmth of life.

The first point on which Mumford broke with older forms of regionalism was in his approach to tradition. Although he ded advocate the preservation of actual historical buildings, notably those built in the vernacular brick tradition of the South, which deserves to be regarded with a far more appreciative eye than people usually apply to it, he was opposed to their imitation in new buildings.

Let us be clear about this, the forms that poeple used in other civilizations or in other periods of our own country’s history were intimately part of the while structure of their life. There is no method of mechanically reproducing these forms or bringing then back to life; it is a piece of rank materialism to attempt to duplicate some earlier form, because of its delight for the eye, without realizing how empty a form is without the life that one supported it. There is no such thing as a modern colonial house any more than there is such a thing as a modern Tudor house.

The philosophic problem of the general and the particular has its counterpart in architecture; and during the last century that problem has shaped itself more and more into the question of what weight should be given to the universal imprint of the machine and the local imprint of the region and the communitu – Mumford in the south in architecture.

MEANS every regional culture necessarily has a universal side to it. It is steadily open to influences that come from other parts of the world, and from other cultures, separated from the local region in space or time or both together. It would be usefyul if we formed the habit of never using the world regional without mentally adding to it the idea of universal – remembering the constant contact and interchange between local scene and the wide world that lies beyond it. To ideas or technical methods that originate elsewhere… as with a human being, every culture must both be itself and transcend itself; it must make the most of its limitations and must pass beyond them; it must be open to fresh experience and yet it must maintain its integrity. In no other art is that process ore sharply focused that in architecture.


What we call globalization does not consist of an effective interconnection of the whole planet by means of a reticular network of communication and exhange. In reality, our global world’s structure is rather an atlas of radial nuclei and unplugged areas that keeps large zones of silence.

Globalization bears a massive and infinite process of concentration from the peripheries to the centres, almost one half of the world’s population lives today in urban environments. This situation creates multiple physical and mental displacements.

Globalization has marked two opposing cultural processes. Their interaction constitutes a critical point in the rearticulations of symbolic power and a paradox that signals the epoch. On the other hand, it constitutes the de post moment of expansion of industrial capitalism, which is part of the extension of Europe and its culture since the Renaissance. This expansion has been narrated as a story of the expansion of the world. The acquisition of worldwide power was seen as a globalization: the local Western became universal through the conquest of planetary power, colonialism and the construction of a totalizing rationality from that power. The idea of expansion culminated in an inverse notion, that of contraction: “the world becomes smaller day by day”, and even a global village.

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Western culture was imposed as an operating metaculture of the contemporary world. This was done with the purpose of conversion and domination, but implicity meant generalized access. If imposition seeks to convert the other, access facilitated using this metaculture for the others own, different ends, transforming the metaculture from within. Western metaculture has become a paradoxical means for the affirmation of difference, and for the rearticulating subaltern camp’s interest in post-colonial times.

Hence globalization times are simultaneously those of the difference. This is the other contradictory process to which I referred at the beginning. The existence of an operative metaculture has allowed the globalization of difference beyond the local environments. This cultural globalization implies an interaction between the extended Western metaculture and the cultural plurality of the world. If the first maintains its hemegonic character, the others have taken advantage of its capacity for international broadcasting to supersede local frameworks.

Besides, any vast expansion, such as Buddhism in Asia or the Latin language in the Roman Empire, carries a high degree of tension that opens pores and cracks. This globalization-differentation process is an intricate conflictive articulation of forces more than dual dialectics. It implies contaminations, mixtures and contradictions in many directions, although it direct current processes of culture, it cannot be taken passively, as a necessary inclination that occurs without any pressyre exerted by the subaltern sectors. Among other problems, there is the metacultural tendency to generalize practices from many diverse environments – from yoga to karate – in consumer-driven, culturaly aseptic method as isolated elements of a cosmopolitan mosaic. Nevertheless, some of the most successful experiences in non-occidental regions have consisted, as in the case of Japan, in managing Westernization to their benefit, empowering it from their own different background.

It is in this labyrinth of displacements and ambiguities where the current cultural power lies. It becomes more evident that at this point there ir no viable return to pre-colonial traditions, because that would consist precisely of regression to the myth of an unpolluted past with a small margin of action in the contemporary world. The issue is to build the contemporary from a plurality of experiences that are able to transform the metaculture,

Even when imposed by a dominant culture over a dominated one, cultural appropriation is not a passive phenomenon. Receivers always transform, resignify and use according to their visions and interests. Appropriation, and especially the incorrect one, is usually a process of originality, understood as a new creation of meaning.

Cultural debate ahs become a political arena for power struggle, both in the symbolic and the social aspects. It is seen both in the cultural adjustments that the subaltern and peripheral sectors are making, as well as in the heterogenization that immigrants are causing in the contemporary megalopolis. Every alrge city today is a dynamic crossroads of cultures. There are many and diverse people incorrectly and unabashedly reworking Western metaculture in their own way, de-eurocentralizing it in plural form. What we call postmodernity is, in good measure, the result of overlapping of all these contradictory processes, they also determine an extraordinary dynamic of identities, with complex adjustments: multiple identities, identities in the form of chinese boxes, neo-identities, mixture of identities, displacement among them, “ethnic games”…all borders mutate and turn into the critical spaces of our age.

The birder and its culture have become paradigms of contemporary cultural processes, but these and other paradigms are at risk of developing into a narrative of harmonization of diversity, leveling contradicitons and masking confrontation of interests.

The essay aims to discuss about the loss of cultural identity in this modern society, which lead to the loss of vernacular architecture. Basically vernacular architecture is a category of architecture based on localized needs and construction materials, and reflecting local traditions. It tends to evolve over time to reflect the environmental, cultural, technological and historical context in which it exists. The building methods are tested through trial-and-error by the society as the people constructing the structure tends to be the person who will use it. However, nowadays, people have mistaken the meaning of cultural identity, they tend to re-create the vernacular architecture into a purpose space where the tradition has been reinvigorate to a resort. People have tried to modernize the vernacular architecture, but still, loss of culture identity is the problem or the modern vernacular.

What is vernacular architecture in people’s view nowadays? Will people still respect the culture identity?

Why is the topic important in the world or in the context of design?

As nowadays, vernacular architecture is gradually disappeared in this modern society. People have started to copy the authenticity to attract the ever-increasing tourists. Figures in architecture hence become less to do with a response to materials and more to do with the associative at tributes of particular shapes and forms. Why is this happening? It was because a global homogenization of the culture of the tourists, an excess of material choice, rapid urbanization, emergence economies, global environmental crisis and politics. Architects have tried using the four ways to modernize the vernacular architecture for now which are reinvigorating, reinventing, extending and reinterpreting tradition, however it still leads to the loss of cultural identity.

How will architecture recreate a tradition, a shared ground that provides a basis for the criteria of authenticity and quality?

How am I going to approach the topic?

The essay will take on a critical regionalism approach of how people view on the vernacular architecture nowadays. Making a point to the loss of culture and how vernacular architecture has slowly fade away, shows how people should react to this issue and also to explain when this vernacular architecture be applied again in this modernized society, create spaces of authenticity of a tradition.


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