CRITICAL REGIONALISM

   Beginning with the International style that developed after World War I, modern architectural discourse has minimized regional influences by focusing instead on generalized formal and design elements devoid of any applied historical or decorative imagery. Because regional and historical architecture was considered inferior by adherents of this type of stripped-down modernism, geographical, climatic, and cultural differences were rarely expressed in architecture. Certainly, those architects who did work in such regional styles never received the international recognition that the architects of the more "avant-garde" style of modernism enjoyed. This modernist stylistic uniformity continued with Post-Modern architecture, which quickly became the dominant style for monumental, international commissions through the 1980s. Since then, however, architects, constrained by the limitations of this conformity, have sought to cultivate an increase in architectural diversity that responds more successfully to issues of weather, climate, local building materials, and regional cultural aesthetics.
   Kenneth Frampton, in his 1983 article "Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points of an Architecture of Resistance," coined the term Critical Regionalism for this new architectural trend. Since then, regional architects have gone on to respond successfully to issues such as the need for low-cost housing, greater energy efficiency, and more aesthetically sensitive structures that reflect differing cultural and aesthetic backgrounds. In Egypt, Hassan Fathy sought to revitalize the use of mud-brick materials in private houses in a local style that has become increasingly popular with the work of his student Abdul El-Wakil, whose Halawa House, built in Agami, Egypt, in 1975, epitomizes this interest in regionalism. By creating a grand house with Islamic features and local materials, El-Wakil shows how the wealthy class need not look to European architectural models for their housing, but are ennobled by a return to their own native construction practices.
   Critical Regionalism is not just regionalism, but it also challenges the architect and visitor to see how world culture and global concerns can be blended with regional issues to create a style that is more critically self-conscious and expansive. For example, Tadao Ando's design for the Church of the Light in Ibarakishi, Osaka, built in 1989, is an extremely spare, concrete modernist structure, but it is also informed by Zen philosophy in its contrast between the solidity of the concrete and the immaterial nature of the light. J0rn Utzon's Sydney Opera House, completed in 1973 with the appearance of thin, billowing shapes on its roof, resembles the sails of boats on the Sydney harbor but with a very technically sophisticated use of concrete forms. Frampton also described Alvar Aalto's buildings in these same terms, because they resisted the more universal modernist styles, materials, and technology that dominated mid-century architecture. His Baker House dormitory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, completed in 1948, for example, is a brick structure that bends in its middle to create an undulating wall overlooking the Charles River. Thus, unlike the Post-Modernist application of historical references, Critical Regionalism seeks a fuller integration of global and regional concerns into the architectural setting of a structure.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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