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Critical Regionalism


One the founding anniversary of M. Gerwing Architects, I thought I would post if not a manifesto, then maybe the guiding thoughts behind most of my recent work.  Although a bit hesitant to venture into freely expressing some thoughts on architectural theory, here goes:

Critical Regionalism

From the 1984 (?) essay ‘Critical Regionalism: Modern Architecture and Cultural Identity’

by Kenneth Frampton,

"(1) Critical Regionalism has to be understood as a marginal practice, on which, while it is critical of modernization, nonetheless still refuses to abandon the emancipatory and progressive aspects of the modern architectural legacy. At the same time, Critical Regionalism’s fragmentary and marginal nature serves to distance it both from normative optimization and from the naive utopianism of the early Modern Movement. In contrast to the line that runs from Haussmann to Le Corbusier, if favors the small rather than the big plan.

(2) In this regard Critical Regionalism manifests itself as a consciously bounded architecture, one which rather than emphasizing the building as a free-standing object places the stress on the territory to be established by the structure erected on the site. This ‘place-form’ means that the architect must recognize the physical boundary of his work as a kind of temporal limit – the point at which the present act of building stops.

(3) Critical Regionalism favors the realization of architecture as a tectonic fact rather than the reduction of the built environment to a series of ill-assorted scenographic episodes.

(4) It may be claimed that Critical Regionalism is regional to the degree that it invariably stresses certain site-specific factors, ranging from the topography, considered as a three-dimensional matrix into which the structure is fitted, to the varying play of local light across the structure. Light is invariably understood as the primary agent by which the volume and the tectonic value of the work are revealed. An articulate response to climatic conditions is a necessary corollary to this. Hence Critical Regionalism is opposed to the tendency of ‘universal civilization’ to optimize the use of air-conditioning, etc. It tends to treat all openings as delicate transitional zones with a capacity to respond to the specific conditions imposed by the site, the climate and the light.

(5) Critical Regionalism emphasizes the tactile as much as the visual. It is aware that the environment can be experienced in terms other than sight alone. It is sensitive to such complementary perceptions as varying levels of illumination, ambient sensations of heat, cold, humidity and air movement, varying aromas and sounds given off by different materials in different volumes, and even the varying sensations induced by floor finishes, which cause the body to experience involuntary changes in posture, gait, etc. It is opposed to the tendency in an age dominated by media to the replacement of experience by information.

(6) While opposed to the sentimental simulation of local vernacular, Critical Regionalism will, on occasion, insert reinterpreted vernacular elements as disjunctive episodes within the whole. It will moreover occasionally derive such elements from foreign sources. In other words it will endeavor to cultivate a contemporary place-oriented culture without becoming unduly hermetic, either at the level of formal reference of at the level of technology. In this regard, it tends towards the paradoxical creation of a regionally based ‘world culture’, almost as though this were a precondition of achieving a relevant form of contemporary practice.

(7) Critical Regionalism tends to flourish in those cultural interstices which in one way of another are able to escape the optimizing thrust of universal civilization. Its appearance suggests that the received notion of the dominant cultural center surrounded by dependent, dominated satellites is ultimately an inadequate model by which to assess the present state of modern architecture."

In reference to that, we are getting close to completing construction on the Sunshine Canyon House about which I have been posting progress for some time now.