“There is the paradox: how to become modern and return to sources; how to revive an old, dormant civilisation and take part in universal civilisation,” – Paul Ricoeur, History of Truth
When we see around, particularly the contemporary buildings (here, the period I am referring to is the last century) we can find a few buildings that generate a sense of placeless-ness; these could be taken and put anywhere… anywhere that function is needed, it’s not the buildings, not the experience, not the tactile sensation, but simply the function that speaks in them. They are not exactly out of place but also don’t belong there. They have a foreign trace in them and don’t suit either to people or surroundings. The other category belongs to the architecture which happily sits in its setting, taking pride in its context and boasts merrily of it. These are not ancient palaces and runes, but new buildings which are connecting technology and freshness with the elements derived from the particularities of the place.
But why do we have this dichotomy? In order to understand the same, let’s traverse down a bit of history. Since the world has gone through Industrialisation, there has been an alteration the way Architecture is conceived. Architects often take pride in having an authoritarian attitude while offering a design to a client, with their sense of space, be it required or not, needed or not. It had been the foremost concept in majority of the design philosophies be it Modernism, Post Modernism or the Second Modernity.
Modernism had let to a design trend where design was to be done for an idealist or create idealism everywhere. It was thought that by creating a standard design for all, architects would uplift the users by making them live in an ideal built environment. The celebrated architect, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris also known as Le Corbusier went on to the extent of celebrating the mass-production spirit,
“The spirit of constructing mass-production houses.
The spirit of living in mass production houses.
The spirit of conceiving mass production houses.”
This terrorized the world by mechanizing the humanity and threatening the vibrant cultural identity. This was an era where concepts like Bauhaus, ideas like House machine and usage of factory as metaphor for all building types had begun ruling the world of architecture. If it was not for the revolution of Critical Regionalism, we all would have been living in the world of monotony and all hues of variance would have been lost. Architecture influences people however using it as a tool to threaten the character of a society is no less than a crime.
It was this era when a new ray of hope of emerged with the dawn of Critical Regionalism. It recognized that one person can’t dictate idealism for all. It was the theory which reinforced the ideals of modernity with a character of the region. By character, we don’t refer only to the folklore, arts and crafts but the climate, light, topography, tectonics, surrounding ambiance, etc. also. This theory strengthened and protected us from the belief that humankind is a machine and they should all be treated as one and all their buildings should merely suit their function. It understood the human nature where different societies have different culture and different ways to embrace the nature and situations, different ways to react and thus very different needs.
Those who believe in this philosophy, study about the context and history of their region and site and design accordingly. These buildings have a character be it Jawahar Kala Kendra (Jaipur), Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum, Kandalama Hotel (Sri Lanka), Hof residence or Myyrmaki Church (Vantaa). All these buildings have a breath of freshness while they sparkle and tell their story. Locals relate with them and tourists understand the city through them as they stand assertively telling the tale of their context, their region where they belong to. They are built with contextual materials, designed considering local climatic needs narrating an experience exclusively of that region.
I neither intend to support or promote any particular style nor negate or undermine other, but want to stress that we need to be sensitive of the context, the locality and the region itself while designing. In the spree of creating something that stand out, we shouldn’t end up making an alien which has no connection with the surroundings, but simply stands out because it is outlandish and it doesn’t belong there. Critical Regionalism has not been the solution to all the problems that rose with Modernism, however, freed the designs from bondage of Stern architects, those who followed it and are following it.