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Critical regionalism refers to an architectural approach that uses local architectural tradition to fill the lack of identity of the modern International Style. This approach seeks to produce architectures that are rooted in the modern tradition but that also respect and gain inspiration from cultural and geographical contexts.
The main issue of critical regionalism is to constantly provide solutions to the issue presented by philosopher Paul Ricour of “How to be modern and to continue the tradition, how to revive an old dormant civilization as part of universal civilization." In his essay “Towards a Critical Regionalism: six points for an architecture of resistance” architectural historian Kenneth Frampton argues that it is “critical to adopt” the universal style of modernism and to include the geographical context of the building in the design process. According to Frampton, emphasis should be put on topography, light, climate, and aim to create an architecture with tactile sense rather than visual. His text debates that modernism consists of philosophy of progress, such as industrialisation, and formal manner; the presence of such formal manner is the cause of the lack of individuality in architecture, depriving it of individuality. In brief, Kenneth Frampton’s six points were:
1) Culture and Civilisation.
2) Rise and fall of Avant-Garde.
3) Critical Regionalism and World Culture.
4) Resistance of Place-Form.
5) Culture versus Nature.
6) Visual versus Tactile.
In the 20th century there has been plenty of architects that have carried out modern design methodologies to produce works that fit in in Frampton’s description of critical regionalism. Among the many, Alvar Aalto, Tadao Ando, Pritzker Prize award winner Jorn Uzton and Carlo Scarpa.
Alvar Aalto's “Saaynatsalo Town Hall” is an example of critical regionalism that uses visual and tactile elements to mediate among modern design needs and cultural identity. The building’s design emphasises on functionality as a typical modernist building, yet it draws influence from traditional styles and local materials such brick and wood, used for accents to reflect and complement the heavily forested surroundings. By using grass as a natural component of the design for the stairs and courtyard, architecture also appeals the tactile sense and enters a “dialectical relation with nature”, as explained by Frampton’s study, and coexist with its topographic context.
Architecture has always been a discipline that has distinguished regions across the world, creating the variety of styles and approaches that have created immortal landmarks and have led to establishing national identity and creating individual and peculiar aesthetics. With the coming of contemporary and modern architecture, the discipline has developed new aesthetic ideals that aim to be noticed and to astonish, and based on evolutions of structures, volumes, scales and materials. Critical regionalism should be treated as a "reformed modernism", as it strives to oppose the lack of meaning and context of modern architecture.
It can be said that Regionalism is related to Conservativism as it seeks architectural traditions within the local context of the building. It does not strive to suppress modernism, but it promotes the uniqueness of the site and location, which relies on organic and climatic elements that can be used in modern design methodology without sacrificing cultural and traditional aspects.