top of page

Value of regionalism

Roy Soons

Published Apr 14, 2021

People are living in a globally connected world, a world that they are able to experience like never done before. For a lot of those people on this blue planet travel by airplane has become a commodity instead of a once in a lifetime luxury. When they travel far distances for holiday purposes, it is mostly for one or two reasons, either they are seeking a different climatic experience and environment, a different culture or both. However, one major downside of this globally connected world is that we are able to share a lot of things much more easily, for example, becomes obvious when looking at the intermingling of cultures in large cities. Admittedly, this does not necessarily have to be a bad thing, and indeed many good things have happened in the past due to our global connectedness. So how can a globally connected world possibly be a negative aspect? A look at architecture in today's world provides one possible answer to this question.

Arguably architecture is becoming increasingly more mundane, throughout the world we see similar glass office buildings pop up. These buildings lack any physical response to the climatic conditions in which they were built and are able to "resist" harsh outdoor conditions by completely enclosing themselves within a mechanically controlled envelope. Global connectedness is what spurred a lot of architects to pursue the concept of universality, creating an architecture that supposedly is able to suit everyone, everywhere. This is also what allowed major firms to become international, applying similar concepts to completely different environments that in fact should require different results altogether. As architect Charles Correa once said when he stated that architecture is not like music: "you can give the same concert in three different places, but you can't just repeat buildings and clone them across the world". Even so, you can simply add the required mechanical equipment, your building will be "comfortable" whether it is built in the Las Vegas desert or in freezing cold Moscow. The right question to ask is, should buildings be cloned and repeated across the world? Now let’s assume the answer to that question is no.

More and more our world is becoming aware of the facing issues of climate change, which is believed to be caused for a large part by human beings. If so, our buildings play a significant role in this as well, as they use massive amounts of energy that heat up the planet. Cloning and repeating our buildings simply means that we'll be using more energy to make buildings comfortable that aren't adapted to their surroundings. Perhaps to Le Corbusier's delight much of our buildings have indeed become machines for living in. These men made machines might eventually destroy our chances of living on this planet, as we might become a victim of our own creations just as depicted in Charlie Chaplin's movie "Modern Times" back in 1936. Now is a critical point in the history of mankind, where an important decision has to be made. A decision that has to resolve a paradox, namely that on one hand we would like to be modern and keep developing, while on the more romantic on the other hand we want to return to a previous time when all was well. Either we must construct a sustainable universalization, stop universalization from destroying traditional cultures, and thus the creative minds that once created them or strike a balance between these two conditions.

The easiest one to realize these conditions would be to mitigate the impact of universalization by creating an architecture consisting of elements that directly derived from the peculiarities of a particular place. Instead of creating shelters from the climate surrounding a specific site, why not harness this climate and thus create climate responsive structures. Perhaps the best point of reference is the countless examples of vernacular architecture created around the world, which all have in common that they respond directly to the environment in which they are located. Besides ensuring better suitability to a certain context it also enriches the sensory experience for its occupants, in contrast to the more static fixed window and air-conditioned buildings that illustrate the dominance of universal techniques. Noteworthy examples range from the Inuit igloo builders in the cold Canadian north to desert cities in hot Iran. The first using temperature stratification zones to keep warm, while the latter employs wide adobe walls and numerous wind catchers alongside narrow streets to keep cool. Unfortunately, again mainly through universalization, vernacular architecture is getting lost all over the world. So-called contemporary architecture with its modern materials is regarded as high quality, whereas the seemingly cheap local materials are often seen as poor and belonging to underdevelopment. The fact is that all vernacular building methods are embedded in the region in which they are created, where they provide a comfortable interior space for its occupants without relying on mechanical equipment. It might, therefore, be argued that vernacular architecture is in fact much richer than the contemporary universal architecture that is just about to eradicate it.

bottom of page