Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Critical Regionalism

By Kyle Fountain

In chapter five of Kenneth Frampton’s writing on Critical Regionalism, he explains that a bulldozed flattened site and a building which turns its back to the natural elements of light and sensory removes a site’s sense of place.1 
“Critical Regionalism necessarily involves a more directly dialectical relation with nature than the more abstract, formal traditions of modern avant-garde architecture allow.  It is self-evident that the tabula rasa tendency of modernization favors the optimum use of earth-moving equipment in as much as a totally flat datum is regarded as the most economic matrix upon which to predicate the rationalization of construction between universal civilization and autochthonous culture.”
Now, through economic modernization of fast track, quick turnover projects, the idea of bulldozing a site is very efficient.  This is especially true if the architect is able to continue to design while site work is in progress.  The inherent problem that seems to be trending is that the less time the architect spends on a conceptual design, the cheaper the project becomes, and therefore has a better chance of being built.  It seems that on the road to contextual mastery, the ultimate goal is to define the line of complete seamlessness from interior to exterior through topography, lighting, and shelter from climate.  For instance, if a structure follows a steep sites topography too closely, it won’t be accessibility requires.  One successful fundamental approach alluded to by Mario Botta is to “build the site”.1  “It is possible to argue that in this last instance the specific culture of the region-that is to say, its history in both a geological and agricultural sense-becomes inscribed into the form and realization of the work.”1 
            Still, topography is only one variable in a building’s attempt to fit into a site.  Today, with modern technology, it is easy to completely close off certain typologies to the environment all together.  Buildings designed to hold fragile works of art are often criticized for turning its back to natural light.1  Fortunately, modernism in the context of present day, is beginning to incorporate natural light into museums.  One terrific example is the Art Institute in Chicago.  This building is a great example of two modern designs which are opposing in context.  The old modern building is completely closed off to the public except through the grand stairs if only during open hours.  The “modern wing’ however, utilizes Renzo Piano’s famous double refracted floating light curtain as a way to allow natural diffused light in to the galleries.  Likewise there are several means by which to enter the building, even when the galleries are closed.
             1.  Frampton, Kenneth “Towards a Critical Regionalism:  Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance.”  The Anti-Aesthetic, Essays on Postmodern Culture. (New York: The New Press 1998), 17-35.

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