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Characteristics and Examples of Critical Regionalism in Modern Architecture

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Critical regionalism is a method in architecture in which the global style of Modern Architecture is replaced with a design that focuses on the place. It is a reaction to the context and these buildings are site specific. The end product is a response to its surroundings and cultural context, this gives the building a sense of meaning and place. The term was first mentioned by Tzonis and Lefaivre, who proposed this movement and it was popularized by Kenneth Frampton. It was Frampton’s belief that this movement was to retain qualities of modernism, but application these principals are to be taken to a local and contextual level. Emphasis is also placed on the climate, light and tectonics of a design. Thought to the local materials, skills and traditions should be a part of the design process.

According to Tzonis and Lefaivre the approach should not directly copy the existing context, but it should instead take elements from the local context and use them in a new way. Critical regionalism is unlike regionalism, which is more of a response and almost a replication of the already existing local context and it is much more vernacular in nature. Critical regionalism is considered a type of a post-modern response to architecture.

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Spatial Characteristics

Spatial characteristics create a sense of atmosphere in architecture and spaces surrounding our buildings and structures. The spatial characteristics of critical regionalism have importance in this architectural approach as it is a reaction to the already existing context. The goal is to further enrich the area and that enrichment is not only attached to the structure but also the space inside and around the structure and how it connects to the other structures in its vicinity. In the approach the goal is to enrich the space and to have it woven into the fabric of the context. Critical regionalism is meant to act as a binder to create a sense connectedness within an area and a sense of place should be created. Critical regionalism directly combats the lack of essence to space of modernist movement in architecture. The boundary is a tool that is used in critical regionalism to create space and therefore create place.

Formal Characteristics

Critical Regionalism tries to change the uniformity that is found in modernism. In modernism we shared ideas and methods and one of the results of this is that our buildings in the cityscape became almost homogenous in nature. Critical Regionalism looks to counter this and instead of taking inspiration from the local fabric, these buildings instead look to their surroundings and take inspiration from that. As stated before it id the aim in critical regionalism to make the new buildings fit into the context and connect and tap into the already existing fabric. Critical Regionalism does take some points from Modernism one example of this is that function takes precedent over form, however in critical regionalism this is not done to such an extreme as it is in Modernism and buildings may still be designed to perform its function well but some formal element may be taken from the context of the region. It is a counter of the global influence in architecture and elements of the local is used to combat the uniformity of the global. Frampton stated that in order to take from its context critical regionalism needs to be self-conscious and that it may find inspiration from light, tectonics or topography. We often forget that the tactility of a building or a space also plays a large role in how people may perceive a space or building which is another aspect which is paying attention to in this school of thought.

Tectonic Characteristics

Critical regionalism shies away from the scenographic nature off modernism and instead looks into the tectonics of structure through their built form, more focus is placed on the construction of buildings as well. The construction and structure of the building becomes more poetic in critical regionalism. In the movement focus is put on the tectonics of the traditional and contextual, it takes these elements and uses them in a new way.

Socio-political Characteristics

Architecture is described as a social art. Architecture must rest on the social and cultural place of architecture and we do find a response to this in critical regionalism.

Cultural Characteristics

Culture does not necessarily take place within buildings, but it does often take place in the spaces between and outside buildings. In modernism movement took precedent over place and this does not allow for culture to take place in cities, so in critical regionalism place gives people to stop and practice culture, this is one characteristic that the movement reacts well to. The other characteristic it responds to from culture is shown in its physical form. Critical regionalism takes from vernacular architecture which in turn evolves with the time and place of culture.

Technological Characteristics

Technological aspects of tectonics tend to be more pragmatic response to the context in the case of critical regionalism. It tries to resist technology which was very dominant in modernism, technology is only used to an extent of necessity in the approach.

Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum, Soweto

The Museum is located in Soweto and its site is located at the convergence point of roads and the anti-apartheid marches that took place in 1976. Due to the closure of a road the museum faces an open public space. The museum is heavily used by pedestrians crossing across it to and from work and work and another group of people who use the building is visitors to the museum.

The museum was designed to tell the story of the event of the students on their march and the death of Hector Pieterson, this is achieved through the use of windows. These windows and viewports are used as spatial devices and they become almost like a painting of the events of that day. The materials used in the building also help convey the story of what happened that day. Visitors are also elevated so they can see an elevated view of Soweto, which is one of the areas of South Arica which arose from segregation. The elevation has a more significant effect on the visitors.

One could argue that the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum is an example of critical regionalism. An obvious example of this is the use of materials and the construction method. Inspiration of the interior and exterior is derived from the surrounding buildings. Brick and sheet metal is predominantly used in this museum. The use of the brick was so successful that from an aerial view of the site one notices that it seamlessly fits into the context surrounding it.

The idea during the design process was to have a structure which is basically a sculpted brick. Also elements such as a black-slate walls are used which in a way forever reflects the activities on the street. This wall is used as element in the public space of the site. Another element is the water feature, which is inspired by the picture of the students holding up the body of Hector. The museum and its additional elements strongly take inspiration from its historical and cultural context. This building is designed to be extremely sensitive to what happened on the site so many years ago. The interior of the museum makes more calls to its historic and cultural context. On the inside visitors can take a bridge up to window which frames the police station in the distance, a reminder of where the attack originated from.

Freedom Park, Pretoria

Mashabane Rose Architects, Gapp Architects and Urban Designers were the three architectural firms that were involved in the design of this project. Similarly to the Hector Pieterson Museum, Freedom Park also is a memorial for the fallen fighter of the anti-apartheid movement. In this project the aim was to create a feeling within visitors. One element that does this well is the circle of boulders on the site. The sikhumbuto is another example of creating a spiritual feeling as a result of the wall with all the fallen fighter names on display.

Freedom Park is a good example to response to the, thus making it an example of critical regionalism. It was carefully designed according to the landscape itself and one could say that the physical context was a driving force behind the design of this structure. The measures taken during the design stage of this project have added a cultural and spiritual aspect to this site.

Freedom Park is connected to the Voortrekker Monument which is considered to be a monument to the regime. This connection however allows the visitors to the park to experience both the oppression of the past and the freedom of the future. What makes the project so unique is that the designers made the effort to involve many groups during the collection of information. This information was later used during the design process of the monument. The design process was also influenced by ideas from rural and traditional South African architecture.

Features from the local context were used, this includes everything from materials down to vegetation. It was the aim to express the local culture, history and surroundings. Freedom Park does not only reflect on the events of apartheid but it also reflects all conflicts from the country’s past.

Freedom Park is possibly the best example of critical regionalism in South Africa due to the efforts of the architects made to capture the cultural context of the site and the country as a whole.

In conclusion, the main goal of the movement was to combat the undesirable attributes of modernism, during which knowledge of the past was almost ignored. In critical regionalism we went back to the historic methods and to some of those principals. The ultimate goal is to allow average person to relate to architecture again.

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