Critical Regionalism

Critical Regionalism is a direction of modern architecture, which functionally takes into account regional characteristics in the design. In general, critical regionalism strives for a relocalization of modernism and is thus a late countermovement to the so-called International Style. The addition of "critical" serves to distinguish it from backward-looking trends such as historicism and Heimatstil on the one hand, and the decorated facades of postmodern architecture on the other.

Critical Regionalism is an architectural approach that attempts to remedy indifference to the place where the modern architectural object is situated. Through the use of the forces of context, it aims to enrich the significance of architecture. Critical Regionalism is considered as one of the forms of postmodernism, in architecture.


The term was first used by Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre, who used it in 1981 to describe the work of Greek architect couple Dimitris and Susana Antonakakis and their firm Atelier 66. The 1975 apartment building at 118 Emmanouil Benaki Street in Athens, designed by the Antonakakis, was cited as exemplary of the style, which incorporated the small-scale nature of the settlement of the Greek islands. In the building, each apartment is cut differently, sometimes with different ceiling heights; the staircase is distributed throughout the building.

Kenneth Frampton, referring to Tzonis, picked up the example and the term in his standard work The Architecture of Modernism as well as the essay Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six points for an architecture of resistance, and the term found general acceptance in architectural theory. The term was used to describe the architecture of the Greek islands.

Ex post, the term has also been assigned to earlier buildings that stand out for their strong regional ties, such as the work of Alvar Aalto, which takes into account the Finnish landscape and local building traditions. It is seen as a danger of Critical Regionalism that it is used as an argument for formal gimmicks. Critical regionalism can easily be colonized by postmodernism, as illustrated by the fate of some architects, wrote the magazine Archithese in 1990.


Critical Regionalism does not attempt to identify the modern vernacular, but rather to identify recent regional 'schools' whose main purpose has been to reflect the limited constructional elements on which they were based and served.

It is a local manifestation that attempts to assimilate and reinterpret the recent process initiated by the modern movement and yet consider local cultural, economic and political independence. In short, an antithesis between root culture and universal civilization.

These characteristics were punctual and generally emerged in places where the International Style failed to establish itself definitively. In Copenhagen, Danish architect Jørn Utzon erected the Bagsvaerd Church in 1976, in which he uses prefabricated concrete elements - of universal value - combined in a particularly articulated way, with vaults of reinforced concrete cast in situ - with somewhat regional value, taking the fact that a vault is the element that symbolically represents light.

Another important factor is the attention paid to local materials, craftsmanship, and the subtleties of local light. In New York the work of Austrian Raimund Abraham is modeled on these precepts, since it emphasizes, in addition to the aspects mentioned above, the topography as it presents itself.


Critical Regionalism is therefore a marginal practice that, while refusing to abandon progressive aspects, rebukes the inhuman architecture that privileges the aesthetics and the dominant culture so modernized. But it does not do so in a utopian way. And in an environment where the architect tries to be bigger than his work, the regionalists put more emphasis on the territory where the work was inserted. Against the tendency of the 'universal civilization' that privileges air-conditioning, they make light, the terrain, the climatic conditions, the bases that would sustain the project. They make the visual aspect a secondary characteristic, as they emphasize the tactile aspect, the different temperatures in different environments, as well as the aroma, the sounds, the ventilation and even the finishing of the floors and walls that are invitations to the touch. This involuntarily provokes sensory, posture, psychological, etc. changes. They rigorously try to appropriate external references, both formal and technological, but without leaving aside what is local.


An example of Regionalism was the Catalan nationalist movement Grupo R, founded in Barcelona in the year 1952, which on the one hand was obliged to revive the rationalist and anti-fascist values and procedures of GATEPAC (Grupo de Artistas y Técnicos Españoles para la Arquitectura Contemporánea); and on the other hand was aware of the political responsibility to evoke a realistic regionalism, accessible to the general population. In the first place was the tradition of Catalan masonry; then there was the influence of Richard Neutra and Neoplasticism, followed by the neo-realist influence of the Italian Ignazio Gardella.

Gino Valle represented another way of being regionalist - one in which the architect centralizes his architecture in only one city, usually his hometown. Valle was a great architect, but his work was restricted to the city of Udine. In Europe this concern happened mainly because of the devastation caused by World War II, these architects wanted to contribute to the resurgence of their culture, and they rebuilt the cities.

Kunsthaus Bregenz by Peter Zumthor in 1997.
Kunsthaus Bregenz by Peter Zumthor in 1997.
Bruder Klaus Field Chapel by Peter Zumthor in 2007.
Bruder Klaus Field Chapel by Peter Zumthor in 2007.
Kolumba Art Museum by Peter Zumthor in 2007.
Kolumba Art Museum by Peter Zumthor in 2007.
 Steilneset Memorial for the Victims of the Witch Trials by Peter Zumthor in 2011.
Steilneset Memorial for the Victims of the Witch Trials by Peter Zumthor in 2011.


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Critical Regionalism
International Style
Kenneth Frampton


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This page was last changed on 2021-09-21.