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History of Architecture (AP313) | Term Paper | 2013

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Regionalism in architecture as an expression of appropriate
technology and sustainably

Term Paper for History of Architecture (AP131)

Vedika Agrawal
Roll Number: 11
Sushant School of Art and Architecture

Love ones locality, pride in its accomplishments, and loyalty to everything in it bring about a state of
mind known as regionalism.
Harwell Hamilton Harris
Regionalism and its inception
Regionalism, in architecture, means an architecture that is derived directly from its local setting. The
concept of regionalism leads to the building being intrinsically site specific and responding to the local
climate and culture of the place, where it is being built. From its initiation, regionalism has often fallen
in opposition to modernity and the language of modernism. Regionalism may be viewed as a specific
form of modernism, thus becoming an integral part of the search for both identity and modernity.
Regionalism recognizes modernism, but is critical of many of its features, such as its high level of
To be truly modern, we must first reconcile ourselves with our traditions.
Octavio Paz
In the 1980s, a few architects and theorists were dissatisfied by the direction postmodernism was
taking architecture to. They started to believe that postmodern architects were producing another
avant-garde style, mimicking the classical style, instead of depicting the historicity of style in their
designs. In the postmodern period, architecture had started to lack social individuality, cultural
uniqueness to the place where the buildings belonged. In contrast to the postmodern ideology,
regionalism gave priority to the identity of the building, considering the ecological, social and cultural
elements of the region where the buildings were constructed. Regionalist architecture started to
treasure and reflect the particularity of a region, its unique environment, locally available materials,
the cultural value the place held, and the life led by the people of the place.
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Essentially, regionalism is linked to the aim of achieving visual harmony between a building and its
surroundings. In other words, it endeavors to create a connection between past and present forms of
buildings. This value is also often related to preserving and creating regional and national identity.
Regionalism consciously tries to correspond to vernacular architecture, without partaking in the
The use of vernacular techniques
Vernacular architecture portrays a belief in a system of inherited, established or customary patterns of
thoughts, forms, and styles. It usually expresses in use of local materials and handed-down building
technologies. The approach of vernacular architecture can be both historical and contemporary. A
common definition of vernacular architecture is as 'architecture without architects', or unself-conscious
design. Vernacular is the architecture that was created by using local materials and usually built by its
own inhabitants without the help of architects; regional architecture is built by architects integrating the
local available resources with modern ones, while critical regionalism is a regional architecture
approach seeking universality.
Critical regionalism
Critical regionalism designated a form of architectural practice that embraces modern architecture
critically for its universal unifying qualities while simultaneously responding to social and cultural and
climatic contexts of the region in which it is built. Critical regionalism, as a style, counters lack of
identity and placelessness in modern architecture by relating to the building's geographical context.
The term "critical regionalism" was first used by the architectural theorists Alexander Tzonis and Liane
Lefaivre and later more famously by the historian-theorist Kenneth Frampton in Towards a Critical
Regionalism: six points of an architecture of resistance.
Critical regionalism is not regionalism in the sense of vernacular architecture.
It is, on the contrary, an
avant-gardist, modernist approach, where one consciously starts from the premises of local or regional
architecture. Critical regionalism is not just regionalism, but it also portrays how world culture and
global concerns can be blended with regional issues to create a style that is more critically self-
conscious and expansive.
It is often argued that regionalism sometimes goes back to just conservation
and resorts to just usage of the vernacular. However, critical regionalism seeks architectural traditions
that are deeply rooted in the local context. The main problem of critical regionalism is to seek answers
to the question of Paul Ricour: How to be modern and to continue the tradition, how to revive an old
dormant civilization as part of the universal civilization?


Allison Lee Palmer, 2008. Historical Dictionary of Architecture. Edition. Scarecrow Press

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Charles Correas work, as important examples of critical
Charles Correas architecture is contextual and is considered a prime example of critical regionalism.
Correas usage of open-to-sky spaces deliberately evokes the image of early Indian schools, where
the guru sat underneath a Banyan tree. These spaces are also used to provide comfort to the warm
climate, which is alien to the west. His use of the chhatri creates minimal shelter from the sun in the
hottest part of the day, while allowing the users to enjoy being under the open sky.
The Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, Ahmedabad
The Gandhi Smarak
Sangrahalaya, Ahmedabad,
by Charles Correa, is a
conscious attempt to combine
modernity with regionalism.
Correa uses a network of
interconnected open-to-sky
spaces, to recreate the
Gandhian ideal of a self-
sufficient village
community. The building is
climatically sound and
energy efficient, uses low-
cost material and finishes,
and above all conveys some
sense of the solemnity and dignity dedicated to
Gandhis life and work.
The building uses vernacular materials like brick
walls, stone floors and tiled roofs. The spaces are
grouped around a central water court to cool the
buildings in the arid heat.
Figure 1: Gandhi Smarak - Plan

Figure 2: The view of the courts
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National Crafts Museum located at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi
Charles Correa also
interprets Indias
vernacular architecture in
a modern typology in the
National Crafts Museum
located at Pragati
Maidan, New Delhi. Its
spaces are massed
together to recreate an
Indian village. The museum
incorporates extensive use
of vernacular materials such as stone, bamboo, brick, mud and thatch. There is usage craftwork as
both interior and exterior ornamentation, which not only represents the purpose of the building, but
also reflects Indias tradition of crafts. Correa demonstrates here a successful transition of the
vernacular to the modern, as also how traditional architectural vocabulary need not be synonymous
with backward.
A walk across the Crafts
Museum building meanders
through open and semi-
open passages covered
with sloping, tiled roofs and
lines with old carved
wooden bidri work;
paintings; terracotta and
cane and bamboo work.

Figure 3: National crafts museum plan
Figure 4: Crafts demonstration area
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Hassan Fathy and his works
Hassan Fathy, a noted Egyptian architect and a supporter of vernacularism in architecture, developed
a construction system that arranged locally produced, low-cost mud-bricks to create domed and
vaulted building forms reminiscent of regional architecture of the lower Nile valley.
Fathy devoted more than half a century of his professional to bringing back to the vernacular mode
building tradition endangered by extinction due to the massive post war building activity.
Hassan Fathy believed in humanistic values and the connections between people and places and the
use of traditional knowledge and materials. He believed in the usage of technology suitable to time
and place, i.e. climate and local economies. Furthermore, he also promoted earth as a construction
material. His projects are based on the elements taken from tradition, that he did extensive studies
about: parabolic arches, square spaces covered with domes, rectangular rooms or narrow spaces with
vaults, courts, balconies and wind towers. He assigned an essential role to tradition and hence to the
re-establishment of a national cultural pride. New Gourna was a critical experiment in the
implementation of this philosophy.

Figure 5: Mosque, Luxor, Egypt
Figure 6: New Gourna Village, Luxor
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The work done by Hassan Fathy in New Gourna village inspired a new generation of architects and
planners worldwide through an integration of vernacular technology with modern architectural
Moreover, Fathy is known to have used traditional techniques that extremely reduce the use of
machinery and instead use what is readily available, at low costs: earth, straw, mans labour, stones. In
fact, the brick is the only material used in his works. The supporting walls are made either of sun dried
mud bricks and reinforced with straw or of local stones or fired bricks.
Hassan Fathy has effectively used the
Malqaf, which is a traditional wind catcher,
and wind escapes in a lot of his works. This
defined his usage of low cost climate control
techniques to promote sustainability.

Figure 7: Malqaf (traditional wind catcher) with wetted
baffles and a wind escape, designed by Fathy
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Ashok Lall and his works
Ashok Lall is one of the famous Indian architects who have been successful in expressing global and
Indian identities in relation to todays rapid changes.
For example, he has designed the TCI Headquaters
in Gurgaon, where he has balanced the usage of
global materials and the corporate identity of
Gurgaon. However, what is different is that the
materials used are sustainable in terms of energy
and local availability.
He has successfully adapted the concept of the
courtyard in a modern city office, which has
achieved a high level of energy efficiency. Small
windows have been used for daylight on the
periphery and openness towards the fountain court
within. Furthermore, the usage of local materials
makes the building look aesthetically appealing in
a contemporary perspective.

In the design and planning of this building, Ashok
Lall has been inspired from a traditional inward-
looking haveli plan of Rajasthan. He further
includes elements like a
fountain in the courtyard, which acts as a
water body for cooling air, a solid, insulated wall
with peep windows, which encourages cross
ventilation, higher windows for increased daylight.
All these are typical feature of Rajasthani
buildings, which traditionally include landscaping
and shaded courts with water bodies for cooling.
Thus, the TCI Headquaters building is a true
example of critical regionalism, as it not only
demonstrates how world culture can blend with the
usage of distinct Indian elements used for a
Figure 9: Courtyard of the TCI Headquaters
Figure 8: TCI Headquaters, Gurgaon
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Revathi Kamath and her works
Revathi Kamath is an architect who is known to have an aim of achieving inexpensive, sensitive
architecture using indigenous construction methods, local materials and craftsmen.
Revathi Kamath has built a unique mud house in Anangpur village, Faridabad. The emphasis of this
structure is on basic and natural construction techniques, use of locally available materials, and being
ecologically sensitive.
The house is surrounded by
ample greenery. Moreover,
the roof is covered with
grass that absorbs heat, in
order to keep the house

Revathi Kamath has ensured the usage of local, eco-friendly materials, such as sun-dried mud bricks
instead of clay bricks. The mud has been used from their own land, the bricks have been moulded on
site and sun dried. For wall plaster, traditional mud and cow-dung mixture has been used for the first
coat. The subsequent finer coats are of chandan and haldi mixed into the mud. It is evident that Revathi
Kamath has experimented well with traditional and locally available materials to being about
sustainability in her house.

Figure 10: Revati Kamaths Mud house
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The chandan and haldi, mixed with mud, as a
wall finish, give an extremely indigenous look
to the house. In addition to that, Indian
elements such as the arch have been used in the
interiors, which brings close association to the
region the house is built in.

The Karika Karkhana, at Noida, U.P., is another building, designed by Raevathi Kamath, in a way that
it receives ample natural light and ventilation, keeping in mind the climate of the site of the building,
which is Noida.
The building was designed to accommodate traditional block and screen printing activity within an
ambience suggestive of its haveli karkhana past. The design was evolved around the need for
passive climate control, as air conditioning was unaffordable. The printing tables are organized
around the courtyard and have good natural light and cross ventilation from the tall windows and the
courtyard. Glass brick skylights built into the roof in each structural bay reinforce and even out the
natural light on the printing tables. To minimize heat gain in the hot summer, the roof is insulated with
inverted ghadas (clay pots) built into the roofing system.
The design of the tall windows around the printing hall addresses the need for hot air outlets at the
roof level, cool air inlets at the body level, natural light on the printing tables and protection from the
sun and rain.
Figure 11: Interior of the mud house
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The basement below the printing hall is transformed into a colonnaded verandah by cutting and
sloping down the earth around the basement to bring in natural light and air. A skylight in the
courtyard of the printing hall above brings light into the heart of the basement, becoming a virtual
courtyard around which various functions such as the dyeing of thans of cloth, workers lounges and
eating spaces revolve.
It can be seen that Revathi Kamath has effectively brought in various elements such as the courtyard,
skylights, roof insulation and tall windows, which are all traditional Indian methods, to allow passive
cooling of the building. She has ensured that the workspace is suitable to the users and the need of the

In conclusion, it can be said that regionalism in architecture leads to the building being essentially site
specific and having its own uniqueness. The building responds to the local climate and the culture of the
place it is built in. Along with keeping with the distinctiveness of the context, regionalism takes
sustainability into account. The works of Charles Correa, Hassan Fathy, Ashok Lall and Revathi
Kamatha, as discussed above, demonstrate that regionalism can be brought about by employing
different elements and by using various sustainable design techniques.

Figure 12: Section showing the basement of the Karika Karkhana
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1. Ahmad Hamid, 2010. Hassan Fathy and Continuity in Islamic Arts and Architecture. Edition. The
American University in Cairo Press.
2. Linda Van Santvoort, Jan de Maeyer, Tom Verschaffel, 2008. Sources of Regionalism in the
Nineteenth Century: Architecture, Art, and Literature (KADOC Artes). Edition. Leuven University
3. Allison Lee Palmer, 2008. Historical Dictionary of Architecture. Edition. Scarecrow Press
4. Liane Lefaivre, 2011. Architecture of Regionalism in the Age of Globalization: Peaks and
Valleys in the Flat World. Edition. Routledge.
5. Khan, Charles Correa. Edition. Butterworth-Heinemann, Asia.

1. Regionalism architecture more than just style | S7g Architecture. 2014 [ONLINE] Available
just-style/. [Accessed 14 March 2014].
2. Notes on critical regionalism | The Charnel-House. 2014 [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 15 March
[Accessed 15 March 2014].
4. Critical Regionalism. 2014. Critical Regionalism. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 16 March 2014].
5. World Heritage Centre - Safeguarding project of Hassan Fathys New Gourna Village. 2014
[ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 15 March 2014].
6. Kamath Design Studio : Revathi Kamath : Vasant Kamath : Ayodh kamath, Architects in India,
New Delhi. 2014. [ONLINE] Available at:
karkhana. [Accessed 16 March 2014].
7. Charles Correa | Lesson | Disegno Daily. 2014. Charles Correa | Lesson | Disegno Daily.
[ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 15 March
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