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Cuhure and Ci vilizat ion

Modern buildi ng is now so uni versally conditioned by optimized technology

Towards a Critical Regionalism: (hat the possibi lity of creating significant urban form ha... become extremely
limited. The reslrictionsjointly imposed by automOlive distribution and the
Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance volati le play of land speculation serve to limit the scope of urban design to
such a degree that any inter vention tends to be reduced either to the
manipu lation of elements predetermined by the imperatives of production,
or to a ki nd of superficial masking which modern development requires for
KENN ETH FRAMPTON the faci litation or marketing and the maintenance of social control . Today
the practice of architecture seems to be increasingly polarized between, on
the one hand . a so-called ~h igh · tech M approach predicated exclusively
upon production and, on the other, the provision or a ~compensatory
The ph~nomenon of universalization, whil~ ~ing an advancement of man- f~deM to cover up the harsh realities of this universal system.1
kind,. ~t the same time ~onstitldes a sarI of subtle destruction, '101 only of lWenty years ago the dialectical interplay between civilization and
traditIOnal cultures, whIch might not be an irreparable wrong. but also of culture still afforded the possibility of maintaining some general control
what I shall califor Ille time beinglhecreative nucleus of grear cult!lr~s, that over the shape and significance of the urban rabric. The last two decades,
nucleus on the basis of which we interpret life, what I shall call in advance however, have radically transformed the metropolitan centers of the
the ethical and mythical nucleus of mankind. Th e conflict springs up fro m developed world. What were still essentially 19th-century city fabrics in the
tMre. We IUlve thefeeling that this single world civilization at the same time early 19605 have since become progressively overlaid by the two symbiotic
e:urts a sort of attrition or wearing away at the expense of the cultural instruments of Megalopolitan development- the freestanding high-rise and
resources which have made the great civiliZOlions of the past. This threat is the serpentine freeway. The rormer has finall y come into its own as the
expresse~, amo~~ ?th~r distu.rbi~g effects. by the spreading before our eyes prime device for real izing the increased land value brought into being by the
ofa .m edlocre CIVIlizatIOn which IS the absurd COllnterpart of what I WllS just latter. The typical downtown which . up to twenty years ago, stil l presented a
callmg elementary cullure. EI'ery where Illrollgllolll the world, onefinds Ihe mixture of resident ial stock with tertiary and secondary indumy has now
same bad movie. the same slot machines. the same plastic or all/minum become little more than a burolandschaft city-scape/the victory of universal
arroci!ies, the same twi~ting of language by propaganda. etc. It seems as if civiliz.ation over locally inflected culture . The predicament posed by
mankind, byapproachmg en masse a basic consumer culture, wue also Ricoeur- namely, " how to become modern and to return to sources"'-
stopped en masse al a subcultural lel'e/. Thus we come to the crucial now seems to be circumvemed by the apocalyptic thruSI of modernization.
problem confronting nationsjl/st risingfrom Imderdeve/opmem . In order 10 whi le the ground in which the my tho-ethical nucleus of a society might take
get on 10 the road toward modernization. is it necessary to jettison the old root has become eroded by the rapacity of development.4
cultural past which has been the raison d'ttre of a notiOIl ? " Whence Ihe Ever si nce the beginning of the En lightenment, civilization has been
paradox: on the one hand, it has to root itselj in the soil ofiu pasl.forge a primarily concerned with instrumental reason , while culture has addressed
lIotional spirit. and unfllrlthis spiritual and cultural Ttl'indication before itself to the specifics of expression-Io the realization of the being and the
the colonialisl's personality. But in order to take part in modern cI\.ilization. evolution of its collective psycho-social real ity. Today civilization tends to
it is necessary at the same time to tak~ port in sci~ntific, technical. ( uJ be increasingly embroiled in a never-ending chain of "means and ends"
fX!litical ratioTUJlity, something which v~ry often requires the pure and wherein . according to Hannah Arendt. ~ The ' in order 10' has become the
stmple abandon of a whole cultural past, It is a fact: every cultllr~ canl/ot content of the ' for the sake or;' utility established as meaning genera*
sl/stain and absorb Ille sh ... ck of modem civilization. There is the paradox: meani nglessness." ~
how 10 become r. dem a/ldto return tosources: howto rl.I.iv~ an old,
dormant cil'ilitption mid ake port in universal civilization. I
- Paul Ricoeur. History and Truth

Towards a Critical Regionalism 19

Not least among these react io ns is the reassert ion of Neo-Kantian

2. The Rise and Fall of the Avant-Garde aesthetics as a substitute for the culturally liberative modern project.
Confused by the political and cultural politics of Stalinism, formerleft-wing
The emergence of the avant-garde is inseparable from the modernization of protagonists of socio-cultural modernization now recommend a strategic
both society and architecture_ Over the past century-and-a-half avant-garde withdrawal from the project of totally transforming the existing reality. This
culture has assumed different roles, at times facilitating the process of renunciation is predicated on the belief that as long as the struggle between
modernization and thereby acting. in part, as a progressive, liberative form, social ism and capitalism persists (with the manipulative mass-culture
at times being virulently opposed to the positivism of bourgeois culture_By politics that this conflict necessarily entails) , the modern world cannot
and large, avant-garde architecture has played a positive role with regard to continue to entertain the prospect of evolvi ng a marginal, liberative , avant-
the progressive trajectory of the Enlightenment . Exemplary of this is the role gardist culture which would break (or speak of the break) with the history of
played by Neoclassicism: from the mid-18th century onwards it serves as bourgeois repression. Close to fart pour fart . this position was first
both a symbol of and an instrument for the propagation of universal advanced as a "holding pattern" in Clement Greenberg's "Avant-Garde
civilization. The mid-19th century, however, saw the historical avant-garde and Kitsch" of 1939; this essay concludes somewhat ambiguously with the
assume an adversary stance towards both industrial process and Neoclassical words: "Today we look to socialism simply for the preservation of whatever
form. This is the first concerted reaction on the part of "tradition" to the living culture we have right now." Ii Greenberg reformulated this position in
process of modernization as the Gothic Revival and the Arts-and-Crafts specifi cally formali st terms in his essay "Modernist Painting " of 1965.
movements take up a categorically negative attitude towards both utilitarian- wherein he wrote:
ism and the division of labor. Despite this critique, modernization conti nues
Having been denied by the Entightenment of all tasks they could take
unabater1, and throughout the last half of the 19th century bourgeois art seriously, they [the artsJ looked as though they were going to beassimilated 10
distances itself progressively from the harsh realities of colonialism and entenainment pure and simple, and entertainmem looked as though it was
paleo-technolpgical exploitation. Thus at the end of the century the avant- goi ng to be assimilated, like religion, 10 therapy. The arts coutd save
gardist Art Nouveau takes refuge in the compensatory thesis of "art for art's themselves from this leveling down only by demonstrating that the kind of
sake," retreating to nostalgic or phantasmagoric dream-worlds inspired by experience they provided was valuable in its own right and not 10 be oblained
the cathartic hermeticism of Wagner's music-drama. from any other kind of activity?
The progressive avant-garde emerges in full force, however, soon after
Despite this defensive intellectual stance . the arts have nonethe less
the turn of the century with the advent of Futurism. This unequivocal
continued to gravitate, if not towards entertainment, then certainly towards
critique of the ancien regime gives rise 10 the primary positive cultural
commodity and-in the case of that which Charles Jencks has since
formations of the 1920s: to Purism, Neoplasticism and Constructivism.
classified as Post-Modern ArchitectureS- towards pure technique or pure
These movements are the last occasion on which radical avant-gardism is
scenography. In the latter case, the so-called postmodern architects are
able to identify itself wholeheartedly with the process of modernization. In
merely feeding the media-society with gratuitous, quietistic images rather
the immediate aftermath of World War 1- "the war to end all wars" -the
triumphs of science, medicine and industry seemed to confirm the liberalive
than proffering, as they claim, a creative rappel a
I'ordre after the
supposedly proven bankruptcy of the Iiberative modern project. In this
promise of the modern project. In the 1930s, however, the prevailing
regard , as Andreas Huyssens has written, " The American postmodernist
backwardness and chronic insecurity of the newly urbanized masses, the
avant-garde, therefore, is not only the end game of avant-gardism . It also
upheavals caused by war, revolution and economic depression, followed by
represents the fragmentation and decline of critical adversary culture." 9
a sudden and crucial need for psycho-social stability in the face of global
Nevertheless, it is true that modernization can no longer be simplistically
political and economic crises. all induce a state of affairs in which the
identified as liberative in st!, in part because of the domination of mass
interests of both monopoly and state capitalism are, for the first time in
culture by the media-industry (above all television which, as Jerry Mander
modern history, divorced from the liberati ve drives of cultural moderniza-
reminds us, expanded its persuasive power a thousandfold between 1945 and
tion. Universal civilization and world culture cannot be drawn upon to
sustain "the myth of the State," and one reaction-formation succeeds 1975 1°) and in part because the trajectory of modernization has brought us to
the threshold of nuclear war and the annihilation of the entire species_ So
another as the historical avant-garde founders on the rocks of the Spanish
Civil War. too, avant-gardism can no longer be sustained as a liberative moment. in part
20 The Anti-Aesthetic Towards a Critical Regionalism 21

because its initial utopian promise has been overrun by the internal out new kinds of programs_. .. Despite these limitations critical regionalism is
rationality of instrumental reason. Thi s "closure" was perhaps best a bridge over which any humanist ic architecture ofthe future must pass-'l
formulated by Herbert Marcuse when he wrote:
The fundamental strategy of Critical Regionalism is to mediate the impact of
The technological apriori is a political apriori inasmuch as the transformation universal civilization with elements derived indirectly from the peculiarities
of nature involves that of man, and inasmuch as the ~ ma n -made creat ions H

of a particular place. It is clear from the above that Critical Regionalism

issue from and re-enter the societal ensemble. One may still insist that the depends upon maintaining a high level of critical self-consciousness. It may
maChinery of the technological uni verse is "as such" indifferent towards find its governing inspiration in such things as the range and quality of the
political ends-it can revolutionize or retard society.. _. However, when
local light , or in a tectonic derived from a peculiar structural mode , or in the
technics becomes the universal form of material production, it circumscribes
an entire culture. it projects a historical totality-a ~world." II topography of a given site_
But it is necessary, as I have already suggested , to distinguish between
Critical Regionalism and simple- minded attempts to revive the hypothetical
form s of a lost vernacular. In contradistinction to Critical Regionalism, the
primary vehicle of Populism is the communicative or instrumental sign.
Such a sign seeks to evoke not a critical perception of reality, but rather the
3. Critical Regionalism and World Culture subl imation of a desire for direct experience through the provision of
information. Its tactical aim is to attain , as economically as possible . a
Architecturecan only be sustained today as a critical practice ifit assumes an preconceived level of gratification in behavioristic terms . In this respect, the
arriere-garde position, that is to say, one which distances itself equally strong affinity of Populism for the rhetorical techniques and imagery of
from the Enlightenment myth of progress and from a reactionary, unrealistic advertising is hardl y accidental. Unless o ne guards agai nst such a
impulse to return to the architectonic forms of the preindustrial past. A convergence, one will confuse the resistant capacity of a critical practice
critical arriere-garde has to remove itself from both the optimizat ion of with the demagogic te ndencies of Populism.
advanced technology and the ever-present tendency to regress into nostalgic The case can be made that Critical Regionalism as acultural strategy is as
historicism or the glibly decorative . It is my contention that only an arriere- much a bearer of world culture as it is a vehicle of universal civiliwtion.
garde has the capacity to cultivate a resistant, ident ity-giving culture while at And while it is obviously misleading to conceive of our inheriting world
the same time having discreet recourse to universal technique. culture to the same degree as we are all heirs to universal civilization , il is
II is necessary to qual ify the term arriere-garde so as to diminish its critical nonetheless evident that since we are, in principle, subject to the impact of
scope from such conservative policies as Populism or sentimental Regional- both, we have no choice but to take cognizance today of their interaction. In
ism with which it has often been associated . In order to ground arriere- this regard the practice of Critical Regionalism is contingent upon a process
gardism in a rooted yet critical strategy, it is helpful 10 appropriate the term of double mediat ion. In the fi rst place, it has to "deconstruct" the overall
Critical Regionalism as coined by Alex Tzonis and Liliane Lefaivre in " The spectrum of world culture which it inevitably inherits; in the second place, it
Grid and the Pathway " (1981); in thi s essay they caution against the has to achieve, through synthetic contradiction, a manifest critique of
ambiguity of regional reformism, as this has become occasionally manifest universal civilization _ To deconstruct world c ulture is to remove oneself
since the last quarter of the 19th century: from that eclecticism of the fin de siede which appropriated alien, exotic
Regionalism has dominated architecture in almost all countries at some time forms in order to revitalize the expressivity of an enervated society. (One
du ring the past two centuries and a half. By way of general definition we can thinks o f the "form-force" aesthetics of Henri van de Velde or the
say that it upholds the individual and local architectonic features against more "whiplash-Arabesques'" of Victor Horta.) On the other hand , the mediation
universal and abstract ones. In addit ion. however. regionalism bears the of universal technique involves imposing limits on the optimization of
hallmark of ambiguity. On the one hand , it has been associated with industrial and postindustrial technology_ The future necessity for re-
movements of reform and liberation; ... on the other, it has proved a powerful synthesizing principles and elements drawn from diverse origins and quite
tool of repression and chauvinism_ ... Certainly, critical regionalism has its different ideological sets seems to be alluded to by Ricoeur when he writes:
lim itations. The upheaval of the populist movement - a more developed form
of regionalism- has brought to light these weak points_No new architecture No one can say what will become of our civilization when it has really met
can emerge without a new kind of relat ions between designer and user, with- different civilizations by means other than the shock of conquest and
22 The Anti·Aesthetic Towards a Critical Regionalism 23

dominalion . But we have 10 admit lhal this encounter has nOI yetluen place al
the level of an authentic dialogue. That is why we are in a kind of lull or
interre,"um in which we can no longer practice the dogmatism of a si ngle
truth and in which we arc nee yet capable of conquering !he skepticism into
which we have Sleppcd.u
A parallel and complementary sent iment was expressed by the Dutch
architect Aldo Y.l.n Eyck who, quite coincidentally, wrote at the same time:
.. Western civilization habitually identifies itself with civilization as such on
the pontificial ass umption that what is not like it is a deviation, less
advanced . primitive, or. at best, exotically interesting at a safe distance ." 14
That Critical Regionalism cannot be simply based on the autochthonous
forms of a specific region alone was well put by the Californian architect
Hamilton Harwell Harris when he wrote, now nearly thirty years ago:
Opposed to the Regionalism of Rest riction is anDlher type of regionalism, the
Regionalism of Liberation. This is the manifestation of a region that is
especially in tune with the emerging thoughl of the time. We call such a
l rm
manifestation ~region al " only because it has not yet emerged elsewhere .. .. J0rn Utzon. BagswJ(!rd Church. 1973·76.
~ re~ion may develop ideas. A region may accept ideas . Imagination lind North elevation and section.
tntelllgence are necessary for both. In California in the late Twenties and
Thirties modern European ideas meta still.developing regional ism. In New
England . on the other hand . European Modernism met a rigid and restrictive mulliplecross·cultural references. Whi le the reinforced concrete shell vault
regionalism that at fi rst rt"sisted 100 then surrendered. New England accepted has long since held an established place withi n the received tectonic canon of
European Modernism whole because its own regionalism had been reduced 10 Western modern architecture , the highly configurated section adopted in
a collection of res;trictions'"
this instance is hardly familiar. and the only precedent for such a form . in a
The scope for achieving a self-conscious synthesis between univenal sacred context. is Eastern rather than Western - namely, the C hinese
civilization and world culture may be specifical ly illustrated by Jf!lrn Utzon's pagoda roof, cited by Utzon in his seminal essay of 1963, MPJatforms and
Bags~aerd Churc~, built near Copenhagen in 1976, a work whose complex Plateaus."" Although the main Bagsvaerd vault sponlaneously signi fies
meanmg siems dltectly from a revealed conj unction between. on the o ne its religious nature , it does so in such a way as to preclude an exclusively
hand. the rationalilY of normative technique and . on the other, the Occidental or O riental reading o f the code by which the public and sacred
ararioflll/iry of idiosyncratic form. Inasmuch as this building is organized space is constituted . The intent o f this expression is, of course, to secularize
around a regular grid and is comprised of repetitive. in-fill modules - the sacred form by precluding the usual set of semantic religious references
concrete blocks in the fint instance and precast concrete wall units in the and thereby the corresponding range of automatic responses that usually
second-wt; may justly regard it as the outcome of univenal civi lization. accompany them . This is arguably a more appropriate way of rendering a
Such a building system , comprising an in situ concrete frame with church in a highly secular age, where any symbol ic allusion to the
p'refabricated concrete in-fill elements, has indeed been applied countiess ecclesiastic usually degenerates immedialely into the vagaries of kitsch.
times a.1l over the developed world . However, the univenal ity of this And yet paradoxical ly. this desacralization at Bagsvaerd subtly reeonstitutes
productive method-which includes, in this instance, patent glazing on the a renewed basis for the spiritual. one founded , I would argue, in a regional
roof-is abruptly mediated when one passes from the optimal modular skin reaffirmation-grounds . at least . for some form of collective spi rituality.
of the exterior to the far less optimal reinforced concrete shell vault spanning
the nave . Thi s last is o bviou sly a re lativel y uneconomic mode of
construction , selected and manipu lated first for its direct associative
capacity - that is to say, the vault signifies sacred space-and second for its
Towards a Critical Regionalism 25

4. The Resislance of the Pl ace-Form bounded domain in order to create an architecture of resistance. Only such a
defi ned boundary will permit the built form to stand against- and hence
literally to withstand in an institutional sense- the end less processal flu x of
The Megalopolis recognized as such in 1961 by the geographer Jean
the MegakJpolis.
Gottman" continues to proliferate throughout the developed world to such 'The bounded place-form. in it.s public mode, is also essential to what
an extent that, with theexuption of cities which were laid in place befort the Hannah Arendt has termed .. the space of human appearance," sioce the
tum of the century. we are no Jonger able to maintain defined urban forms . eYOlution of legitimate power bas always been predicated upon the existence
1be last quarter of a century has seen the so-called field of urban design of the "polisw and upon companble unit.s of institutional and physical form .
degenerate into a theoretical subject whose. discourK bears liule relation to While the political life of the Greek polis did not stem directly from the
the processal realities of modern development. Today even the super- physical presence and representation of th.e city-state, it disp~ayed in
managerial disci pl ineof urban planning has entered into a state of crisis. The contrast to the MegaJopolis the cantonal attrIbutes of urban densIty. Thus
ult imate fate of the plan which was official ly promulgated for the rebui lding Arendt writes in The Human Condition:
of Rotterdam after World w.u- U is symptomatic in this regard . si nce it
testifies. in terms of its own recently changed status, to the current tendency The only indispensable material factor in the gencrttion of povr-er is the Jiving
to reduce all planning to little more than the allocation of land use and the together of people. Only where men Jive so close together that the
logistics of distribution . Until relatively recently, the Rotterdam master plan potentialities for action are always present will power remain wit? the~ and
the foundation of Cilies, which as city stales have remai ned paradIgmatIc for
was revised and upgraded every decade in the light of buildings which had
all Western political organization, is therefore the most important maleri!)1
been realized in the interi m. In 1975, however. this progressive urban
prerequisite for power.lf
cultural procedure was unexpectedly abandoned in fa vor of publishing a
nonphysical, infrastructure plan conceived at a regional scale . Such a plan Nothing could be more re moved fro m the political essence of the citt
concerns itself almost exclusively with the logistical projection of changes state than the rationalizations of positivistic urban planners such as Melv\fi
in land use and with the augmentation of existi ng distribution systems. Webber. whose ideological concepts of community without propinquity and
In his essay of 19S4. "Buildi ng. O....-elling, Thinking," Martin Heidegger the non-place urban realm are nothing if not slogans devised to rationalize
provides us with a critical vantage point from which to behold this phenom- the absence of any true public realm in the modern motopia . The
enon of universal placelessness . Against the Latin or, rather, the antique manipulative bias of such ideologies has never bun more openly expressed
abstroct concept of space as a more or less end less continuum of evenly than in Roben Venturi 's Complexity and Cotllradic';on in Archi.ecture
subdivided spatial component.s or integers~hat he terms spotium and (1966) wherei n the author asserts that Americans do not need piauas. since
uunsio-Heidegger opposes the German word for space (or, rather. they should be at home walchi ng television .1I Such reaclionary auinKles
place). which is the term Raum . Heidegger argues that lite phenomenologi- emphasize the impotence of an urbanized populace which hu paradoxically
cal essenceofsuch aspacelplace depends upon tbc concme. clearly defined kKt the object of it.s urbanil.ltton.
nature of it.s boundary, for. as he puts it , " A boundary is not that at which Whi le the strategy of Critical Regionalism as outlined above a~5
somethi ng stops . bUI. as the Greeks recognized. the boundary is that froro itself mainly to the maintenance of an e.rpressive densi,y and nsonance In
which something begins its presenting." Apart from confi rming that an architecture of resistance (a cultural density which under today's condi·
Western abstract reason has its origins in the antique cu lture of the tions could be said (0 be potentially liberative in and of itself since it opens
Mediterranean . Heidegger shows that etymologically the German gerund the user to manifold u~rjenus). the provision of a place· form is equally
building is closely linked with the archaic forms of being, cul,ivating and essential to critical practice, inasmuch as a resistant architecture. in an
dwelling. and goes on to state that the condition of ~dwell ing" and hence institutional sense. is necessarily dependent on a clearly defined domain.
ultimately of "being" can only take place in a domain that is clearly Perhaps the most generic example of such an urban form is the perimeter
bou nded . block. although other re lated. introspective types may be evoked, such as
While we may well remain skeptical as to the merit of grounding critical the galleria, the atrium , the forecourt and the labyri nth . And wh.ile these
practice in a concept so hermetically metaphysical as Being, we are, when types have in many inslances today si mpl y become the vehtcles for
confronted with the ubiquitous p.laceiessness of our modern e nvironment. accommodating psuedo-public realms (one thinks of recent megastructures
nonetheless brought to posit . after Heidcgger, the absolule precondition of a in housing. hotels, shopping centers. etc .), one cannot even in these
26 The Ant i-Aesthetic Towards a CriticaJ Regionalism 27

instances entirely discount the latent pol it ical and resistant potential of the Unt il recently. the received precepts of modern c uralOrial practice
place-form . favored the exclusive use of arlificia ll ight in all art galleries . It has perhaps
been insufficiently recognized how this encapsulation tends to reduce the
artwork to a commodity, since such an environment must conspire to render
the work placeless. This is because the local light spectrum is never
5. Culture Versus Nature: Topography, Contex t, permitted to pl ay across its surface: here. then. we see how the loss of aura.
attributed by Walter Benjamin to the processes of mechanical reprod uction.
Climate, Li ght and Tectonic Form also arises fro m a relatively stat ic application of universal technology. The
converse of this "placeless" practice would be to provide that art galleries
Critical Regionalism necessari ly involves a more directly dialecticaJ relation be top- lit through carefully contrived monitors so that. while the injurious
with nature than the more abstract, formal traditions of modem avant-garde effects of direct sunlight are avoided . the ambient light of the exhibition
architecture allow. It is sel f-evident thaI the tabula rasa tendency of volume changes under the impact of ti me, season, humidity, etc. Such
modernizat ion favors the optimum use of earth-moving equipment inas- conditions guarantee the appearance of a place·conscious poetic-a fo rm of
much as a total ly fl at datum is regarded as the most economic matrix upon filtration compounded out of an interaction between culture and nature.
which to predicate the rationalization of construction. Here agai n, one between art and light. Clearly this principle applies to all fe nestrat io n.
touches in concrete terms this fundamental opposition between universal irrespective of size and location. A constant "' regional in fl ec ti on~ of the
civilization and autochthonous culture . The bulldozing of an irregular form arises directly fro m the fac t that in certain climates the glazed aperture
topography into a fl at site is clearly a technocratic gesture which aspires to a is ad vanced . while in others it is recessed behind the masonry facade (or,
condition of absolute placeJessness, whereas the terraci ng of the same site to ailernati vely, shielded by adjustable sun breakers) .
receive the stepped form of a buildi ng is an engagement in the act of The way in which such openings provide for appropriate ventilation also
"cultivating" the sile. constitutes an unsentimental element refl ecti ng the nature of local culture.
Clearly such a mode of beholding and acting brings one close once again Here, clearly, the main antagonist of rooted culture is the ubiquitous air-
to Heidegger's etymology; at the same time. it evokes the method alluded to conditioner, applied in all times and in al l places, irrespective of the locaJ
by the Swiss architect Mario Bona as " building the site." It is possible to cl imat ic conditions which have a capacity to express the specific place and
argue that in thi s last instance the specific culture of the region-that is to the seasonal variations of its cl imate. Wherever they occur. the fixed
say, its history in both a geological and agricultural sense-becomes window and the remote-controlled air-conditioning system are mutually
inscribed into the form and realization of the work. This inscription . which indicative of domination by universal technique.
arises out of "i n-Iaying" the building into the site. has many levels of Despite the critical importance of topography and light , the primary
signi fica nce. for it has a capaCity to embody, in built fo rm, the prehistory of principle of architectural autonomy resides in the tectonic rather than the
the place. its archeologicaJ past and its subsequent cult ivation and trans- scenographic: that is to say. this autonomy is embodied in the revealed
formation across time. Through this layering into the site the idiosyncrasies ligaments of the construction and in the way in which the syntactical form of
of place fi nd their expression without falling inlo sentimentality. the structure explicitly resists the action of gravity. It is obvious that this
What is evident in the case of topography applies to a similar degree in the discourse of the load borne (the beam) and the load-bearing (the column)
case of an existing urban fabric, and the same can be claimed for the cannot be brought into being where the structure is masked or otherwise
contingencies of cl imate and the temporally inflected qualities of local light. concealed . On the other hand. the tectonic is not to be confused with the
Once again. the sensitive modulation and incorporatio n of such factors must purely technical . for it is more than the simple revelation of stereotomy or
almost by definition be fundamenta lly opposed to the optimum use of the expression of skeletaJ framework . Its essence was firs t defined by the
universal technique. This is perhaps most clear in the case of light and German aesthetician Karl Bou icher in his book Die Tektonik der Helfenen
climate control. The generic window is obviously the most delicate poi m at (1852): and it was perhaps best summarized by the architectural historian
which these two natural forces impinge upon the outer membrane of the Stanford Anderson when he wrote:
building, fenestratio n having an innate capacity to inscribe architecture with
Ihe character of a region and hence to express the place in which the work "T('klonik" referred not jusllo the ac tivilY of making the materiall)' requisite
is situated . conSlruction . .. but rather 10 Ihe activit)' Ihal raises this construction 10 an arl
28 The Anti-Aesthetic Towards a Critical Regionalism 29

form . . .. The functionally adequate form must be adapted so as to give

expression to its funct ion. The sense of bearing provided by the entasis of
Greek columns became the touchstone ofthis concept of TekJonik .21
The tectonic remains to us today as a potential means for distilling play
between material, craft work and gravity, so as to yield a component which is
in fact a condensation of the entire structure. We may speak here of the
presentation of a structural poetic rather than the re-presentation of a facade.

6. The Visual Versus the Tactile

The tactile resilience of the place-form and the capacity of the body to read
the environment in terms other than those of sight alone suggest a potential
strategy for resisting the domination of universal technology. It is
symptomatic of the priority given to sight that we find it necessary toremind
ourselves that the tactile is an important dimension in the perception of built
form . One has in mind a whole range of complementary sensory perceptions
which are registered by the labile body: the intensity of light , darkness, heat
and cold; the feeling of humidity; the aroma of material; the almost palpable
presence of masonry as the body senses its own confinement; the momentum
of an induced gait and the relative inertia of the body as it traverses the floor;
the echoing resonance of our own footfall . Luchino Visconti was well aware Alvar Aaito, SiiYTUltsalo Town Hall. 1952.
of these factors when making the film The Damned, for he insisted that the
main set of the Altona mansion should be paved in real wooden parquet. It
was his belief that without a solid floor underfoot the actors would be In this way, Critical Regionalism seeks to complement our normative
incapable of assuming appropriate and convincing postures. visual experience by readdressing the tactile range of human perceptions. In
A similar tactile sensitivity is evident in the finishing of the public so doing, it endeavors to balance the priority accorded to the image and to
circulation in Alvar Aalto's Saynatsalo Town Hall of 1952. The main route counter the Western tendency to interpret the environment in exclusively
leading to the second· floor council chamber is ult imately orchestrated in perspectival terms. According to its etymology, perspective means rational-
terms which are as much tactile as they are visual. Not only is the principal ized sight or clear seeing , and as such it presupposes a conscious suppression
access stair lined in raked brickwork, but the treads and risers are also of the senses of smell , hearing and taste, and a consequent distancing from a
finished in brick. The kinetic impetus of the body in climbing the stair is thus more direct experience of the environment. This self-imposed limitation
checked by the friction of the steps, which are "read" soon after in .contrast relates to that which Heidegger has called a " loss of nearness." In
to the timber fl oor of the council chamber itselr. This chamber asserts its attempting to counter this loss, the tactile opposes itself to the scenographic
honorific status through sound, smell and texture, not to mention the spri ngy and the drawing of veil s over the surface of reality. Its capacity to arouse the
deflection of the floor underfoot (and a noticeable tendency to lose one's impulse 10 touch returns the architect to the poetics of construction and to the
balance on its polished surface). From this example it is clear that the erection of works in which the tectonic value of each component depends
liberat ive importance of the tactile resides in the fact that it can only be upon the density of its objecthood. The tactile and the tectonic jointly have
decoded in terms of experience itself: it cannot be reduced to mere the capacity to transcend the mere appearance of the technical in much the
information, to representation or to the simple evocation of a simulacrum same way as the place-form has the potential to withstand the relentless
substituting for absent presences. ' onslaught of global modernization.
30 The Anti-Aesthetic

I. Paul Ricoeur. - Uni versal Civilization and Nat iona l Cu ltures" (1961). Hi$tOTY and Truth.
trans . C llas. A. Kelbley (Evanston: Northwestern University Press . 196.'5). pp. 276-7.
2. Tllat these are but two sides of tile same coin lias perllaps been most dramatically
demonstrated in tile Portland City Annex compl~ ted in Portland, Oregon in 1982 to Ille
desi8ns of Michael Grav~s. Th~ constructional fabric of Illis bu ild ing bears no relation
whatsoever to the "repres~nt.ative" sc~nogra plly tllal is applied to the building botll inside
and out.
3. Ricoeur. p. 277.
4. Fernand Braudel informs us tllalthc term -culture- hardly ~xisted befor~ the beginning of
the 19th centu ry wilen . as far as Anglo-Saxon lett~rs are concerned, it already find s itse lf
opposed 10 -ci viliUl ion" in Ille writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge~above all. in
Coleridge's On the Constitution ofChurch and State of 1830. The noun -c i v ili za tion~ has
a somewhat longer lIistory, first appeari ng in 1766, althougll its verb and participle forms
date 10 the 16th and 17111 centuri~s . TII~ use Illat Ricoeur makes of the opposition between
these two terms relates 10 the work of 2OtIl·century German tllink~rs and writers such as
Osvald Spengler. Ferdinand Tonnies, Alfred Weber and Thomas Man n .
.'5. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: Univer~ity of Chicago Pr~", 1958),
p. 154.
6. Clement Gree nberg, - Avant·Gard~ and Ki tscll,- in Gillo Dorfl es , ed., Kitsch (New
York: Universe Books, 1969), p. 126.
7. Greenberg. - Moderni st Painting: in Gregory Hattcock. ed .. The ~w Art (New York:
Dutton, 1966), pp. 101-2.
8. See Charl~s l encks . The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (New York: Riuoli .
1977) .
9. And reas Huy"ens, - The Search for Tradition: Avant-Garde and Postmodernism in the
1970$," New German Critique . 22 (Winler 198 1). p. 34.
10. l erry Mander. Four Arguments for the Elimina/ion of Ttltvi,;on (New York: Mor row
Quill. 1978) , p. 134.
I I. Herbert Marcuse . Ont-Dimtnsional Man (Boston: Beacon Press. 1964). p. 156.
12 . Alex Tzonis and Liliane I..efaivre, "T he G r id and the Pathway. An Introduction to tile
Work of Dimitris and Susana Antonakakis : Arrhittctuft in Greece, 15 (Athens: 19111) ,
p. 1711 .
13. Ricocur, p. 283.
14. Aldo Van Eyc k. Forum (Amsterdam: 1962).
15. Hamilton Harwe ll Harris, "Liberative and RestriCTive Regionalism." Address given 10 the
Northwest Cllapter of the AlA in Eugene. Oregon in 1954.
16. J~n Utzon. -Platforms and Plateaus; Ideas of a Danish Architect," Zodiac, JO (Milan:
&li zioni Commun ila. 1963), pp. 112-14.
17. Jean Gotlmann , Mega/opolis (Cambridge: MIT Pre". 1961).
18. Martin Heidegger, "Bu ilding. Dwelling. Thinking: in PotITy. l..lInguage, Thought (New
York: Harper Coloplion. 1971). p. 154. Th is essay lirst appe ared in German in 1954.
19. Arendt, p. 201.
20. Mel vin Webber, Exp/orations in Urban Structure ( Phi lade lphia: Un iversity of Pennsyl·
va nia Pre ss. 1964) .
21. Robert VenTuri. Complnity and COn/roOk/ion in Architecture (New York: Museum of
Modern Art, 1966). p. 133.
22. Stanford Anderson, -Modern Architecture and Industry: Peler Behrens , the AEG. and
Indu stria l Design." OpP<)si(ion$ 2 1 (Su mmer 1980) . p. 83 .

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