Given the theme of local distinctiveness I’ve been kicking around recently on Ruralise, I thought I should finally get round to re-reading the only ‘proper’ architectural writing I can call to mind on the subject – Kenneth Frampton’s 1983 essay ‘Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance’ – which I dimly remember from my student days. One of the joys of the internet age is that seminal texts like this are available at the click of a mouse, and in finding them one often stumbles across something else, in this instance an article from 1988 by Finnish critic Juhani Pallasmaa entitled ‘Tradition and Modernity: The Feasibility of Regional Architecture in Post-Modern Society’.
I have to confess I found both texts very hard to read, especially Pallasmaa’s, so out of practice am I in reading architectural theory (a staple of Private Eye’s ‘Pseuds’ Corner’ over the years). But I got the gist of Frampton’s argument: his Critical Regionalism should be a reaction not only against a globally homogenised Modern architecture, but also against the collage/cut-and-paste tendency of post-Modernism, which at the time was threatening to sweep away the entire edifice of Modern architecture. Regionally distinctive architecture, Frampton argues, should not simply plunder and re-use locally prevalent forms, materials or motifs, but should somehow re-invent Modernism locally from its own prevailing conditions. Frampton’s most eloquent statement of the idea is in fact a quote – from Californian architect Harwell Hamilton Harris:
We call such a manifestation ‘regionalism’ only because it has not yet emerged elsewhere.
I found this quite arresting. On a couple of occasions recently I have tried to articulate why Tayler and Green’s work is so interesting as an exemplar of a regional approach; Harwell Harris hits the nail on the head. Through my meditation on Norfolk’s DNA I have been scratching around for ways of ‘anchoring’ modern buildings into the context of rural Norfolk, but Frampton and Pallasmaa would probably find this approach uncomfortably post-Modern or superficial. Tayler and Green’s work is a much clearer expression of Critical Regionalism, emerging from within mainstream Modernism, but filtered through practical, technical and perhaps emotional constraints that were prevalent locally. If you took their work out of Norfolk, and transplanted it into Sussex, for example, it would probably look no more or less out of place. It is regionally or locally distinctive only because it emerged in a particular place and time, not because it was making references to a local vernacular. And to prove it, the last words here go to Herbert Tayler (with thanks to Alan Powers for pointing me at them):
Some people ask if I made a special study of the local styles here in Norfolk. Well, I didn’t. I keep my eyes open and I suppose I just soak them up. I think it’s wrong to copy styles…
More on Tayler & Green/regionalism here.