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Recognizing Cultural Identities: Critical Regionalism

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Sudarshan Uppunda
Apart from being an Architect, Sudarshan has a flair for writing, manages a family business, and is trying his hand at UX Design as well. He likes to write and explore varied topics on Culture, Architecture, and Workplace environments. He is quite active in architectural journalism and has written for various platforms like RTF and The Arch Insider. He strongly believes that whatever one does in life, one must do it with passion & be happy with it.

Modernism tries to make design universal and does not draw parallels from the regional and cultural contexts. It was indeed a style in architecture that had no prerequisites relate to the site as such. The modern ideologies and imagery hold for any region in the world. Hence, in a way, this meant fading away of local and cultural significance. This, therefore, resulted in regional awakening. Ths moment is better known as Critical Regionalism. The concept of critical regionalism emphasized on regionally influenced design. Critical regionalism was co-relating with the local environment. This, therefore, showcased cultural and regional features in architecture. This also made designs to adapt to the local climate.

Rise of Critical Regionalism

Modernism influenced the world to a large extent. Tall modernist towers of glass and steel were soon erected in many parts of the world. Imagine a building in pairs being as similar as in New York. Imagine Buildings in Mumbai having nothing to do with the Indian culture and tropical climate. Also, suppose Buildings in London were as similar to as in Sao Paulo. Isn’t that strange? The cultural and local context were losing their say in the newfound modern architecture. Such was the influence of modernism. Thus, there felt a need among the architectural community to revisit the cultural context in architecture.

As a result, Architects around the globe came up with ideologies that encouraged the inclusion of regional features in the design. Instead of following the universal prescription of modern architecture, architects resorted to critical thinking of the design scenario. This led to the onset of Critical Regionalism in architecture. Therefore, Critical Regionalism in architecture was a promotion of the local and cultural aspects.

The need for a Critical Regionalist awakening

Apart from the cultural and regional imagery, the climatic adaptations were getting lost. What modernism did was prescribed the guidelines for a ‘modern’ design. But this missed on the needs of the local environment. Architecture refers to creating comfortable and habitable spaces. A tall glass structure might do well in New York, considering the climate. But is it feasible to erect the same glass structure in the Middle East? The quest to establish ourselves as ‘modern’ led us to ignore the needs of micro and macroclimate.

Advocates of Critical Regionalism

Raj Rewal– Union of modern and traditional imagery.

Architect Raj Rewal

Raj Rewal was one of the pioneers of Critical regionalism in Indian Architecture. Through his designs, he managed well to give India a newfound architectural style. This style resonated with India’s modern aspirations at the same time took account of the local climate, culture and regional architectural features. India’s post-colonial architecture cannot go without the mention of Architect Raj Rewal. 


Hall of Nations, New Delhi

Indian Science Academy, New Delhi

One of his noteworthy projects is the world’s first and largest span space frame structure, The Hall of nations. It is a marvellous achievement in reinforced concrete but at the same time had imagery that resembled regional features. Furthermore, his design of the Indian Science Academy, New Delhi introduced traditional concepts of the central courtyards and the earthy colour tones of the facade in the modern context. Rewal’s design of The Ismaili Centre, Lisbon established the use of modern materials of concrete and glass in traditional forms & geometries of Islamic architecture.

Alvaro Siza – Architecture embraced in nature

Architect Alvaro Siza

A Portuguese architect, Alvaro Siza is indeed one of the most celebrated architects. His works showcase infusion of nature with architectural forms. His ideologies focus on creating spaces that resonate with the natural light. Space with exposure to the sky is one of Siza’s typical features of the design. His works are described as ‘poetic modernism’. Leca swimming pool complex by Siza shows the integration of the built form along with nature and thus is a great example of critical regionalism – design in response to nature.


The Leca swimming pool


Critical regionalism makes us think! We might have a liking for a certain style of design or material, but our liking needs not fit in need of the space. Spaces must be designed with the response to the user needs and the local cultural context. This will ensure architecture to attain the significance it is supposed to.

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