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Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity, and Tradition

Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity, and Tradition

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Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity, and Tradition

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Mar 20, 2012


In this rapidly globalizing world, any investigation of architecture inevitably leads to considerations of regionalism. But despite its omnipresence in contemporary practice and theory, architectural regionalism remains a fluid concept, its historical development and current influence largely undocumented. This comprehensive reader brings together over 40 key essays illustrating the full range of ideas embodied by the term. Authored by important critics, historians, and architects such as Kenneth Frampton, Lewis Mumford, Sigfried Giedion, and Alan Colquhoun, Architectural Regionalism represents the history of regionalist thinking in architecture from the early twentieth century to today.
Lançado em:
Mar 20, 2012

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Architectural Regionalism - Princeton Architectural Press





Collected Writings

on Place, Identity,

Modernity, and


Vincent B. Canizaro, editor

Princeton Architectural Press

New York

Published by

Princeton Architectural Press

37 East Seventh Street

New York, New York 10003

For a free catalog of books, call 1.800.722.6657.

Visit our website at www.papress.com.

© 2007 Princeton Architectural Press

All rights reserved

Printed and bound in Canada

10 09 08 07 4 3 2 1 First edition

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the publisher, except in the context of reviews.

Every reasonable attempt has been made to identify owners of copyright. Errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions.

All reasonable efforts have been made to include original illustrations. In some cases, substitutes were used where originals were unavailable.

Efforts have been made to correct factual and grammatical errors, to Americanize spellings, and to standardize typographical elements. Eccentricities of language and phrasing have been retained.

Editor: Dorothy Ball

Designer print edition: Yoon Seok Yoo

Special thanks to: Nettie Aljian, Sara Bader, Nicola Bednarek, Janet Behning, Becca Casbon, Penny (Yuen Pik) Chu, Russell Fernandez, Pete Fitzpatrick, Sara Hart, Jan Haux, Clare Jacobson, John King, Nancy Eklund Later, Linda Lee, Katharine Myers, Lauren Nelson Packard, Scott Tennent, Jennifer Thompson, Paul Wagner, Joseph Weston, and Deb Wood of Princeton Architectural Press — Kevin C. Lippert, publisher

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Architectural regionalism : collected writings on place, identity, modernity, and tradition / Vincent B. Canizaro, editor.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN-13: 978-1-56898-616-6 (alk. paper)

ISBN-10: 1-56898-616-5

ISBN 978-1-61689-080-3 (digital)

1. Regionalism in architecture.

2. Architecture, Modern—20th century. I. Canizaro, Vincent B., 1964–

NA682.R44A73 2006



Preface /

Acknowledgments /



The Promise of


In 1952, Lewis Mumford edited and published his Roots of Contemporary American Architecture. Mumford was concerned about the inaccessibility of many important writings in American architectural history, calling it a gap that was a disgrace to American scholarship.¹ He remedied this by editing a collection of essays by seminal figures in American architecture including Louis Sullivan, Calvert Vaux, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gustav Stickley, Sigfried Giedion, and Matthew Nowicki. It became a popular textbook. His aim was to establish the deep roots of an American modern architecture as a continuous history in an attempt to make clear that it was more than a reaction to European ideas.

Fifty-three years later, with a more specialized but analogous concern, I seek to remedy the inaccessibility of texts in the discourse of architectural regionalism. Like Mumford’s American modernism, regionalism has deep roots that demonstrate its perennial importance to architectural practice. These roots defy the standard assumption that critical regionalism is the only regional theory worth consideration. While it is the most recent, it is by no means alone. There exists a healthy literature that documents the changing, but consistent, dissatisfaction with design theories or other wider social forces that do not respect the immediacy and situatedness of everyday life. These forces, be they the siren song of the International Style, the emancipatory technological possibilities of machines, the enhanced availability of everything for purchase, the demands to remain on the cutting edge, or the invisible forces of laissez-faire capital development have been resisted or redirected by regionally inspired architects since the early twentieth century. But this is only the recent history, as the roots of a self-concious regionalist theory lie in ancient Greece and later in the Italian Renaissance.

This collection focuses on these more recent regionalisms, beginning with David Williams and John Gaw Meem’s optimistic and defensive response to the eclectic historicism of the late nineteenth century and the increasing importation of European modernist architectures. It ends with the identification of present and future possibilities by scholars knowledgeable about the history of regionalist theory and practice. In between it documents the importance of regional planning, bioregionalism, and the lost legacy of regional modernism pioneered by a number of mid-century architects. And if this collection has done nothing more than present the thinking of Lewis Mumford to a post-postmodern architectural audience, it will have justified its existence. No one can surpass his prescience or the comprehensiveness of his concern for the liberative possibilities of modern architecture and technology. Within the feeble efforts of New Urbanism, the delicate and articulate site-specificity of Glenn Murcutt, the burgeoning possibilities of Landscape Urbanism and Civic Environmentalism, and the still-pregnant possibilities of sustainability are the reverberations of Mumford’s democratic and regionalist vision. But he is not alone. The words of H. H. Harris, Mary Colter, Benton MacKaye, Jim Dodge, and Wendell Berry, among others, echo his concerns and provide inspiration on their own terms.

This is not to say that this discourse has been consistent or organized. Putting together this anthology has been much like organizing a convention. It helps to imagine the authors (theorists, architects, historians, polemicists, and social critics) assembled as if they were attending a conference on the means toward achieving a balanced and good life. Their concerns touch upon the issues of quality of place, personal and cultural identity, and the effects and possibilities of modernity and technology. What becomes apparent in the diversity of discussions is a common concern for life balanced between possibility and particularity—the regional life. Yet, upon closer inspection, the differences can overwhelm the similarities, as if each regionalist theory, like each region, is distinct and irreconcilable with any other. So setting this rough discourse into a set of coherent panel discussions is only an approximation; its more important role is to enliven discussions and debates about site-specificity, context, globalization, cultural identity, exurbia, blob architecture, and suburban sprawl.

My pursuit of Liane Lefaivre and Alexander Tzonis’s seminal text, The Grid and the Pathway, which established the phrase and concept of a critical regionalism, set this project in motion. That oft-cited work was hiding away in an obscure journal entitled Architecture in Greece. After reading Kenneth Frampton’s many variations on critical regionalism, I was seeking its roots. I hoped to find a deeper basis for architectural design that took into consideration the people for whom we build, the places in which we do so, and the reasons we employ to guide us. For this, critical theory, which is so powerful as a tool of literary and social critique, was helpful, but only partly so. It seemed to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In critical theory, one’s personal or local history was available only through the technique of defamiliarization, lest one fall prey to nostalgia. Comfort of this kind is suspect as it makes society easy prey to commercial and exploitative interests. And yet we all crave comfort, even postmodernists. My disaffection for critical regionalism forced me, as well as a few of my colleagues, to search through the longer-term discourse of regionalism for lessons from those who sought similar goals.

I realize, with this volume, I have entered into the intellectual domain of many thinkers and practitioners whose work I have read, been influenced by, and included or not. I hope this volume represents the variety of those discourses well and exposes the affinity between them regarding a concern for the good life lived in relation to the specificity of places.

My most unreasonable goal is to foster renewed debate and productive architectural work based on the recognition that here and there are important but not equally so—a debate that reconsiders the tired notion that the local is a place of lesser achievement and the source of backwardness, provincialism, and chauvinism.

My thesis is that regionalism, as a set of practices and theories, is a misunderstood and neglected discourse that, in practice, is central to architecture. In the same way that all politics are local, so it is with architecture, whether by accident or design. ² Regionalism is the preeminent discourse in architecture that focuses on design in terms of particularity and locale. It suggests that local experiences, the kind most of us have most of the time, should serve as the basis for architectural design. This does not preclude the myriad and powerful issues any field allied with art may entertain, including experimentation, expressiveness, and the necessity of challenging ourselves to think; it simply reprioritizes those concerns so that local quality of life is always at the forefront.

For all this, regionalism must be more than design by appliqué or reference alone. It must foster connectedness to that place and be a response to the needs of local life, not in spite of global concerns and possibilities, but in order to better take advantage of them. And as such, the promise of regionalism in architecture is to re-embed us in the reality and diversity of our local places—critically and comfortably. Regionalism has the potential, through thoughtful reference, to situate us in the continuity of our individual and shared human history. This is why style matters, and it must be taken seriously. Further, there is no reason why regionalism should not be understood as a progressive and high-performance architecture, one that is highly attuned to the constancy and change of the local environment. It should open up possibilities for understanding where and with whom one lives. It should encourage awareness of local climate and the changing of seasons. Lastly it should open up the possibility of shared purpose, in which the concerns of here are understood as linked to there: ecologically, economically, and socially.


This project was supported by a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. Without their support many excellent projects would be missing from our lives.

There is always much personal history caught up in processes such as the production of a book, which results from the cooperation and contribution of many people and organizations. I would like to thank most of all the contributing authors, literary executors, spouses, and the sons and daughters of authors who replied so quickly and vigorously to my requests for publication that the collection became inevitable, in particular, Nancy Meem Wirth, Marjorie Belluschi, Dion Neutra, Andres Giedion, and Pat Gebhard. The collection belongs to all of you.

At Princeton Architectural Press, I owe particular thanks to Clare Jacobson and Dorothy Ball who, along with their colleagues, found merit and timeliness in these writings and understood their potential importance as a collection. Thanks also to the various other publishers for reprinting permissions for texts and images, especially Rebecca Zimmerman at the Museum of Modern Art, Scott Marinara at Oxford University Press (for helping me understand the permissions process), Gina Maccoby and Robert Wojtowicz for the Lewis Mumford permissions, Chip Sullivan of Architecture for his graciousness, Sarah Hartwell at the Rauner Special Collections at Dartmouth College, Jack Kennedy at the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for his patience, Bruce Turner at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Special Collections, Chuck Pinyan at McGraw-Hill, Jack Shoemaker at Shoemaker & Hoard representing Wendell Berry, Kurt Helfrich of the Architecture and Design Collection at the University of California at Santa Barbara for his unparalled support, Beth J. Dodd at the Alexander Archives at the University of Texas at Austin, Margaret Walsh at The University of Wisconsin Press, and to Suha Ozkan and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture for their generosity toward this project in particular and toward the betterment of world architecture generally. A special thank you to Arnold Berke (author of Mary Colter: Architect of the Southwest) who exposed me, not to her work, but to her passionate and incisive words about her architecture at the Grand Canyon. Thanks also to Maiken Umbach, Raj Jadhav, and Anne Nequette for sending me copies of their work to read. Each was insightful and helpful in its own way.

I am sincerely grateful to have such intelligent and compassionate colleagues and friends as Tim Cassidy, Robert Warden, Lori Ryker, Ed Burian, and Steven Moore, who have brought these ideas into practice and sustained our own dialogue about these issues for a very long time. Also, thanks to those who participated in my 1998 ACSA Southwest panel discussion on the subject of regionalism, who have not already been mentioned: Charlie Burris, Robert Shemwell, Barbara Allen, Stephen Fox, Robert Mugerauer, and Jonathan Smith (the most eloquent speaker I know). In many ways, this collection had its origins at that meeting. I am also indebted to my colleagues at the University of Texas at San Antonio School of Architecture, who have challenged me when I needed it, always expected more out of me than I wished, and lent me their support. In particular, Mark Blizard, Rick Lewis, and Andrew Perez challenged me most of all.

My appreciation to those that read and reviewed the outline for this book and gave their encouragement: Kenneth Frampton, Richard Bechhoefer, and Keith Eggener.

In the last few years, the students in my many classes, whether they were focused on regionalism or not, have helped hone my own understanding of the issues, especially Michael Rey early on, before he became a colleague in his own right. In particular, the students of my graduate seminar who shared their time and energy contributing to this discourse must be recognized: Eric Ingamells, Joel Nolan, Abigail Grass, Steven Cordero, Matt Martinez, Curtis Fish, Alvaro Garcia, Gabe Martinez, Kevin Thompson, and Luis Vargas.

Finally, thank you to Julius Gribou, a supportive dean and friend who wisely advised me not to undertake a project of this scope so soon in my academic career. He was right to challenge me in exactly the right way. Thanks also to James Almazan, the Associate Vice President for Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio for their support of this project.

Projects like this are impossible to complete without those who give them their meaning. Everything is impossible without Jenny. And Alexander who at 2 3/4 years old is convinced that his dad is editing a book about either dinosaurs, bicycles, or hiking up a mountain. I hope he will not be disappointed when he finds out the truth.

Vincent B. Canizaro

San Antonio, Texas



Regionalism is not a fixed concept.

No region, whether natural or cultural, is stable.

− Felix Frankfurter ¹

In other words, the nature of a region varies with

the needs, purposes, and standards of those using the concept.

− Merrill Jensen ²

Regionalism suggests a cure for many current ills. Focused in the region, sharpened for the more definite enhancement of life, every activity, cultural or practical, menial or liberal, becomes necessary and significant; divorced from this context, and dedicated to archaic or abstract schemes of salvation and happiness, even the finest activities seem futile and meaningless; they are lost and swallowed in a vast indefiniteness.

− Lewis Mumford ³

01 Situating Architectural Regionalism(s)

A survey of architectural regionalism spanning the twentieth century yields a heterogeneous collection of motivations and prescriptions — an ongoing theoretical discourse. This may suggest that the variety of regionalist positions are part of the pluralistic attitude considered endemic to postmodern theory, where no singular view is taken to be dominant. All views are competing versions of reality in the postmodernist sensibility of inclusion.⁴ It may also suggest that heterogeneity is intrinsic to regionalist theory, in which there is not one but as many regionalisms as regions, each specific to its locale and historical circumstance. As such, it is a kind of meta-theory that has only local application and meaning. I think it is fair to say that both are the case; in part, this has much to do with the lack of clarity with which regionalism is understood and practiced. It also has to do with tensions inherent to its dialectical structure. Regionalism is never a singular theory or practice but is most often a means by which tensions — such as those between globalization and localism, modernity and tradition — are resolved.

As a subset of architectural theory it has persisted through many wider historical movements including romanticism, eclecticism, revivalism, modernism, and postmodernism. It has served variously as a counter argument and ally to these movements from the Renaissance to the present. Its most ancient origins lie in the Persian overland road system, the Hellenic oikumene⁵ model of governance, and later Roman imperial practices of territorial management. In the case of the Romans, regionalization referred to both a network of roads connecting its provinces to the central cities and the practice of governance in which locals were allowed to maintain some local expressions, beliefs, and rituals as long as their allegiance and taxes were returned to the capital city.⁶ An architecturally specific Roman form of regionalism has been cited by Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre — the regionalism of Vitruvius.⁷ In his treatise, discussing the proper siting of buildings, he speaks of natural relations between the qualities of a place and the health of its residents. Sensibly he suggests the avoidance of low, hot, and wet places for their potentially unhealthy conditions and recommends those with plenty of sunlight and fresh air. In what can only be understood as an environmental determinist extension, he associates the character and intelligence of people with their place of origin. His linking character to region is not an acceptance of regional cultural variation, which is central to social and cultural identity, so much as a region-based chauvinism, a precursor to nationalist movements that would give regionalism part of its negative association.

Much of the theoretical terrain of regionalism is laid bare in these two early examples. Vitruvius demonstrates both prescriptive and proscriptive kinds of theory, the former captured in his intent to establish new norms for practice, and the latter in his clear suggestion of what should be avoided in the siting and design of cities and houses. With the Roman examples, regionalism has ties to political order, including both control and resistance; this is true to the root word, regere, which means to rule. Resistance and control are evident in the political savvy demonstrated by the Romans in allowing local expression as a means to achieving overarching rule. Even if this practice is evidence of the practical inability to quash those local cultures — both support the notion of regionalism as a theory of resistance, which is central to much of its contemporary meaning.

Like theory in general, regionalist theories speculate on, anticipate, and catalyze architectural practice in a variety of specific ways. Among those ways are suggestions for normative practice, polemical diatribes, defensive argumentation, rational analyses, and calls to radical action. What they share is a rough consensus — the goal of establishing connections, through architectural means, between people and the places in which they live, work, and play. This localization is the alternative offered by the theory taken as a whole.

As a theory about connectedness to place it is situated among other theories of place such as contextualism, site-specificity in art and design, landscape urbanism, and planning. It is allied with other disciplines concerned with spatial phenomena such as cultural geography, cartography, folklore, and historical studies, but it differs from these in scale and application. At the scale of a region, issues and concerns emerge that are not available at the immediate site or context. Thinking in terms of the region grounds these studies within a larger physical and ecological context, in areas that are sufficiently large enough to support a diversity of human and non-human life, through agriculture, available resources, and provisions for adequate recreation. Watersheds, topographical difference, areas of distinctive land use, climatological difference, and consistencies of architectural, cultural, linguistic, and political organization are criteria available to the regionalist for consideration in the design of environments for those places. Further, thinking in terms of regions affords architects the opportunity to derive unique and relevant environments from a specific and local context with a wider perspective.

By virtue of its manifold relations to human life, regionalism is also situated among theories of culture and concerned with issues of individual and cultural identity, authenticity, meaning, and the structure and governance of society. The disciplines of cultural studies, cultural criticism, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy (particularly phenomenology and critical theory), which address the effects of modernization and modernity, globalization, and technological development on individuals and society, are all allied disciplines from which architectural regionalists draw and to which they contribute. Architectural regionalism differs from these other disciplines in its relation to practice. As opposed to the process of analysis and description, which attempts to remain somewhat neutral, practice is virtually always polemical and its theorization, prescriptive. Regionalism may borrow the critique established in critical theory, but it does so from the perspective of practice, that is, with the aim of applying critical analysis to a situation to focus what needs to be done. As such, regionalism, whether in planning or architecture, may be thought of, in part, as the practical application of the social sciences—a sort of rough synthesis of allied disciplines.

02 Provisional Definitions


A region is, first, a large area with boundaries determined by a range of cultural and natural criteria. At the extreme cultural end, visible in the etymology of the term, political control or the establishment of jurisdictions is the criterion. At the opposite end, region is determined by naturally occurring physical features. These can include the tributary area and drainage of watersheds or biotic shift, a discernable and measurable difference in plant and/or animal species that roughly defines boundaries.

Between these extremes lie the more common physical determinants, such as climate (the arid Southwest), topographic landform (the hill country), and cultural determinants such as distinct lifeways, patterns of land use and organization, finance and interchange, language use and inflection (dialect), distinct modes and materials used in construction, and styles of architecture. Together or individually, these criteria can yield the boundary or center by which a region is determined. The centrally defined region is important to consider, as boundaries are often difficult to establish clearly. In environmental studies, the concept of the ecotone is specifically intended to designate the area between ecological regions, where many of the richest transactions occur. Like those of the ecotone, regional boundaries are fuzzy and indeterminate; the edge is most often a gradation rather than a starkly drawn line, the exception being political criteria, where the often arbitrary lines tend to be all too clear.

Accordingly, regions range dramatically in size, again, varying according to the cultural and physical influences. For this there is no consensus. The Columbia Bioregion and the South both encompass many politically derived states, but they are commonly understood as regions. At this scale, Joel Garreau has proposed dividing the United States into nine regions according to various criteria. Alternatively, maps developed by a wide variety of interest groups—the Forest Service, ecologists, and anarchic bioregionalists—demonstrate a variety of ways groups have determined regional divisions in the state of California alone. [FIG. 1] But perhaps the most important concern with regard to the size of regions is the potential to support a democratic and participatory life for those that will (or already) inhabit them.

FIG. 1 Competing interpretations of California’s bioregions. Key: Regions determined by 1. biotic shift; 2. watershed; and 3. landform.

The criteria and issues associated with size are not, however, to be understood as arbitrary choices—though arbitrary choices are available in the determination of regions. Each kind of regionalism or regionalist ideology addresses the appropriate criteria within its theorization, and these specific criteria often define the theory itself. For bioregionalists, the definition of a region is based on ecological parameters, specifically watersheds. Under the Regional Planning Association of America and Lewis Mumford, the region is determined according to a calculus that considers political representation and the likelihood of political participation along with resource availability, pre-existing patterns, lines of transit, and the transport of goods, all tempered with a concern for social life and local meaning. In critical regionalism, under Kenneth Frampton, it is defined by a culture’s unique identity, manner of place-making, architectonic strategies, qualities of the environment in dialogue with local means for coping with that environment, and possible tactile experiences that may enrich one’s being there.

Outside of theory, which, by definition, proposes alternatives to existing conditions, regional definition is popularly determined by the criterion that addresses an area’s most prominent aspect. Appalachia is one such region, based on the presence of the Appalachian mountain range. Once established, however, these popular criteria are useful for the development of regional inventories, or as Patrick Geddes, the influential Scottish geographer, formulated it, regional surveys, which take rigorous account of all features, both cultural and physical, that lie within its roughly defined boundaries. These inventories, and the determinations themselves, require constant revision as regions, and their inhabitants are dynamic, not static or singular entities.


Regionalism is a habit of thought or a prejudice in favor of persons and practices found in one’s general vicinity. Its meaning is similar to that of provincialism, although regionalism lacks this word’s connotation of small-mindedness and lack of sophistication.

— Jonathan Smith

Regionalism is variously a concept, strategy, tool, technique, attitude, ideology, or habit of thought. Despite its many manifestations, collectively it is a theory that supports resistance to various forms of hegemonic, universal, or otherwise standardizing structures that would diminish local differentiation. These theories propose alternatives in the form of methods and criteria for the respect, revitalization, and, if necessary, reconstruction of life along regionally determined lines. It is a self-conscious set of theories, which distinguishes it from the vernacular—the response to local conditions by necessity, not by choice. [FIG. 2] The vernacular is often characterized dubiously as unconscious, which is meant to suggest that it is not purposely regional, but only accidental; in fact, settlers and other pioneers very scrupulously and consciously adapted the architecture they knew to the places they chose to settle. Regionalism is voluntary; alongside being self-conscious, it is a choice made by a practitioner (planner, architect, or politician) among alternatives, including competing theories of regionalism.

FIG. 2 A case of adaptation to place (climate) by necessity. Butler Dogtrot, Old Natchez Trace, Mississippi.

Regionalism is distinct from provincialism, although the two share status as specifically geographic terms. Marc Treib locates the heritage of provincialism in nineteenth- and twentieth-century discussions of political realignment in the United States, where it is used primarily as an administrative term.⁹ In cultural affairs, provincialism has a predominantly negative association, shared by regionalism in some critiques, referring to work that is limited or unsophisticated. Provincial works, Treib asserts, are distinct from regional ones in that provincial works are limited by their distance from a cultural center, such as New York or Los Angeles, in which the standards for excellence are set. Regionalism is the opposite, in that it resists the values of the centers of standardization and taste, actively promoting the local — the regional is fertilized by its locale.¹⁰

Outside of architecture, regionalism is often used in more strict accord with its Latin roots, in terms of a political strategy or schema for land division by such criteria as historical situation, geographic specificity, etc. ¹¹ In design, this way of thinking is most closely met in the theories of Lewis Mumford and the bioregionalists, the latter of whom seek ecological adaptation and the restructuring of political jurisdictions along ecological boundaries.

In architecture regionalism commonly refers to the establishment of connections between new works and pre-existing local and regional characteristics. For some, this process of response is quite prosaic, and sometimes regionalism is minimally interpreted as a response to the local climatic conditions or specific topography. It is minimally adaptive and acclimatizing. For the majority of others, collected here, it is an architectural theory, informed by particularist values, that borders on ideology. These values range from the desire to preserve a region’s cultural heritage to the desire to manifest a new social and political order drawn along regional distinctions. The latter aims to facilitate a restructured and more vibrant social life; the former, an ideology of resistance to both the homogenization of building culture and/or centralized, absolutist controls. It is a living concept, the specific definition of which must grow and change just as regions must be continually redescribed.

Between these polarities lie the many variations included in this collection. The consistent themes are resistance to standard forms (preferring a balance between universal and local), a concern for authenticity (the key to cultural and personal identity), and the fostering of connectedness among people of the specific culture, history, identity, and ecology of their region.

03 Dialectical Oppositions in Architectural Regionalism

Despite the fact that the essays collected here have been arranged in chronological and ideological categories, regionalist theories in architecture do not present themselves in this neatly ordered way. The discourse of regionalism is suffused with inherent tensions—a set of dialectical structures that underlie and unite the diversity of regionalist theorizations.

Resistance & Response

In the twentieth century, from Lewis Mumford to Kenneth Frampton, resistance has occupied the center of regionalist discourse. Regionalist resistance can be political and representational, concerned with the maintenance of personal or local identity through form, as that demonstrated by Crecenzi in Rome or the English Picturesque landscape design.¹² Modern resistance continues this tradition, but instead of a pope or a king, the dominant force has become the changing structure of society and the built environment under disinterested central organizations, industrialization, modern technology, and globalization. Each has enabled the erosion of valued practices and places against which engagement—relating to one’s place through participatory design—or designs that foster local material and social connections serve as the resistant means.

Such resistance is often achieved through response. Responding to local concerns and to local needs can halt these centralizing, generalizing forces. Contrarily, response to these same local needs can occur without such social or political motivation. This is the central goal in normative regional practices. Like the vernacular builder, normative regionalist architects often characterize their work as a response to the local conditions of climate, topography, local needs, and the availability of materials. It is a regionalism based in successful performance relative to local conditions. In such cases, social and economic relations are perceived as more stable and the concerns of political or social disenfranchisement or inequity are ignored or muted.

Imitation & Invention

At the heart of the regionalist dialectic between imitation and invention is a need to establish a relationship between people and place—between the requirements associated with imitation and the desire for invention. Imitation is the direct taking of form, motif, detail, or the like, and repeating it as faithfully as possible. Invention seeks precedents as inspiration for the creation of something new (see Speck, Chapter 2, and Harris, Chapter 2). Imagine two architects using a set of industrial sheds of particular formal appeal as a precedent. The imitative architect will redeploy the form, material, and detail of the original in new materials, trying to match the original closely in the hopes of deriving respect and connection through recognition. The practice of imitation is thought to provide cultural continuity. The inventive architect’s redeployment may only concern the essence or aspect, spatial or formal, of the original, and the resulting regional evocation is more subtle and often more profound. In such instances the vernacular supplies insight into local experiences, rather than a stock of overtly recognizable forms and materials.

Tradition & Modernity

The dialectic of tradition and modernity is inextricably linked to the struggle between necessary cultural continuity and the desire for progress and innovation. For sociologist Anthony Giddens, tradition is a means of handling time and space, which inserts any particular activity or experience within the continuity of past, present, and future. ¹³ Traditions are the carriers of cultural knowledge and the embodiment of a culture’s continual transformation. At its best, tradition is dynamic, a context in which growth and change are measured; at its worst, it is static, permanent, a means to hamper growth, or a declaration of cultural difference.¹⁴ For our purposes, modernity is a mode of social life in which the establishment of the new is a driving force. Being modern often requires the attenuation of tradition and continuity to attain the fruits of progress and innovation. But jettisoning these cultural structures has negative consequences. The modern world is rife with what Giddens calls disembedding mechanisms that, while aimed at achieving a better quality of life, also lift social relations from their local contexts through ease of travel, communications, and trade. Lying at the center of this dialectic, regionalism has been allied with both tendencies: historicist regionalism can exhibit the conservative tendencies of tradition, while regional modernism and critical regionalism build the new upon a measured respect for traditional and regional culture.¹⁵

04 Questions Concerning Architectural Regionalism

The Question of Historicism

The historicist critique of regionalism is twofold. Proponents of modernism and the International Style during the mid-century contended that historical reference is antithetical to functionalist and progressive concerns. In what turns out to be primarily an argument over taste, referential regionalism was considered a regression into either nineteenth-century eclecticism or revivalism because it failed to pay homage to modernist style.¹⁶ [FIG. 3] Early-twentieth-century regional practices can be understood as a continuation of cultural history and as a referential homage to local architectural traditions. In the best of this tradition, historical styles were treated with respect and consistency, well constructed, and included modern technological conveniences. In the worst, during the 1980s under postmodernism, references were often vacuous, poorly built, sometimes insulting, and rarely tied in any meaningful way to its place. The critique of historicism hinges upon a tacit agreement that the normative practice of architecture is primarily an aesthetic enterprise. When regionalism is considered to be little more than an ideology of style, its central emphasis on place, on the lived environment as a unique historical, cultural and physical entity, and as a key to a fully human life is lost. ¹⁷

FIG. 3 An example of referential regionalism, the Spanish Revivalist Chapman Park Market by Morgan, Walls & Clements, 1929.

Compared to buildings and projects of the architectural avant-garde, the referential tendency of some regionalist practices has given regionalism something of a conservative reputation. Such is the power of the new and modern culture’s drive toward it at any cost, including the need for continuity. This often makes architects reluctant to promote themselves as regionalists. ¹⁸ But how is the need to respond and be adaptive to local conditions conservative?

Historian Robert Dorman defends the historicist tendency of regionalists this way:

Most regionalists were realist enough, historicist-minded enough (distinguishing past and present), to know that certain values, behaviors, and practices appropriate to a small-scale, rural, insular, homogeneous, low-technology political economy could not...find applicability in the qualitatively different and exponentially more complex world of contemporary life. Conversely, regionalists were realistic enough...to acknowledge that modernity could have its advantages in the realm of living standards and quality of life...which depended largely on technological advances (electrification, sanitation, medicine).¹⁹

So while regional practice did and will continue to involve some degree of referentiality, the historicist critique is often erroneously aimed at both the respectful and irresponsible attitudes equally. Clearly, regionalism can be more than an ideology of style. Can the same be said of the International Style?

The Question of National Romanticism

National Romanticism, as an artistic movement, should be understood as primarily a nationalist movement. Its origins lie in the older cultural tradition of Romanticism, developed by nationalist intellectuals who sought to define their nations in terms of their artistic production, language, and literature in the eighteenth century. By the late nineteenth century, nationalists sought to invent a vision of themselves that harkened back to eras of perceived past greatness. Domestic architecture and ties to the land became increasingly important as the land was thought to be the most dependable locus of common culture and therefore, symbolically, national identity rooted to place. In many cases, an emphasis on the rural life and the nation was matched by a commitment to social and democratic reform not unlike that called for by the RPAA in the United States (see Mumford, Chapter 4). But under the Nazis, what could have been a variant of a progressive regionalism was quickly de-regionalized.²⁰ Rather than having a firm basis in any actual region within Germany, its national romanticism relied on misinterpretations or distortions of Nordic legend. Its so-called homeland architecture was nothing more than invented traditions²¹ and imagined communities ²² based on the fantasy of superior culture derived from a non-existent northland.²³ So while national romanticism under the Nazis shares the tendency to romanticize the past and engage in sentimental nostalgia, the dimension of the Nazis’ error and intentions are beyond any reasonable comparison to stylistic debates about the use of the Spanish Mission style or even such unfortunate legislative actions as the Santa Fe Ordinance, which mandated the use of the so-called Santa Fe Style in all new construction in the central city in 1957.

Scandinavian architects, by contrast, managed a rather unique and inspiring synthesis of national traditions with social democracy. With an attention to site, the use of local and industrial materials, and a conscious effort to unify local craft with modern design, a tradition that persists to the present day, their legacy of National Romanticism saw its highest expression in the work of Alvar Aalto. Nonetheless, the specter of the Nazis continues to hover over regionalism. As Barbara Lane puts it, the imitation in architecture and the applied arts of an original ‘Germanic’ way of life encouraged by the Nazi regime was generally understood for what it was: an empty pretense. The Nazis’ indiscriminate application of half-timbering and thatch to buildings of all types and locations dealt a dramatic blow to regionalism and a sense of history.²⁴ With National or any other kind of Romanticism, the tipping point is twofold: first, when the myths begin to separate from factual history and/or place — when the reference is a mythical place; and second, when that vision is codified and legislated as the representative mode.

The Endemic Outsideness of Theory and Professionalization

Regionalist practice strives to establish connectedness between people and place. Any practice that acts within a system of social relationships does so in relation to a specific body of knowledge. This knowledge is often defined relative to the political and social interests of the profession that it serves. Though to some extent the training and expertise are placeless and universal, some thought must be given to the means of their localization and applicability of achieving the fit, as Rob Quigley has put it.²⁵

In architecture, much knowledge required for professional licensure is placeless and highly standardized. As such, professionalization can be seen, in part, as the development of a special class for which such standardized and outside knowledge or outsideness are key attributes. ²⁶ Architects are always on the outside of the places they establish for others. In the rare case of the design of their own home or office, they become patrons and residents themselves. In all other cases, they act as representatives for their patrons and the public. The standardization of knowledge and practice, like modernization generally, has yielded untold benefits to clients and the general public via safety and quality. But, in accepting the universal order of the machine, said Lewis Mumford, we still have the duty to make it human and see that it incorporates more, not less, of those social and esthetic elements that bind people sentimentally to their homes and their regions.²⁷ As professionals we must seek to balance the universal with the regional and be aware of our unique culpability in creating a gap between our clients and their places. At a minimum this realization should serve as a note of caution about whose view of the region should be dominant, if any.

Sarah Harding’s notion of the valuable stranger provides another model.²⁸ From feminist theory, she builds on the accepted notion that scientific knowledge is socially constructed. Her claim is that the construction of science would benefit from the inclusion of multiple perspectives, specifically those of women, yielding a broader and more accurate picture of reality. The perspective of this valuable stranger brings to her research just the right combination of nearness and remoteness, concern and indifference, that are central to maximizing objectivity.²⁹ Her critique points to the blindness that often accompanies disciplinary boundaries, which is known in media theory and technology studies as the structure of affordance and constraint;³⁰ there, each medium, whether it is a microscope, a TV, a map, or an intellectual construct such as regionalism, fosters insight into features of the world in inverse proportion to that which they reveal. Think of how in order to look through a magnifying glass you must give up the broader view.

Architects must inhabit and continuously question their own knowledge of the places in which they build and establish connectedness. Further, they must learn, as environmentalists have, that awareness of regional issues must be cultivated in the public and professional realms; environmentalism garnered public participation only when its issues were made personal through the linking of health problems to pollution. Regionalism in America has suffered from the same paradox. Any future regionalist movement must work toward the construction of a cultural and political foundation in the public mind.³¹ To do so they must engage the citizens of that region in an ongoing dialogue of discovery and awareness of regional issues, a practice that requires constant vigilance since regions are dynamic, ever-changing entities.

The Question of Authenticity

A concept central to regionalism is authenticity. As a practice of theory that is based in establishing architectural and experiential relations to places, authenticity guards against the production of inauthentic replications of regional or local architectures. The potential for inauthenticity is an oft-cited rationale for the inclusion of critique in critical regionalism; as a qualifier, it serves as a caution and a guide for those who wish to successfully build regionalist works. But what is it?

I contend that authenticity is a quality of engagement between people and things or people and places. It is not a property inherent to things or places but a measure of our connection to them. Architectural theorist Kim Dovey suggests that the authentic object or environment must be of undisputed origin, its form should be connected to its process of creation; it must be genuine, things are what they appear to be or what one expects them to be; and it must be reliable, it should continue to function over time.³² Satisfaction of these three conditions results in what Dovey refers to as experiential depth, which is connectedness without deception — when one’s knowledge of a thing or place is backed up by its reality.

Edward Relph similarly sees authenticity as a particular order of relation between people, things, and places—an order measured in degrees of participation. The more we are able to participate, the more authentic the connection or relation.³³ Lack of participation leads to a lack of direct experience, which results in detachment. Places like Colonial Williamsburg remove the real experiential possibilities offered by the place by providing only scripted experiences; much is often lost in translation. Together these forces conspire toward an inauthentic relationship with place, removing one from the reality of a place and thereby lessening one’s ability to engage and participate fully in one’s surroundings.

Dean MacCannell’s analysis of tourist experiences demonstrates another facet of authenticity.³⁴ Seeking authentic experiences, tourists participate in a structure of fronts and backs. The front is the public face of a place, and the back is the space of both privacy and functionality—where things really happen. Behind-the-scenes adventures are sought after because they promise to show the traveler life as it is lived by locals. Authenticity is determined by the degree of access. On the road less traveled one is bound to get a better view, a better meal — a more authentic experience. While many tourists might settle for a Mexican restaurant with an authentically styled interior, the savvy traveler would know the difference between real front regions and back regions. Like those savvy travelers, many regionalist architects seek to provide authentic experiences through design. As such they deal in the notion of authenticity as connectedness, participation, and the possibility of real local experiences.

Unfortunately, the real fakery of the Mexican restaurant and regionalism are often conflated by critics.³⁵ So-called romantic and scenographic regionalism is seen as trading in empty or even dangerous allusions to places. Some referential regionalist architects present fronts as backs or use the imagery or motifs of authentically regional buildings on modern buildings so they will appear regional. [FIG. 4] Like tourist destinations, which stage authentic experiences, they trade on the desire for authenticity to engender a false sense of belonging. The inhabitants and travelers are equally fooled. Arguments by Mary Colter, John Gaw Meem, and David Williams make a different point. [FIG. 5] They identify the culturally expressive role played by architecture and argue for a wider consideration of the back in architecture, one that expands its role beyond the internal discourse of architects and theorists; one interwoven with the local history, meaning, and expression of a region—with its cultural landscape [FIG. 6]; one that provides for participation, experiential depth, and connectedness to life and how it is lived in that place or region.

FIG. 4 Mary Colter, the Grand Canyon and the Desert View Watchtower at sunrise.

FIG. 5 The construction of the steel framework that underlay the Desert View Watchtower, Mary Colter. (see Colter, Chapter 3)

FIG. 6 John Gaw Meem, Christo Rey Church, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1939. Here Meem demonstrates his own sense of a modern architecture within the southwestern traditions, as this church, while smooth, soft, and planar in form, also provides light to the interior through six large and uncharacteristic windows.

05 The Volume

The following collection of essays is organized with the aim of clarifying the distinctions between regionalist theories from the 1920s to today according to both chronological and ideological categories.

1) The volume opens with Wendell Berry presenting an important touchstone of regionalism as local life aware of itself. Excerpted often by Kenneth Frampton, Paul Ricoeur discusses the plight and possibility for traditional culture and meaning under the destructive forces of globalization and change.

2) Documenting critical positions that stand alone within the discourse, chapter two is divided into four sections. The first section presents two articles, separated by thirty years, that argue for regionalism as a source of invention. The second contains critical-historical studies in regionalism, focusing on American subjects. Rexford Newcomb presents the traditional understanding of regionalism as the expression of regional differences or uniqueness via geographically consistent styles. Lewis Mumford looks at the same period but produces a uniquely polemical history and establishes the basis for what would later become critical regionalism. The third section presents a much-needed account of regionalism in the developing world, where it is a means for the preservation of cultural identity, local traditions, and local skills against the homogenization of built culture due to what William Curtis calls rapid modernization.³⁶ The last section documents the status of regionalism in postmodern society. Juhani Pallasmaa writes of the estrangement and alienation that accompany the hypermodern obsession with technology and economics and suggests that regional architecture can provide places of psychological amelioration. Alan Colquhoun’s two essays are critical of regionalism. The first posits it as a subset of historicism, and the second, as something of a fool’s errand for seeking authenticity in a world where such stability is no longer tenable. The chapter concludes with a sober analysis of regionalism in which four types are identified: folkloric, ideological, experiential, and anthropological.

3) The regionalist architecture of the 1920s and 1930s begins the rough chronological course of the volume. Many are dismissive of the work of this period as a mere continuance of nineteenth-century eclecticism. While it shares the easy visibility of stylistic reference, its relationship to the broader social regionalist movement in America sets it apart. From 1920 to 1945 this larger movement sought the cultural reconstruction of American life through the revitalization of indigenous and regional history, culture, art, and land; it was a progressive and pluralistic movement based on learning enough about a place and its past to provide lessons for the future. On the whole it did not seek a return to mythical regional pasts, nor did it have provincial or chauvinistic intentions. Rather, the veneration of the local served as a source of creativity and uniqueness — a celebration of the potential for a rich and modern life here. [FIG. 7]

FIG. 7 Map by David R. Williams exhibiting the potential and pre-existing uniqueness in houses across the United States, 1934.

Despite the strong links, the work described in this chapter has been labeled scenographic, romantic, and commercial. Such terminology more adequately describes our own historical, particularly postmodern, position than the views, attitudes, and intentions of the architects represented here. Their earnestness —a confidence we unfortunately no longer share in the wake of relativism and out of fear of fundamentalism — is not born out of naiveté but out of pragmatism. These are confident statements about architecture, culture, meaning, and history.

4) Regional planning is central to architectural regionalism. It is about revising the logic by which we develop our settings; implicating cities, neighborhoods, streets, and houses. Regional planning expands the architect’s awareness to issues that operate outside of the immediate site but that still heavily influence its life and meaning. Under Lewis Mumford and the Regional Planning Association of America, it was understood as a socially progressive practice that set out to establish a regionally relevant order that prioritized a healthy and balanced quality of life. The key, they believed, lay in instilling the public, a local public, with a sense of ‘connectedness’ — aesthetic, historical, and personal — to the place where they lived.³⁷ For architects it is an issue of scale. The interdisciplinary embrace of planning is about thinking within the larger context and is not unlike the recent embrace of larger geographies by architects concerned with sustainability. Regional planning, and in particular its new manifestation, New Regionalism, is invaluable in helping to put the region back into architectural regionalism. ³⁸

5) From the 1930s to the 1960s, architectural regionalism was marked by two trajectories.³⁹ Conflict arose out of discontentment with the emerging mythology of European modernism and the hegemony of International Style architecture. At odds were regional or soft modernists and the hard modernists.⁴⁰ [FIG. 8] Rudolph Schindler stated: the classical mode of set forms for columns, architraves, and cornices is replaced by a stereotyped vocabulary of steel columns, horizontal parapets and corner windows, to be used...both in jungles and on the glaciers. ⁴¹ Rather than foster local relevance it was intended to serve as basic formula relevant anywhere and specific to nowhere in particular — to which an indigenous American architecture suited to regional differences was an anathema. The second trajectory was the maturation of modernism into a responsive, functional, and locally relevant regional modernism,⁴² demonstrated most clearly by Le Corbusier’s Post-purism and regionalism, Alvar Aalto’s romantic Rationalism,⁴³ and Walter Gropius’s sense that modernism provided a foundation for the creation of regionally distinct work. [FIG. 9] Criticizing the International Style, Gropius stated: It is not a style, because it is still in flux, nor is it international, because its tendency is the opposite—namely, to find regional, indigenous expression derived from the environment, the climate, the landscape, the habits of the people. ⁴⁴ [FIGS. ¹⁰/¹¹]

FIG. 8 Hervey Parke Clark, De Bivort House, Berkeley, 1941. An example of regional modernism that exemplifies the aesthetic desires of both hard and soft modernists.

FIG. 9 Walter and Ise Gropius, Gropius House, Lincoln, Massachusetts, 1937. Serves as an example of a project that is both modern and regional—an attempt to redefine ‘International Style’ by its originators.

FIG. 10 William Wurster, Gregory Farmhouse, Scotts Valley, California, 1928. One of Wurster’s earliest and most prominent residential works, which exemplified for many the Bay Region style, as coined by Lewis Mumford.

FIG. 11 William Wurster, Schuckl Canning Company, Sunnyvale, California, 1942. An example of Wurster’s regional modernism.

6) The bioregional movement has been eclipsed in architecture by the ecological and sustainable-design movements it fostered. It is a theory and practice concerned with reconnecting human cultures to region-scale ecosystems in a sustainable manner, integrating ecological and cultural affiliations and creating a place-based sensibility informed by in-depth knowledge of the local natural landscape, climate, geography, indigenous cultures, and their environmental history. Bioregionalism is also a political movement aimed at decentralization and realignment according to ecological criteria instead of the present, arbitrary political boundaries that often privilege ecological concerns over societal ones. It redefines regions along physical lines via climatology, geomorphology, plant and animal geography, and natural history. It calls for a reconceptualization of architecture to be part of a functioning ecosystem, as well as a functioning ecosystem in itself. [FIG. 12]

FIG. 12 The Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, The Advanced Green Builder Demonstration House, Austin, Texas. House demonstrates many of the concepts described by Fisk. Shown here is the green form framing system (recycled-content post and beam), adobe block infill, and the rainwater-harvesting system

FIG. 13 Alvar Aalto, Saynatsalo Town Hall, Saynatsalo, Finland, 1952. Staircase leading into the Council Chambers.

7) Critical regionalism is an approach to architectural production aimed at resisting a number of physical, cultural, and social changes thought to limit the quality of modern life and architecture. It is a theory and practice of resistance that seeks to establish a dialectic between an increasingly globalized civilization and the local traditions found in regions, without resorting to romanticism or nostalgia. Aimed to resist the homogenization of the physical and the social environment, it is for the production of experientially diverse environments. [FIG. 13] It is against the casual and irresponsible use of cultural symbols, and for thoughtful consideration. It is against the use of standardized construction methods and materials, and for local materials and building traditions. It is against the sense of relativism in modern culture, and for situated, but not dogmatic, knowledge and experience.

The leveling forces of commercialization, by which everything can be devalued to a price point, are processes its methods seek to ameliorate. Informed by critical theory, its proponents hope to reverse or redirect these negative changes and continue the enlightenment goal of social liberation and the development of a rational, just, and humane society. Its methods are varied but share the concept of defamiliarization or making strange taken from Russian literary theory.⁴⁵ Critical regionalism’s origins lie in the work of Lewis Mumford and a 1981 essay by Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre.⁴⁶ Kenneth Frampton’s adaptation of the concept produced its most influential and complex development.

8) Concluding the volume are recent contributions that provide four distinct routes out of the discourses documented above. Tim Cassidy’s critique of critical regionalism reasserts the possibility of living in concert with one’s region, echoing Wendell Berry. Barbara Allen builds on cultural studies to assert the impoverished sense of culture and meaning in regional theory. Leaning on performativity and Pierre Bourdieu’s habitus, she challenges architects to adopt greater awareness of local and regional life, rather than architectural form. A socially conscious critical regionalism is sketched in reference to the work of the Rural Studio, a provocative model for regional practice. Finally, Steven Moore closes the volume pointing toward sustainability as a regionalist practice that seeks, as Lewis Mumford did many years before, to balance universal means with the needs of local places and ecologies — a balance that depends on an informed and engaged participatory and democratic society.

Chapter 1

Ideas in


Introduction to The Regional Motive

In this short piece Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer and writer, seeks to define regionalism, a term he finds in need of clarification: For I do not know any word that is more sloppily defined in its usage, or more casually understood. His attempts at illumination are integral to the purposes of this volume, which seeks to explore the terms, ideas, and discourses of regionalism.

The Regional Motive serves as a microcosm of the discourse of regionalism. From its title to its oft-quoted definition of regionalism as local life aware of itself, the text is both intellectual and experiential. The anthology that this essay originally appeared in was entitled A Continuous Harmony, a phrase taken from Thomas H. Hornbein’s account of his travels in the Himalayas: It seems to me that here man lived in continuous harmony with the land, as much and as briefly a part of it as all its other occupants. i

Berry is critical of recent scholarship that generalizes the South as a region because he sees within that characterization the process of abstraction. And what is abstraction but the achievement of distance, of detachment from real relationships with places. He suggests this leads to the worst kinds of regionalism: regionalisms of pride, based on invented traditions and selective readings of history, and regionalisms of condescension or exploitation, which use distance and detachment to edit out features of places that are not attractive to tourism or the economic forces of globalization.

Berry’s critique is primarily a note of caution to the reader, theorist, architect, or planner, that regionalism should remain based in one’s participation, stake, and knowledge of a place. It is an agrarian argument for architecture that unites cultural work with direct experience; Berry himself works the land as

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