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Monday, November 05, 2007

Book Review: Architectural Regionalism

Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity and Tradition edited by Vincent B. Canizaro

The term "architectural regionalism" seems to say something without really saying anything in particular. It connotes a way of approaching building design through an awareness and appreciation of its regional context, though this approach can be as varied as the personalities producing and writing about architecture. How one carries this attitude, if at all, into a work of architecture is subject to such a large number of variables -- as is how one defines a region or the context to which the architect should respond -- that a means to guide one through the concept of architectural regionalism seems appropriate, if one accepts the contemporary relevance of the notion.
This book is the closest thing to a guide to the various ideas falling under the rubric architectural regionalism, though of course it is more than that. It is a collection of seminal, important, and/or otherwise unpublished writings on the subject in its various aspects: critical regionalism, history, style, planning, ecology, Modernism, and more. This list makes the task of choosing and assembling the essays seem a bit daunting, but professor and architect Canizaro succeeds in not only presenting a thought-provoking and varied collection, but in offering a clear and intelligent introductory essay, as well as short introductions to each writing.
A few of the stand-outs of the 40+ essays include: Wendell Berry's brief stab at defining regionalism, what Canizaro calls a "microcosm on the discourse of regionalism"; Juhani Pallasma's piece in reaction to the "processes of globalization and commodification"; Benton MacKaye's plan for the Appalachian Trail (a stand-out for me as I camped near and walked the trail for the first time around the time of reading this book); and of course an essay by Kenneth Frampton on critical regionalism, which layers critical theory over considerations of regionalism. Regarding the last, what perhaps may be the most valuable essay in the book is Anthony Alofsin's unpublished essay called "Constructive Regionalism," what may be the root of critical regionalism, as it was written while Alofsin was a student of Liane Lefaivre and Alexander Tzonis, and before these teacher's text that sparked this intellectual approach to architecture.
Canizaro admits in his introduction that he "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." Perhaps this collection will guide others in the various ways to think of these considerations, as well as the unfolding reconsiderations taking place as architects deal with a situation that calls for a change in practice.

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