OASE #103

OASE #103: Critical Regionalism Revisited
Tom Avermaete, Veronique Patteeuw, Hans Teerds, Lea-Catherine Szacka (Editors)
nai010 publishers, May 2019

Paperback | 6-3/4 x 9-1/2 inches | 160 pages | 50 illustrations | English/Dutch | ISBN: 978-9462084865 | $35.00

Publisher Description:
The English architect, historian, critic and educator Kenneth Frampton received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the latest Venice Biennale 2018. There is no architecture student that is not familiar with the book Modern Architecture: A Critical History (1980) of this renowned historian, nor with his essay ‘Towards a Critical Regionalism, Six Points of an Architecture of Resistance’ (1983). In this last text, Frampton searched for an alternative approach towards architecture by defining the specifics of topography, climate, light and tectonics as essential to the art of building.

This issue of OASE examines the canonical role of Kenneth Frampton’s concept of ‘Critical Regionalism’, reaching beyond its traditional interpretation. It gathers contributions that propose a new genealogy of the text, critical re-readings and explorations by practicing architects and architecture theorists that evaluate the interest of Frampton’s ideas for contemporary architecture.
dDAB Commentary:
Although it was published in 1983, The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, edited by Hal Foster, was still widely in use when I was in architecture school a decade later. I vividly remember being directly inspired by one of the essays — Gregory Ulmer's "The Object of Post-Criticism" — on a third-year studio project, but I don't recall Kenneth Frampton's essay, "Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance," being discussed much, if at all, in any of my classes at the time. This omission is surprising, given that Frampton's essay is the only contribution in the book that's specific to architecture, the rest concerning art, philosophy, theory, and writing. Perhaps I was more interested in theory external to architecture than Frampton's argument for Critical Regionalism over Postmodernism; or maybe his argument was subsumed in other writings to the extent that reading the "primary source" wasn't necessary; whatever the case, the influence and longevity of Frampton's essay is evident in the publication of the latest OASE dedicated to it.

Frampton's "Toward a Critical Regionalism" is reprinted at the beginning of issue #103 — more accurately it's presented as scanned pages from the original book, as in the second spread below. One thing evident in rereading the essay after a couple decades is how general it is; only two illustrations are included (Jørn Utzon's Bagsværd Church and Alvar Aalto's Säynätsalo Town Hall) and only a few more architects than that are mentioned by name. Eventually, as in the "Critical Regionalism: modern architecture and cultural identity" chapter added to later editions of his 1980 book Modern Architecture: A Critical History, Frampton populated his theory of Critical Regionalism with numerous built examples. With buildings by Aalto, Tadao Ando, Luis Barragan, Mario Botta, Carlos Scarpa, Utzon, and others, it's clear that Frampton promoted Modernism inflected to local cultures and materials over ironic Postmodernism. Were his words and images together a foolproof argument? Hardly, especially when reading the "Rereadings" in this issue of OASE. Charles Holland, for instance, questions the role of history in Frampton's definition of place, particularly in terms of older buildings that might influence architecture in a context but come across as Postmodern to the historian. OASE #103 is full of this and other nuanced takes on Frampton's essay, many finding holes in the original or its offshoots (e.g. the chapter added to Modern Architecture) but all acknowledging its influence. An interview with Frampton that happened in 2018 concludes the issue; it provides more context on the original essay and reveals how the famed historian sees the ideas in the text today, three decades later.

Author Bio:
OASE is an independent, international, peer-reviewed journal for architecture that brings together academic discourse and the sensibilities of design practice.
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