Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Regionalism- mature version of International Style

This Essay is explaining Conflict between International Style and Regionalism does not exist. Regionalism is the later evolution of International Style. Regionalism is a modified result of International Style. Both of this style with mentioned or un-mentioned, draw out the same ideas of modernism, stretches on “function derives form”, celebrating “less is more” clean lines in architecture and technologies that challenging Mother Nature with little or large modifications.

During the avant-garde of modernism spread out the world, critiques from people like Robert Venture pointing out the weakness or incompleteness of Modernism, which glorify “clean” aesthetic, by saying “less is a bore” to strike modernist at that time. Then, this leads to the so called post-modernism to fill up the incompleteness by borrowing elements from the past to design “more” so that it is not a bore. However, this idea did not really cure the wound of modernism, perchance this is just creating a replica architecture and therefore quickly pro-modernism people like Henry Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson (1966) counter post-modernism with 3 principles of International Style to move on to a more mature modern architecture. Their principles include “Expulsion of Ornamentation” (which is similar to “less is more”, Ludwig Mies Van de Rohe), Expression of Volume (open plan, Le Corbusier), Concerning Regularity (function and form is one, Frank Lloyd Wright) which is a summarized version of Modernism by translating famous quotes from early modernist architects. This compilation of Modern Ideas put International Style to success at the time, and spread out over the world. Although is claimed by Hitchcock and Johnson(1966) that “International Style is not international in the sense that the production of one country is just like that of another”, imitation of this style in fact is “the production of one country is just like that of another”.

However, these theories did not stand long and very soon hacked down by Kenneth Frampton, who criticizes International Style as “placelessness”.

“while we may well remain sceptical as to the merit of grounding critical practice in a concept so hermetically metaphysical as Being, we are when confronted with the ubiquitous placelessness of our modern environment,...” (Frampton, 1983, P.24)

Addition to the point of “placelessness”, International Style contributes an “Identitylessness” modern architecture. Another Kenneth from Malaysia, who is better known as Ken Yeang, presented 3 images in his book “Tropical Urban Regionalism: Building in a South-East Asian City” reveals the “identitylessness”, and Yeang (1987, P.8) state: “Style importation changed many developing Asian cities into places that deny their cultural roots. They appear homogeneous and could be anywhere. Expedient response of building global architecture destroyed the regional environments. Variety and complexity of streets and buildings with no identity and context. Skylines and streetscapes have become universal.”

Figure 1 Skyline of Singapore, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur (Yeang, 1987, p. 8-9)

From these two points, “placeslessness” and “identitylessness” reveal the incompleteness and lack of deepened meaning in International Style. This however, did not trigger off regionalists to reject International Style but critically tackle the sense of “placelessness” by injecting it with references of culture, topography and climate (Frampton, 1983). Regionalism Architecture accepts the 3 Principles of International Style but do not glorify it, use it as fundamental aesthetical design theories. Regionalism emphasises on building with genius loci and identity of specific region. In another words, a building that is identify as regionalism cannot move to the other site like Mies Van de Rohe did in his Masterpeice, Barcelona Pavilion.

“One tree House” by Design Network Architects (DNA), although did not claimed by the Architect as a paragon of Regionalism, it clearly illustrate how to create a “placeful” and “identityful” piece of architecture. The house catches the genius loci of the site (the tree), and house is planned to embraced the tree – with two wings; one for the kids and one for mum and dad, emphasises on the connection with the site which is the base/ foundation in forming the house plan. Additional to the “placeful’ architecture, the house is orientated to the Vistas of Surau(prayer hall for Muslim, which have a role like a church in a Christian community).

Figure 2 “One Tree House”, Site Plan, Kuching, Malaysia, (DNA 2008)

The building form of “One Tree House” speaks the identity of the place. The humble built form is derived not only from its function, but also respond to local climate. This house displays all the hallmarks of tropical architecture; the steeply pitched roof, the deep overhangs, sun-louvers and screens. Further, this house stresses on the identity of “kampong” (Malay village). “The simple gable roof-form of the house and its low front fence is in keeping with its neighbours, which are made up of kampong dwellings.” (DNA 2008)

Figure 3 “One Tree House”, Schematic Section, Kuching, Malaysia, (DNA 2008)

Figure 4 “One Tree House”, site context, Kuching, Malaysia, (DNA 2008)

In this paragon of Regionalism Architecture, principles of International Style did not be mentioned, however it does exist. First of all, the house could be use as an example to explain Architecture as Volumne. The house is build with concrete as the structure and then covered with glazing and bricks as the building envelope. Massive masonry load-bearing wall is excluded or even not being considered during the material choosing process. Reason for this is because of influence from International Style.

Secondly regularity rather than axial symmetry serves as the chief means of ordering design, which is also means “Function in most types of contemporary building is more directly expressed in asymmetrical form.”(Hitchcock and Johnson, 1966 P.20 & P.60) Figure below, Red Green Blue, appears in asymmetry, in different forms and they express different functions, yet strongly expressing Identity of a Malay Family, Parents Bedroom and Living room (in Red Block) have the highest hierarchy over the other spaces like Kitchen, Laundry and Kids’ bedrooms (in Blue Block).

Figure 5 “One Tree House”, Aerial View, Kuching, Malaysia, 2008.

Lastly, ornamentation element such as crafting (usually seen in Malay House), does not exist in this house. Façade kept clean as to form, and forms are formed as its function required (the pitch roof to drain heavy rain in tropical climate, and deep overhang to avoid over heating in the evening). This modern house presents Identities of the client and the region by applying essences of vernacular architecture which respond to local climate and by truly understanding the culture of the client and their community, rather than direct replica of traditional elements into the house to identify the client. In summary, regionalism does not reject International style, indeed a complement element to International Style with climate responsive element, understanding the culture of client, and embracing genius loci of the site.

On the other hand, Alvar Aalto, a Finn Architect who practices International Style in his early career and described as a regionalist later in the mature age. In year 1928, Alvar Aalto gets himself in the list of International Style with Turun Sanomat Newspaper Office, demonstrating excellent design in coherent with the 3 Principles of International Style. In the mentioned office building, Aaltor presents a clean façade with no single ornamentation element like pilaster, or Corinthian column. Adding to it, Aaltor designs a serious of ribbon windows expressing levels and volumes of the building.

Figure 6 “Turun Sanomat Newspaper Office Building”, Front Facade, Turku,(Pearson 1928)

Aalto continues to explore and experiment International Style in many of his projects. This lead to Aalto developed his own interpretation of International Style in his later career. This explained by Pearson (p.148) that Aalto is started to depart from the mainstream of modernism when he developed the four modes of changes which are, “the planning and sitting of buildings”, “the manipulation of volumes and shapes”, “the employment of textural effects”, and “the creation of special details to complete an effect founded on the previous three”. However, this is only the earlier stage of Aalto after many years of experimenting international style. Later, Pearson(p.151) personally thinks that Aalto rejects International Style and Pearson(p.151) provided evidence to support his statement which is the quote from Aalto’s statement “the trouble with the rational style was that the rationalism didn’t go deep enough”. Adding to his point, Pearson(p.151) shows an example on the departure of Aalto from International Style, which is Aalto’s Masterpiece, The Villa Mairea at Noormarkku.

Villa Mairea has clearly claims Aalto as a Regionalist. Aalto established his concern on the connection to site. In respond to “forest wall”, being natural setting of site, Aalto proposed an L-shape Plan to create a courtyard in between for summer activities. When into detail, colours and textures of material chosen reflect identity of site and the villa being a summer house within a forest setting. In spite of this, Villa Mairea does not show the rejection of International Style in Aalto’s design. The 3 Principles of International Style are still underlying in Villa Meira. Aalto’s masterpiece continues celebrating volume rather than mass. The villa is built by skeletal structure covered up by building skin rather than massive load bearing wall. In additional to this principle, Aalto indeed creates “placefulness’ of the villa by interacting with “forest wall” to create a courtyard (volume) for summer activities. Beyond this point, different forms at the façade are explaining the function of its space. The Poles supporting a protruding block defines the Entrance, and the protruding block identifies Studio as the dominant space. Though, people might claims that Villa Mairea does not have clean lines like typical International Building, Villa Mairea is presenting the principle of “Expulsion of Ornamentation” with its variety of pure form and pure texture of the material. The ornamentation applied is the natural texture of material instead of crafting elements borrowed from classicism.

Figure 7 “Villa Mairea”, Site Plan, 1937 (http://cti.itc.virginia.edu)

Figure 8 Right, “Villa Mairea”, Front View, 1937 (http://www.kultureflash.net)

In conclusion, DNA focuses on presenting Identity of the client, and embracing the genius loci in designing “one tree house”. This design scheme was formed by genius loci, local climate, client’s behaviors, and client’s origin. Although this scheme being very regionalism, traces of international style is still visible. Principles of International Style became theories in their design. Same principles for aesthetical value which is equivalent to design theories like “two points form a line” or “figure and ground” but adding approach of revealing the ‘place’ and the ‘identity’

Alvar Aalto on the other hand, undoubtedly shows the transition of an Architect, from learning and practicing International Style to then develop into Regionalism. The changes of Aalto happen when he truly understands the aesthetic of International Style and the lacking of meaning of it which are the leads to “placeslessness” and “identitylessness” in Architecture. He said “the trouble with the rational style was that the rationalism didn’t go deep enough”, strongly explains the rejection of International Style did not happen, but a deepened philosophy of International Style had born.

In another words, rather to say International Style and Regionalism has conflict to each other, indeed it is more appropriate to say International Style is the process to regionalism. When looking back into history, we understand that art movements are usually last for a few hundred years before getting mature because a lot of experiment is needed to find out the problem, weakness or the incompleteness of it. For instances, Renaissance last about 200 years from 14th century till 16th century, it took about 100 years to developed into a mature understanding after being tested and tested over again. Hence for, Modernism as like Renaissance, keep developing from the early 19th century till now, and getting to is mature after testing with new principles. These principles include post-modernism that is borrowing element from history, and 3 principles of International Style suggested by Hitchcock and Johnson. Therefore, International Style belongs to process in modernism, being tested and evolves to regionalism, a meaningful architecture.

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