CAA Hangzhou | Reframing Regionalism
The 6 lectures on regionalism at CAA Hangzhou aspire to reframe the readings on regionalism and position these in the post-colonial Asian urban and architectural context. As such it takes into account notions of national identity, certain types of man-made, not industrial nor international, modern architecture. The lectures explain the struggle between heterogeneous local architectural identities and the universal uniformity of expression that was one of the products of Modernism. It continues after Le Corbusier, de- and reconstructs Louis Khan.
In ‘Architecture of Regionalism in the Age of Globalization‘ Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre position their take on regionalism as an alternative to postmodernism, as work emerging in the late 1970s out of the specifics of an individual situation (the modern-anti-modern struggle) and an approach to design giving priority to the identity of the particular rather than to universal dogmas. Projects emerging out of this critical regional context deal with today’s conflict between globalization and international intervention and a most often emblematic for a bottom-up approach to design. But where critical thinking is being developed, we also need to question these perspectives.
Case in point are three Indian architects working from the 1950s onwards. The National Trade Fair in New Delhi  was designed by Raj Rewal (1934-…) and described as of importance because “through the primitive building techniques that inhibited an accurate emulation of contemporary industrialized architectural production, the notion of a distinct identity for modern Indian architecture was beginning to find expression.” The National Trade Fair in New Delhi consists out of The Hall of Nations and the Hall of Industries. The Hall of Industries consists of four space-frame structures each spanning 144 feet (44 meters). The Hall of Nations is a single space frame with a clear span of 256 feet (78 meters).
Another important architect is Achyut Kanvinde (1916-2002), considered as one of forefathers of modern Indian architecture and who studied under Walter Gropius at Harvard. He was responsible for the design and construction of several research laboratories and administrative complexes. As a last case-study the work of Balkrishna Doshi (1927-…) was introduced. He designed with his own research foundation and atelier, Sangath, in the 1980s. The complex is an ensemble of vaulted and flat roofed buildings of differing heights juxtaposed at a number of varying angles and arranged around a large, terraced entrance court. Balkrishna Doshi described his continuation after working for Le Corbusier in India as following:
“I learned from Le Corbusier to observe and react to climate, to tradition, to function, to structure, to economy, and to the landscape. To an extent, I also understand how to build buildings and create spaces and forms. However, I have in the last two decades, gradually discovered that the buildings that I have designed seems somewhat foreign and out of milieu; they do not appear to have their roots in the soil. With the experience of my work over the years and my own observation, I am trying to understand a little about my people, their traditions, and social customs, and their philosophy of life.”
(B.V.Doshi, Contemporary Architects, 1987, p. 236.)
Next to India, the lecture highlighted past and present work from Indonesia. Starting point for the 20th century historical overview was “Tropical Modernity” where following analysis of the 1920-30s was provided: “The most interesting aspect of architecture in the Dutch East Indies was the interaction between the sphere of influences of East and West: the influence of the ‘rational West’ with its organisational and technical solutions for the problems of the tropical climate.” A few jumps, juxtapositions and analytical juggles later, the lecture concluded with an overview of the work of contemporary Indonesian architect mamo [Adi Purnomo].
From “Green and Tidy” [Mark Magazine#21, 2009]:
‘I wanted to question rationality,’ says Purnomo, ‘To see if it hampers or promotes the creative process.’ The result is a dwelling with a rational structure that nevertheless leaves space for creativity. The house is set up as a series of slanting walls on a rigid grid, on the premise of catching and redistributing sunlight at certain hours of the day.
‘I started exploring possibilities by looking at the sun’s movement,’ says Purnomo. ‘It seems unnecessary, because we take sunlight for granted.’ But while talking, he steps over to a little ground level pond and points out how sunlight is reflected from the water onto the slanting walls that face it. ‘I consider it necessary to look at what we see around us every day and to be able to discover new things from that.’
A visual cross-section through some cases explored (click for sources):
In April 2012, Bert de Muynck | MovingCities gave 6 lectures on the past, present and future of regionalism – at the School of Architecture, China Academy of Art 中国美术学院建筑艺术学院 in Hangzhou 杭州.