CRITICAL REGIONALISM IN LATIN AMERICA
By Thao Nguyen
INT 415: Latin American Architecture Professor Jose Bernardi
WORK CITED Bayón, Damián, and Paolo Gasparini. The Changing Shape of Latin American Architecture: Conversations with Ten Leading Architects. Chichester: Wiley, 1979. Print. Bernardi, Jose. “Eladio Dieste, entry at the Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Architecture.” Print. Bullrich, Francisco. New Directions in Latin American Architecture. Studio Vista: George Braziller, 1969. Print. Dieste, Eladio, and Stanford Anderson. Eladio Dieste: Innovation in Structural Art. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2004. Print. Frampton, Kenneth. "Toward Critical Regionalism." < http://designtheory.fiu.edu/readings/frampton_regionalism.pdf>. Web. HALL, Stuart, "Cultural Identity and Diaspora, " in WILLIAMS, Patrick and CHRISMAN, Laura (Editors), Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, New York, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994 Hawke, Robyn. "Latin American Architecture: Oscar Niemeyer."<Http://www.inspiredspaces.com.au/uploads/latin_american.pdf>. Web. Hernández, Felipe. Beyond Modernist Masters: Contemporary Architecture in Latin America. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2010. Print. Hernandez, Felipe. Dynamic Identities and the Construction of Transcultural Architectures. Nottingham: University of Nottingham, 2002. Print. Kolb, Jaffer, and Patricio Mardones. "Chile’s Current Architectural Generation is Among The Best Anywhere. We Trace Its Roots – and Predict International Success will Follow.” Editorial. Architectural Review June 2009: 40-43. Web. Lejeune, Jean-François. Cruelty and Utopia: Cities and Landscapes of Latin America.New York: Princeton Architectural, 2005. Print. Paterson, Scott. "Critical Analysis of "Towards a Critical Regionalism"" Critical Analysis of "Towards a Critical Regionalism" N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2012.
ABSTRACT Critical Regionalism is an architectural theory first used by architectural theorists Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre. It is again raised up with a slight different meaning by Kenneth Frampton as a strategic reaction against alienation produced by the process of globalization during the transculturation happening in Latin America. According to “Toward a Critical Regionalism: Six points for an architecture of resistance,” Frampton’s notion on Critical Regionalism is about preserving past cultural civilization while reusing local resources and construction techniques in a more developed, innovative way as he questions “how to revive an old, dormant civilization and take part in universal civilization.” (Paterson, 1). It is a romantic yet challenging notion of exploring and adapting cultural history into a part of universal civilization through the work of architecture in such cultural dynamic countries like Latin America. However, to what extent and possibility that architects are encouraged to dwell in the historical past to define this unique identity of Latin America? And, is urbanization a mere pretentious act, a result of colonization, or a humane necessity to elevate the people’ lives? In this essay, I will analyze different arguments approaching Critical Regionalism and the important factors determining a unique identity for Latin American Architecture in the developing world.
INTRODUCTION Transculturation is a cross-cultural condition where one culture is emerged with several others as a part of colonization. In Latin America, the transculturation process of Western civilization spread a strong impact socially, economically and politically that evoked a revolution of seeking for identity and preserving historical traditions through architecture and design. As a result, the complexity of emerging Western architectural influences into universal design with continuous response to geographical topography as well as the social needs for urban housing and community development, has defined Latin American Architecture a cultural, representative arts that are poetic and breathtakingly beautiful.
REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE Reacting to the urbanization of society, critical regionalism opens up a new discussion for architects and architectural theorists to engage in a conflict of cultural civilization, between local and global, modern and tradition. Critical regionalism acts as an opposition to homogenizing culture from the effect of modernizing, while protecting historical continuity of traditional values and regional specialties from disappearing. Regional architecture is born with the adaptation to principle characteristics, such as engineering aspects of solving topographic condition, sustainable and cultural aspects of reviving construction techniques and exploring unusual sculptural qualities of local materials, or social and political aspects of solving community issues. In Chile for example, the thriving complex landscape with continuous earthquake reoccurrences derives a sense of beauty that defines the development of Chilean architecture. The refined language of modern architecture with simplicity and functionality is characterized by geometric plans, pilotis, free forms, and extension of roofs that incorporate the landscape into the interior. Architect Undurraga Deves presented Exalted Architecture in Capilla Del Retiro, where the chapel is elevated to fit with the topography. Undurraga Deves also created a beautiful artificial landscape underneath the large rooftop structure for natural lights filtered in by surrounding stones. Architect Mathias Klotz also learned from how the Native Indians built roads thousands years ago to create masonry structure of local natural stones in Terrantai Hotel, San Pedro. In Chile, architecture is a physical engineering tool made possible by technological development as a reaction to the world modernization and its industrialization. Chilean Regional architecture sets itself apart from not duplicating what has already been done in Europe and North America, but rather transforms the influences into rationality of solving engineering and topography issues along with the awareness of sustainability and traditional resources.
On the contrary, architecture in Columbia and Brazil somewhat incorporate more of a humanistic cultural aspect, especially in social engagement and political complexity. For countries with problems in social classification, housing and community development, Rogelio Salmona believed that, “new cities have to be built because they are necessary, but they should be built following a plan based on the needs of the region” (Bayon & Gasparini, 66). He also thinks there is an urgent need to explore the old cities with historical importance that were dead due to the slow civilization in Latin America but can be revived to achieve its function in developing the society. In his work for housing design, he aimed to break the classification of classes by mixing all social and economic groups together, and that led to a series of community services, which is one of the shortcomings in Latin America. Enrique Penalosa, a Columbian politician and New Urbanist designed a flexible system of traffic connections, bike lanes, and pedestrian pathways to reveal the poorer neighborhoods, thus connect the rich and poor areas. This system also inspires public services and highlight the human values that later define architecture in Columbia. Lina Bo Bardi, by building her first house, Casa de Vidro in the old preserve of Brazilian forest – a gathering site of poor people, led to other houses being built there later on. She introduced architecture a new concept of breaking social gap of society. “Lina Bo Bardi’s Glass House brought to light the inescapable antagonism between Brazilian dominant social classes and the minorities” (“Cruelty & Utopia: Cities and Landscapes in Latin America”, 116). In Brazil, architect Oscar Niemeyer and landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx followed a different direction of creative architecture as a support for a new city being out of colonization.
They created a series of institutions, residential, administrative, and community public spaces to serve the developing cities of Brazil. With a rich multicultural essence and being the largest home of ecological system that Brazil has to offer, leading architects realized the importance of using what is regional to the area and integrating it as a part of the new city. It is unique when architecture adapts to certain areas as it takes advantage of the regional system of sources and values as Burle Marx confirmed for landscape design, “In designing a garden or a green area one should understand what already exists, the things which haven’t been produced by man, and then create something related to it.”(Bayon & Gasparini, 48). In short, architecture in Latin America carries out its beauty in its own rationality of solving social, economical, geographical, and political problems. That is when Critical Regionalism came into place of preserving what is beautiful and essential to the formation of Latin American societies as Emilio Duhart says during her interview, “It is important to have reminders of time, of the line of development, of all the stages of a country’s history. It is part of the culture and it is just plain foolish to deny this” (Bayon & Gasparini, 121). However, economical conditions as well as political and social issues in Latin America play a crucial and challenging role in determining how the culture, further represented by architectural design and artistic activities, has developed under the explosion of modernization.
EXPECTATION FOR UNDERDEVELOPED CITIES Latin American countries struggled in the process of tracing back their historical origins due to the immensely diverse background of groups of people inhabiting in Latin America, let it be past pre-Columbian era, Andes, Inca or the invasion of European immigrants. Under a strong influence of which considered as highly developed civilization from Europe, Latin America unconsciously and irresistibly slipped into a condition of cultural and political instability that attracted the investment of businesses, architects, and engineers. Therefore, the process of analyzing and experimenting historical traditions while developing the nations toward modernization contributed to the discontinuity and fragmentation of Latin American past cultural civilization. Here, the conflict rose between a matter of modernizing the cities as an influence that the former has on the latter, or an alarming call to improve the life of the people in these countries. This further implies the differences between people who migrated to Latin America for personal issues or opportunities, resulting from a developing contemporary world; or migrations due to the need of freedom and survival. It is natural for underdeveloped countries to be in need of changes that respond to the human needs. Thus, the process of moving the cities and buildings to urbanization is a necessity process rather than a preference of choices. People who moved to the cities seek opportunities for better living, working and providing the best conditions of life to their younger generations. Rationality took place when they parted from familiar or expected solution to more reasonable, adequate solution to survive. As a result, it is a fine line between developing a society into a higher level of civilization, homogenizing cultures to adapt to what is considered as modern as following stronger influences from Europe and North America, or as a matter of improving the cities from those natural formal tendencies for a brighter future. A determination of factors that corresponds to the needs of such diversity of people in Latin America is the formation of social spaces, created by the art of architecture and urban development that will integrate human activities into the buildings and how buildings can further shape the engagement of a community. The role of architecture, in this case, is to occupy within the framework of culture in regarding to the needs of man and society, to provide accessibilities for people coming from underdevelopment in the purpose of reaching full development. According to Rogelio Salmona, â€œthe city and architecture begin to emerge from the study of a setting which meets both the needs of the people who have traditionally lived in the city and the needs of those who are arriving, [â€Ś] an integration which should be produced by the social spaceâ€? (Bayon & Gasparini, 68).
CULTURAL IDENTITY THROUGH TRANSFORMATION Another argument can be made against how underdeveloped societies naturally make a mistake of maximizing the process of urbanizing the cities without a consideration of preserving their historical background. This lack of cultural awareness comes from vital needs of living, housing, and healthcare in addition to the lack of education. In the end, Latin American countries had the opportunities to develop as an imitated version of European cities, which consequently lead to the urge of tracing back to their historical culture in order to create a unique identity in the developing world. Hence, it is hard to define a specific culture from what already existed and what is going to become. A society that is continuously developing is always under transformation, as its culture never fails to transform. The existence of history, be it discontinued or in fragmentations, without doubt can be explored and recovered, and further lead to what the future might bring. The question regarding to seeking for identity from critical regionalism here is whether recovering from what is lost, or the dynamism of constant cultural transformation that define Latin America. As Stuart Hall mentions: â€œCultural identity is a matter of 'becoming' as well as of 'being.' It belongs to the future as much as to the past. It is not something that already exists, transcending place, time, history and culture. Cultural identities come from somewhere, have a history. But, like everything that is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far from being externally fixed in some essentialized past, they are subject to the continuous 'play' of history, culture and power.â€? As a result, what are the roles of architects, engineers, and urban planners in creating social spaces for the people while having the duty to recover the past?
Cultural dynamism might come with an adverse side in knowledge of selection of dominating cultural elements that have been evolving through time and putting what is less-dominant into a position of inferiority. In “Beyond Modernist Masters: Contemporary Architecture in Latin America,” “a hierarchical structure still exists in the world of architecture, a structure which places European and North American architectural narratives in a dominant position” (18). Architects and engineers might assume or mistake dominant characteristics of a culture and disregard others for the sake of designing and applying to social and political needs. It is challenging for these cultural elements to evolve and develop each other without the process of elimination. An example for this is, although Critical Regionalism is about preserving culture while opposing to homogenizing and totalizing all aspects of a multicultural society, industrialization introduced a new economy system resulting in greater socio-economic disparity and political instability that divided the society into social classification. Architects became more aware of the economical-social classes than the actual less-dominating groups of migrations that create an impact on Latin America cultural history. Therefore, under such a rich complexity of cultural struggle and political ingredients, as Bakhtin affirmed, “architects do not need to pay attention to the numerous fractures that exist within the national culture. On the contrary, they can concentrate solely on the production of aesthetically pleasing buildings for people who, based on the assumption of a homogeneous sociocultural nation, would live, think, and dwell in the same way” (Hernandez, 118).
CONCLUSION I believe, what makes Latin America extremely enchanting is the interesting cultural dynamism through the struggle of finding their entity from the moment of being influenced to the art of influence. In so doing, regardless of solving economical, social, engineering, topography, or political issues, Critical Regionalism is not only about reviving the beauty of historical civilization but also inventing a new approach to what has done in the past in order to reach a new level of universal design corresponding to the needs of the society. Bullrich in “New Directions in Latin American Architecture” firmly recognize the works that “superseded the simple local dialect and have spoken a universal language” (18). Eladio Dieste with his work considered as an innovation in structural art, states, “The ones who invent are the ones who rule. It is not morally licit to disregard any field in life.” Dieste’s ability to surprise the audiences by creating a new characteristic to a solid, unbendable inexpensive local material into an emotional movement of curvilinear, thus, enhancing how people experience the spaces within. His system of structural art, reusing local materials as a factor implementing to social and sustainable issue, conveys the idea of elevating what is original to a more innovative approach of design that is suitable to the society. Interestingly, with highly developed countries like Brazil that push toward breaking out of cultural limitation and effect of colonization, Oscar Niemeyer works illustrate how “architecture has functioned sometimes as an escape valve for social frustrations, sometimes a gratification of the whims and political ambitions of elite patrons, and sometimes as both” (Hawke, 7). As I believe in the future of Third World countries on the verge to be fully developed, it takes into consideration an extremely important role of architects, designers, engineers, urban planners, etc in building sustainable cities that evolve extensively through time to support the human life and cultural transformation. In his interview, Salmona finally asserted, “A society that evolves in time requires an architecture that evolves in time. A society that experiences transformation requires an architecture also capable of transforming. A society emerging from underdevelopment needs an architecture that can achieve the maximum results with the fewer means.” (Bayon & Gasparini, 75).