Critical Regionalism 101

Author: Evan Sacks

The author addresses both the content and language of Frampton’s article from a realistic knowledge seeker perspective, by offering a simpler explanation of Critical Regionalism in terms of ‘detail ‘and ‘ornament’, While passionately demonstrating his point, which is that value comes from the concept rather than literary embellishment. Editor:- Shiri Shubbar

Sydney Opera House, One of the 20th century’s most famous buildings in Sydney that can demonstrate the concept of Critical Regionalism.

Occasionally when dealing with the theoretical analysis of architecture, it seems to be a competition of vocabulary which has left its audience small and isolated. This is problematic for the general discussion and advancement of architecture, but particularly catastrophic when seminal works seem like archibabble in the public eye, creating a larger rift in the academic discussion.

This article seeks to act as a translator for anyone willing to acknowledge that Kenneth Frampton has far exceeded their comfort zone with the English language. This article coincidentally also happens to be for anyone merely pretending to understand critical regionalism.

To preface, I am not an expert on critical regionalism However I hope that my own basic understanding and close reading of the text can offer a roadmap for the general idea with less time commitment. The entire argument for what architecture can learn from critical regionalism is an argument of content. A good portion of classical architecture revolves around meticulous copying of ornament and detail. Similarly, at the time of Frampton’s “Prospects for a Critical Regionalism” architecture was grappling with suburban communities where houses repeated endlessly, sprawling out in unprecedented numbers.

When he praises the “tactile and materialist, rather than the visual and graphic”*it is not meant to contrast the built and unbuilt. Instead, it stems from the sentiment that replication is not architecture. Copying a project down to every detail, even a masterpiece does not make great architecture. There needs to be that intangible sense of truth about the project that Frampton would argue can only come from an understanding of context. A Greek temple is exactly that: Greek. It makes no sense in New York, Arizona, or anywhere other than Greece. He proposes that it is the job of Architects to understand and mitigate “…the shock of modern civilization”*on local culture.

It is at this point that we begin to see the difference between critical regionalism and regionalism. This is not an advocacy for maintaining local culture as doctrine and taking a freeze frame of what a community values. Thinking critically about what we do to support, develop, or dismantle these values across time is the goal of critical regionalism. Too much globalization, and you risk eliminating the identity of a place. Too little expansion of local culture, and entire areas can become dilapidated. It is a nuanced situation, but the main idea remains quite simple; learn to discern the ornament from the objective in order to update local culture responsibly.

     While my own summary undoubtedly falls short of Frampton’s in depth analysis and vetting of critical regionalism, but it was never intended as a replacement. Instead, this is a criticism of such arguably pretentious writing as it devalues the argument contained within the words. Frampton’s critical regionalism became a monumental theory not because of its high-brow vocabulary but instead because of its logical arguments and thorough support. Writing should be an inclusive process. Much like the architecture Frampton dissects, writing has an end user; Good writing teaches, while great writing inspires. 




1- Frampton, K, ‘on Reading Heidegger’, ‘Theorizing a New Agenda in Architecture: an anthology of architectural theory’, Princeton architectural press.*

2- Image :



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