Regionalism has been a predominant feature of architecture in the past. The term regionalism actually encompasses a couple of related ideas. On one level, it addresses “how local influences have been used to generate local character on a region (Pavilides 157).” Distinct styles of design have been cultivated by cultures around the world with the intent to create a unique footprint on the Earth that links the past, present and future. On another level, it addresses present architects’ response to regionalism influences. Architecture binds the past to the future so the the result is, in its best sense, an urban landscape that is rich in history and provides its society with a positive link to its past. It is a testament to this fact that many can identify an unknown city’s location in instant simply by recognizing its unique architecture. Today, however, things are changing in the world of architecture, with buildings being commissioned and designed for an entirely new purpose, one much different from those in the past. Design today is driven by economy, function and global finance (Frampton 20). By examining regionalism and understanding the powerful impact is has had and continues to have on society, it is apparent that its loss may result in future devoid of culture.
While regionalism has always been marked by change, it has historically been a conscious reflection of form and function based on the landscape, both natural and artificial. Today’s architecture, however, has severed its ties with the past and thinks nothing of its impact on the future. Instead, it is concerned with the needs of multinational corporations and the economic empire that spans the globe. These entities care not for the welfare of the society of which it is based (Frampton 21). The result of this global financial machine is a landscape that is deprived of a cultural identity, replaced instead with cookie cutter reflections of economic viability. This may have implications much more far reaching than it is currently believed.
Modern society is shaped by the past, made visible by architectural surroundings. Our surroundings identify us with our past, with our society and with our sense of self. No one yet understands the impact of growing up in surroundings that have have lost their sense of regionalism. “One has the sense that the rich seams of our cultural heritage will soon be exhausted, burnt out (Frampton 22).” This should be a troubling thought for everyone in society, not simply architects. Yet, it goes by unnoticed by many. Homeowners choose a pre-fabricated cookie cutter home over a custom built or designed home, choosing economy over cultural significance. This is a refection of the larger picture, where massive corporate chains erect cookie cutter replicas of their store in neighborhoods from Tokyo to Mexico City to Seattle. Macro changes in architecture, design and structure are producing results in the microcosm.
Regionalism is an important part of our heritage, both from an architectural as well as cultural standpoint. Its loss is our loss, and it is uncertain what lies ahead for us as a world society without it. Sure, buildings will continue to be built, to function, and to keep us dry. But what they reflect of us as a culture – homogenous and driven by capital and fiance – does not do us justice. It is in the hand of current architects to identify this issue and address it with conscious creativity in order to give architecture back its silent voice.