Climate. Culture. Context.
Updated: Mar 10, 2022
During my time as a student at the University of Nottingham, I was introduced to a concept in architecture called 'Critical Regionalism' by one of my professors. It is the process of design which accommodates climatic and social factors of the region where the building is to be constructed. Although I had researched this concept further to understand how different parts of the world tackle regional challenges, working with an architectural firm in the UK provided greater insight into the subject. Accustomed to the style of construction of the Middle East & Indian subcontinent, I had naturally assumed that the buildings in the UK were made of steel, concrete or other materials more familiar to me. But little did I know, a whole treasure trove of differences lay in store for me.
The primary factor that affects these regions is, of course, weather. Due to extremely low temperatures, insulation systems are integral to architectural design in the UK. While designs in our subcontinent include cross-ventilation systems, the colder regions toward the West aim to maintain an airtight environment since a great amount of energy is utilized for space heating. In fact, the UK government provides special allowances to encourage the use of heating via passive methods! Blessed with more passable weather in India, it surprises me that today, many architects in the subcontinent do not attempt to create better indoor thermal conditions.
Climatic conditions aside, I also came to learn that culture of a region is a key determinant of its architectural design. One of the projects I worked on in the UK was the conversion of a garage to a bedroom for an elderly couple. The client had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's at the time, due to which the climb upstairs to their bedroom was causing him trouble. I noted that back in India, it would have been unusual to come across a house with no bedroom on the ground floor to accommodate the elderly of the house. I then realized that this was a design decision taken based on our community culture. In the UK, where the lifestyle is in contrast, this might not have been a major consideration during the design, building or purchase of a house.
We all have a lot to learn from each other. One aspect of the European countries that is particularly impressive to me is the prioritization and effort taken to preserve and maintain architectural heritage. Working with conservation areas, albeit a lot of hard work, is definitely worth the cost of preservation of the city's image. However, In India, we often neglect to preserve the essence of our culture in the chase to 'modernize' our cities.
The concept of critical regionalism also promotes vernacular construction techniques - the use of the best from age-old solutions adapted to suit current lifestyles and times. Perhaps if we architects exhibited more priority and sensibility in this regard, we could promote global architectural diversity and all cities worldwide would thus bear uniqueness and its own sense of distinction.
As this experience comes to a close, I have realized that sensible architecture is nothing but a reflection of three factors: climate of a region, culture and lifestyle of people local to said region, and overall context.
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originally published as an article on Linkedin by Amrutha Kishor, 07 February 2019.