There have been different styles and movements in architecture over the centuries. Regionalism refers to architecture that is specific to a particular region. It is derived mainly through a response to local climate, context, and topography. It is traditional and often rooted in years of vernacular practice. Regionalism-based design is an outcome of the specifics of that region, its climate, materials available, skills available, culture, and lifestyle. There are, however, some key differences between regionalism and critical regionalism. 

In the early 1980s, architectural theorists Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre defined the concept of critical regionalism. The architectural theorist Kenneth Frampton proposed critical regionalism as a solution to the increasing trend of generic architecture designs used across the globe. He emphasised the need to factor in regional considerations while implementing global solutions.

The main idea inherent in the concept of regionalism is context-specific architecture. This, in turn, is based on knowledge of the history of a place, climatic conditions, concerns, materiality, topology, ecology, environmental conditions, culture and traditions, skills, tools, and technology available in a particular area.

The driving idea behind Critical Regionalism is resistance to the standardisation of Architecture. The increasing standardisation is a modern phenomenon caused by globalisation. An architect working in New York can design for a college in semi-urban Haryana. A multinational corporation can ensure homogeneity (and save on design costs) in its offices across Singapore, Mumbai, London, and San Diego. Construction components can be prefabricated and transported. Dependence on local materials such as marble, sandstone, terracotta, and laterite is reducing. Mega-construction projects have stopped incorporating local craftsmanship.

Standardised, generic architecture creates a sense of placelessness where buildings look and feel the same, irrespective of location. Another architectural trend was about structures carrying distinct hallmarks of individualism or ornamentation without context. Most of these structures failed to respond to local contexts, such as the climate, lifestyles, and culture and had a high environmental cost. They did not blend with the local milieu and were visually jarring.

Critical regionalism aims at finding a middle ground between the advantages of modernism and being true to local contexts.

Understanding Critical Regionalism

Hence, to be a critical regionalist, the designer should strive at balancing the advantages of working in harmony with site conditions and taking cues from contemporary architecture. It is more of a philosophy, a way of looking at architecture, which varies specifically from project to project, rather than a style defined by specific design features, typologies, etc. 

The architectural theorist Kenneth Frampton wrote extensively on regionalism and critical regionalism. Two of his essays, “Ten Points on an Architecture of Regionalism: A Provisional Polemic” and “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance”, firmly explain the need for critical regionalism. The main points he covers in these essays are related to the challenges of balancing local and global requirements and conditions in architecture. Frampton compares these dichotomous practices to oppositional twins. One twin represents regionalism’s human and local experiential factors, such as natural characteristics, environmental and cultural factors, local geography, and materials. The other represents generic, global factors such as space design, information, artificial lighting, airflow, ergonomics, and visual communication. He proposes critical regionalism as the juxtaposition of these twin factors.

What is the difference between regionalism and critical regionalism? - Sheet1
Book by Kenneth Frampton_

The principles of critical regionalism emphasise design that suits the local context instead of transposing existing elements and superimposing them on any landscape. However, it recognises the possibility of reusing architectural objects completely. Instead, it proposes re-thinking the usage of the same elements in a local context. Critical regionalism promotes the concept of tactile sensitivity combining global influences and regional elements to enhance the experience of a space.

Importance of critical regionalism 

It is crucial to recognise universality in architecture. It is also critical to respect local building traditions specific to different regions. Beyond a certain extent, functionality as the key driving force in modern architecture can be limiting in design. Due to increasing globalisation, architecture is becoming more standardised and homogeneous. Although it has benefits in terms of ease of relocation, reduced need for redesign, and economy of scale, there are issues with adaptability and human experience.

Critical regionalism provides a guideline for integrating local elements not just to oppose the commodification of architecture but to create more sustainable, appropriate, and adaptable structures. For example, contemporary designs can be customised to suit regional bioclimatic requirements using local materials and traditional knowledge.


Some of the key elements of Critical Regionalism are

  • The design is sensitive to the climatic conditions of the place and aims at maximising the benefits of light and airflow while considering the cooling or insulation requirements.
  • The design uses local materials optimally.
  • The design causes minimum impact on the ecology of the region.
  • The design considers the characteristics of the region where a building is situated.
  • The design incorporates the building traditions of the region.
  • The design respects its users’ social and cultural traditions and lifestyle requirements.
  • The design uses technology to enhance structures’ comfort, usability, and sustainability.

Well-known Architects Who Practiced Critical Regionalism

Some well-known architects who practised critical regionalism are Tadao Ando, BV Doshi, Geoffrey Bawa, Alvar Aalto, and Charles Correa

Since architectural education in India began with the inherited westernised curriculum, many Indian architects imbibed modernism as a part of their education. To counter the impact of generic architecture they encountered around them, some of India’s leading architects started implementing the principles of critical regionalism. Architects such as B.V. Doshi, Charles Correa, and Raj Rewal used critical regionalism to design environmentally sensitive and locally relevant buildings.

The Artist Village, designed by Charles Correa, the CIDCO Housing project by Raj Rewal, and the Aranya Low-Cost Housing development by B.V. Doshi are examples where the architects used critical regionalism to design economically viable and environmentally sustainable projects.

What is the difference between regionalism and critical regionalism? - Sheet2
Aranya low-cost housing project_

The prolific Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa is associated with the Tropical Modernist and Modern Regionalist Schools of Architecture. His projects across various countries exhibit modernist design while using local materials and incorporate a good understanding of local traditions, environment, and constraints. 

Lunuganga by Geofferey Bawa_


Bahga, S., & Raheja, G. (n.d.). An account of critical regionalism in diverse building types in postcolonial Indian architecture. Elsevier Enhanced Reader. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from 

Cutieru, A. (2021) Re-evaluating critical regionalism: An architecture of the place, ArchDaily. ArchDaily. Available at: (Accessed: December 12, 2022). 

VĀStu Shilpā consultants (no date) Sangath. Available at: (Accessed: December 13, 2022). 


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