The term ‘critical regionalism’ was first used by architectural theorists Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre in their 1981 essay ‘The Grid And The Pathway’. It was later reinterpreted most famously by the architectural historian Kenneth Frampton in his 1983 essay ‘Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points For An Architecture Of Resistance’. He presented it as an ‘arriere garde’ solution to the universalism of modern architecture, or the nostalgia and scenography of postmodernism and regionalism – styles that dominated the built environment during the 20th century. The essay recognized context, topography, climate, and tectonics as integral to buildings that adhere to and enrich their spatio-temporal location while abstaining from overt preoccupation with the novel or local.
Critical regionalist architecture is not solely borne of regionalism or vernacular traditions and is a conscious effort to mediate between global and local viewpoints through modern technology, design, and planning in conjunction with local materials and construction methods as a response to the challenges of place-making. Variants of the approach emerged worldwide in the late 20th century, and many critical regionalist architects continue to exert significant influence on contemporary practice.
1. Tadao Ando
A self-taught Japanese architect, and the recipient of both the 1995 Pritzker Prize and 1997 RIBA Gold Medal, famed for his ‘smooth as silk’ concrete, Tadao Ando is one of the most eminent critical regionalist architects in the world. His buildings often employ thick concrete walls that shelter users, emphasize silence, simplicity, emptiness, and the play of light within a space. The use of precise wooden shuttering and evenly-spaced bolt holes in exposed concrete walls are trademark features of his work along with complex, engaging circulation paths and geometric, angular, or curved walls that form spaces carefully crafted for human occupation.
2. B.V. Doshi
Balkrishna Doshi is one of India’s most celebrated architects and the first among his countrymen to be awarded the Pritzker Prize. He began his career under Le Corbusier in Paris during the early 1950s and later supervised his projects in Ahmedabad. This period had a significant influence on Doshi’s style, which drew from modernist contemporaries, Indian culture, and architectural monuments – while displaying a deep reverence for nature and incorporating personal insights. He has completed projects in varied typologies such as institutions, housing, galleries, residences, public spaces, and mixed-use complexes.
3. Geoffrey Bawa
One of Sri Lanka’s most prolific and influential architects, Geoffrey Bawa is commonly associated with the Tropical Modernist and Modern Regionalist schools. With projects all across Asia, Bawa’s work features consideration for local values and materials combined with modernist concepts. His buildings employ traditional elements such as courtyards, verandahs, or roof overhangs with local materials such as clay, stone, or timber to handle unforgiving South-East Asian climates, and facilitate interaction between interior and exterior through contrasts between built and unbuilt spaces.
4. Alvaro Siza
Alvaro Siza is a Portuguese architect and recipient of the 1992 Pritzker Prize whose specific brand of ‘poetic modernism’ has constantly evolved during his career through subtle alterations. His buildings possess sculptural qualities, candour, and modesty while exhibiting an appreciation for context and the qualities of light. Siza’s work encompasses housing, swimming pools, institutions, banks, restaurants, offices, residences, art galleries, and shops, all renowned for their clarity, coherence, and restraint among critical regionalist architects.
5. Rogelio Salmona
A central figure in Colombian architecture during the 20th century, Rogelio Salmona started as a draftsman at Le Corbusier’s Paris office. On returning to his native land, he was among a group of critical regionalist architects that sought to escape the trappings of the International Style, with an approach that featured the extensive use of brick, concrete, and other tactile materials along with courtyards, patios, and the extensive use of water features. His buildings displayed a deep connection to their urban or rural contexts, attention to the behaviour of light and spiralled, curved or radial forms.
6. Glenn Murcutt
An Australian architect and recipient of the 2002 Pritzker Prize, Glenn Murcutt’s oft-uttered saying – ‘touch the earth lightly’ is the cornerstone of his approach. He runs a small practice designing mostly residential projects that build off their context to generate simple yet atypical results that focus on sustainability, and respect nature. His projects, crafted to fit coherently within the Australian landscape, are economical, multifunctional, and employ materials such as corrugated iron, glass, steel, timber, or concrete. They feature a blend of modern principles with local craftsmanship, vernacular traditions, and climatically sensitive elements that are inherently Australian in character.
7. Charles Correa
Charles Correa was an Indian architect, activist, urban planner, and theorist. He was a pivotal figure in Indian architecture post-independence, acclaimed for his responsible and contextually sensitive approach that combined modern concepts with vernacular elements. His projects utilized courtyards, terraces, spaces open to the sky, local materials, and passive cooling techniques – all part of historic Indian building traditions. Correa’s oeuvre ranged from luxury high-rise condominiums, hotels, museums, or monuments to institutions, religious buildings, and affordable housing. He was the recipient of the 1984 RIBA Gold Medal as well as the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1998.
8. Alvar Aalto
As one of Finland’s most influential architects, Alvar Aalto’s career saw a gradual stylistic evolution from Nordic Classicism and Functionalism to an experimental, regionally influenced modernism, with a phenomenological approach to design that possessed a distinctly Finnish character. Aalto eschewed the machine aesthetic common among his contemporaries and favoured organic materials like brick, stone, or timber. He was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in 1957. Kenneth Frampton categorized Aalto’s Säynätsalo Town Hall in his essay among the work of 20th-century critical regionalist architects.
9. Mario Botta
A prolific Swiss architect, known for his towering, strongly geometric style, Mario Botta began his career working under Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. His projects include places of worship, banks, schools, libraries, museums, and residences. Botta is famed for his incorporation of local vernacular traditions and materials in projects, aligned with the principles of critical regionalist architects – most evident in his extensive use of brick. His buildings exude a lightness that contrasts his use of heavy materials, with strong references to underlying traditions within western architecture.
10. Rafael Moneo
Rafael Moneo is a Spanish architect and recipient of the 2003 RIBA Gold Medal and the 1996 Pritzker Prize, noted for his ability to project a sense of timelessness into buildings. He initially worked under Jorn Utzon and Alvar Aalto before returning to Spain. Moneo’s buildings are highly contextual and draw from local precedents while employing decidedly modernist stylings. His work spans research facilities, museums, places of worship, cultural centers, and institutional buildings that vary in style depending upon contextual requirements.