Critical Regionalism is the cure for Modernism’s ailments

A look at then and now: Farnsworth House and Bethells Bach

It is the 21st century Architect’s responsibility to find balance between the functionality of our structures, their meaning in our time, the effect on our future and the human experience of space.

The Modernist Architectural movement (known as ‘The International Style’) solved numerous problems that were plaguing the world’s cities at the time. Modernism brought us many unanticipated successes such as ‘modular construction’, ‘cantilevers’ and ‘the open-plan’. But the Achilles heel of The International Style is its disconnect with the environment and its inability to engage with fundamental aspects of the human spirit.

Humans, as emotional, cultural and dynamic beings, have typically rebelled against the cold and unresponsive spaces that were produced under the guidelines of the ‘International Style’. Examples of such rebellions include the destruction of the Pruitt–Igoe Urban Housing Project, the FBI abandoning the J Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, and similar responses to the inhospitably or indifference of buildings like the Fransworth House.

“Designed by Mies van der Rohe, […] the Farnsworth House is a representation of both the International Style as well as the modern movement’s desire to juxtapose the sleek, streamline design of Modern structure with the organic environment of the surrounding nature. […] Debates and lawsuits questioned the practicality and livability of its design.” The National Trust for Historic Preservation

Today’s Architects have made strides in designing more phenomenological and contextually responsive spaces. Increasingly so, Architects are lessening society’s environmental impact and creating buildings that enhance their surroundings.

Examples of such designs include the Kogelberg Nature Reserve facilities, Tolo House by Alvaro Siza, Beaux Arts Residence by Cutler & Anderson Architects, and more recently, Bethells Bach by Herbst Architects.

Bethells Bach is situated in a wild landscape. The building’s form adheres to similar guidelines as those set out by the Modernists, yet a sense of hearth and home is elicited here through the use of natural materials and warm hues. Form follows function where it must (and rightfully should), but in spite of its high degree of functionality, in this design, the building does not stand proud of its environment.

Bethells Bach  not only allows itself to tie into and be influenced by its context, but the line between natural and man-made is blurred as the spaces flow through their thresholds. In humbling itself to the sensitivity of nature and the human experience, the design becomes exceptional.

“A covered deck positioned around a fireplace at the front creates an active, informal and social entry experience. […] Timber batten screens provide protection from the wind, and a central courtyard (with volcanic rocks and planting) allows ample daylight into the lounge – whilst allowing for the doors to be left open in varying weather conditions.” Herbst Architects

The purpose of Architecture is to create shelter within an existing context. Good Architecture finds meaning in more that just programmatic responses or the adherence to rigid theoretical guidelines. Great Architecture captures the essence of human nature and allows temporal informants (such as socio-economical, cultural and environmental concerns) to be the driving force behind every design decision.

Sources:  The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Herbst Architects

Read more at The National Trust for Historic Preservation here and at Herbst Architects here