The Architectural Identity of Places
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The Architectural Identity of Places

One of the important themes that have dominated the architectural scene during the last 40 years is the question of regional identity. Architects recognised that the creation of a regional style was a priority to establish their own identity rather than copying modern styles alien to the environment of their countries.

One of the important themes that have dominated the architectural scene during the last 60 years is the question of regional identity. It has been dominated by disputes that turn around questions of style. Although architects have been looking worldwide for new ideas and models from the first world, many architects recognised that the creation of a regional style was a priority to establish their own identity rather than copying modern styles alien to the environment of their countries.

In the second half of the twentieth century many countries specifically, the developing world has been invaded by successive architectural movements such as, Rationalism, Metabolism, Contextualism, and Deconstructivism. All these foreign influences have created architecture peculiar to their places. Modern-style buildings appeared in great numbers and came to define entire city skylines during the 1960s and 1970s. When Post-modern movements with its different styles appeared in the 1970s, it has been welcomed by many people because of their deliberate references to the past, use of ornament, and surface detailing although often they have been little more than mundane buildings embellished with superficial surface decoration.

Christian Norberg Schulz, an architectural philosopher, argues that human life has always been related to things and places and that human beings posses a sense of belonging to and identity with these places. He pointed out that “the loss of things and places makes up a loss of 'world'. Modern man becomes 'worldless', and thus loses his own identity, as well as the sense of community, and participation”. Like Norberg Schulz, Charles Jencks, an architectural historian, argues that "Architecture is 'built meaning'. We may speak or write our thoughts… but architecture reveals what we believe, how we want to live… it fatefully expresses who we are".

The architectural approach of regionalist or traditionalist architects’ has been close to Norberg Schulz’s concept, as well as Jencks’ viewpoint. They did not indulge themselves in pale imitations of modern glossy buildings, but they have been searching for a regional identity which does not rely on European culture. They also did not ignore the design principles, styles, and traditional detailing of buildings of the past in favour of pure abstract design. They respected old buildings and the important lessons inherent in them. For them old buildings are valuable because they are an amalgam of the technology, client needs and functional requirements of a particular point in time.

Regional buildings embody and express cultural and social meanings which relate them to their wider context. These buildings played a crucial role in defining people’s sense of identity as well as their scrutiny of local materials, and the effects of economic constraints. Certainly the question of identity is such that it can never be finally settled; it will remain open and architecture will remain the continual field that attempt to provide a logical answer.


1. Christian Norberg Schulz, Architecture: Meaning and Place. New York, 1986, p.12

2. Charles Jencks, The Architecture Of The Jumping Universe. London, 1995, p.13


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Comments (17)
Ranked #11 in Architecture

This reminds me of our local Metropolitan Theater which was abandoned maybe two years or more, and I was thinking of writing about it. Wonderful discussion here.

Yes Ron, many of the local and regional architecture were threaten by the alien architecture to the place. thanks for your valuable comment

Interesting work, with a fashion background I'm always saying that fashion is about so much more than clothes; it's a reflection of life and as you say the same applies to architecture.

Thank you Kimberley for your appreciated comment and this is true as fashion and architecture are always an expression of the way of life of people, their culture and tradition.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Very preceptive analysis, thank you.

It makes you wonder how new technology will change our identity... will solar panels rule the skyline of houses or will we go back to designing buildings with intricate detail which are a joy to look at? It seems a shame that more and more modern buildings just look ugly and pale in comparison to their historical counterparts.

I like "Architecture is 'built meaning'...". Very interesting and insightful article.

What a brillant piece of work.

Thank you Martin for your kind comment

As Kimberley said about fashion, learning a language is about learning the culture too, just as you say about architecture. many things are related

Voted up. Excellent piece of work

the idea of place and place making through identity is always a fascinating topic.... very well presented article... thank you moniem

Thank you Mervat for your thoughtful comment

I second Ann's comment re technology and how lacking in imagination and style many modern buildings (in the West anyway) look. This is a wonderful article on a subject I really know nothing about but am deeply interested in. I do think the balance between staying true to your architectural roots and venturing forth into global styles is a delicate one. Excellent work :D

Thank you Norma for your comment and yes this is true that "venturing forth into global styles" is really very sensitive and one should be aware of the context, culture, and tradition of the region he/she intends to work in.

A brilliant discussion. Heritage conservation is essential. We learn so much from the past and in particular from architecture. Thank you Abdel.

Thank you very much Francois for your thoughtful comment, and you are true we need to go back to the roots and the work of our ancestors to learn more about their cultures and traditions and try to preserve them.