Contextualism, or contextual architecture, is a principle of design in which the structure is designed in response to its specific urban and natural environment. In an architectural sense, context can be defined as giving meaning to the various parts of a building through reference to its wider surroundings.
Rather than being a specific architectural style, contextualism can be seen as a set of values that incorporate, not only the immediate but the wider context of the building into the design.
The context of a building includes the physical/natural factors (for example, the curve of an adjacent river), and socio-cultural factors (for example, the site’s previous use) impinging on the object, and vice versa. These factors can be analysed, adapted and adopted to integrate the building into its context.
The three distinct aspects of contextualism are:
Vernacular architecture is characterised by its reliance on needs, construction materials and traditions specific to its particular locality. It is a type of architecture which is indigenous to a specific time and place and not replicated from elsewhere. For more information, see Vernacular architecture.
 Regional architecture
Regional architecture developed during the late-1960s, suggesting that architecture should have reference to its particular physical, cultural and political contexts. It is built by architects integrating the local available resources with modern ones. This development was inspired by the recognition by architects of the importance of restoring harmony between people, artefacts and nature within a modern context.
The theory proposes that there is tension between local culture and internationalism that defies resolution. Styles and forms have a tendency to spread quickly from one area to another, leaving regional architecture to adapt and integrate the new culture.
 Critical regionalism
Critical regionalism, according to Kenneth Frampton, is a regional architecture approach that seeks universality. It should seek to adopt modern architecture critically for its universal progressive qualities, at the same time as considering and valuing responses particular to the context. It seeks to respond to the lack of meaning in modernism by using contextual references to assume a sense of place and meaning.
Critical regionalism differs from regionalism in that the latter tries to achieve a positive communication with vernacular architecture without a conscious involvement with the universal.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
What will the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) mean for you when they come into force in May?
Business Secretary chairs a new taskforce to monitor and advise on mitigating the impacts of Carillion’s liquidation.
Sir John Armitt is appointed the new chair of the National Infrastructure Commission.
High quality and high density homes - is it what we need or is it storing up trouble?
Government announces its intention to strengthen planning rules to protect music venues and neighbours.
National Audit Office reports that there is little evidence that PFI offers better value than other forms of contracting.
What is liquidation and how does it apply to contractors in the construction industry?
Scrutiny is placed on Carillion's controversial 2013 decision to extend subcontractor payment terms to 120 days.
RSHP unveil their involvement in a boundary crossing which will provide a new entry point into Hong Kong.
With PFI currently under the spotlight due to Carillion, this introductory article explains what they are.
Estimates suggest that up to 30,000 small firms could be at risk of non-payment as a result of Carillion's collapse.