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Last edited 27 Jun 2021
Contextualism, or contextual architecture, is a process in which a structure is designed in response to its specific urban and natural environment. Rather than being an architectural style, contextualism can be seen as a set of values that incorporate, not only the immediate but the wider context of a building into its design.
In an architectural sense, context gives meaning to parts of a building by reference to its surroundings. The context of a building includes physical/natural factors (for example, the curve of an adjacent river), socio-cultural factors (for example, the site’s previous use) and so on. 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 a particular area. It is a type of architecture which is indigenous to a time and place and is not replicated elsewhere. For more information, see Vernacular architecture.
Regional architecture developed during the late 1960s, suggesting that architecture should have reference to its physical, cultural and political contexts. It involves integrating traditional, local resources with modern ones. It was inspired by recognition 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. 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 adopts modern architecture critically for its universal, progressive qualities, whilst at the same time considering and valuing responses particular to the context. It seeks to respond to the lack of meaning in modernism by using contextual references to create a sense of place. 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.
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