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Last edited 07 Sep 2018
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.
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 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.
 Find out more
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- Constructivist architecture.
- Design principles.
- Empirical design.
- Form follows function.
- International Style.
- Landscape urbanism.
- Modernist architecture.
- Monument and context.
- Polite architecture.
- Truth to materials.
- Urban design.
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