Renowned architect Professor Kenneth Frampton talks about the culture and relevance of architecture during these strange times.
In your influential essay ‘Towards a Critical Regionalism’ you said that ‘Modern building is now so universally conditioned by optimized technology that the possibility of creating significant urban form has become extremely limited.’ Three decades later, we live even more so in a world of ‘optimised technology’. What is the way forward for architecture, in your opinion?
The predicament facing the culture of architecture today is intimately linked to our continuing failure to realise an ecological and socially valid pattern of land settlement so that unlike the long haul prior to the mass ownership of the consumerist automobile, we have lost our former capacity to realise spontaneously compact towns and villages. Hence the ultimately unsustainable chaos of unlimited suburban development and the reduction of contemporary building to the proliferation of freestanding objects irrespective of their intrinsic quality. The only remedial possibility today seems to reside in the field of landscape architecture rather than in architecture or urban design.
What is the relationship between critical regionalism and globalisation? In your view, does globalisation pose a threat to the vibrancy of architecture and local cultures?
Clearly globalisation has been detrimental to the cultivation of local building culture by virtue of the branding of star architects who travel all over the world to design the prerequisite spectacular works, invariably indifferent to the specific climate and culture in which the buildings are situated.
COVID-19 has forced architects to confront new challenges and face new responsibilities. Some are now designing buildings with a view to social distancing and the possibility of future pandemics. What design opportunities do you see in an unprecedented era like this?
The pandemic is surely a dress rehearsal for the imminent emerging impact of climate change. ln the last analysis all of this is inescapably political! Architects need to recognise that our continuation with Neoliberal consumerist capitalism is totally unsustainable and that unless we return to the organizational capacity of the social democratic welfare state we have no hope of surviving as a species let alone as a profession.
You’ve spoken about the importance of touch and tactile elements in architecture. Why is this significant?
The tactile dimension is a crucial aspect of architecture in as much as all building presupposes an intimate phenomenonlogical relationship between the body-being and built form. The social accessibility of architecture ultimately depends on its capacity to address all the senses.
You’ve written on the architect Le Corbusier. What is his legacy, and why has he remained so influential?
Le Corbusier has remained influential because of the breadth and depth of his creativity and thought. For example his The Three Human Establishments of 1945 is in some respects as valid today as when it was first written. Like Álvaro Aalto’s plan for lmatra of virtually the same date it envisages a dense pattern of regional urbanisation in which industry, agriculture and habitation are fused together, in a densely continuous fabric.
How would you compare the architectural sensibilities of the UK and your adopted United States?
It is possible to discern a pattern of architectural culture which rises and falls across time. In the 30s and 40s, Frank Lloyd Wright created a comprehensive environmental culture for the US and we may say that this and the Case Study Houses were the last serious attempts to render the American suburb as a place of culture. Despite the vision of C.F.A. Voysey, the English Garden City movement was incapable of serving as a comparable model. After World War 2, the successive manifestations of Brutalism and the triumphant Anglo-Italian Hi-Tech architecture was not transferable to the US.