Sustainable Architecture: Universalism vs Regionalism

To many Architects, it is definitely a load of stressful baskets to include what they should be aware of their design. One aspect is locality identity. Well, I suppose it’s one great debate and stirring thoughts that often leads to controversial topics or paradox instead. We see this happening after the Second World War period where a lot of nations just want the quantity and mass building shelters for their population. Then we have Prefab systems coming in (IBS Industrialized Building Systems) to support the large quantity of housing demand. And because of prefabs, details are not paid attention to.  Then today, we are starting to talk about Sustainable Design and particularly local identity.

Just for example for a skyline. The monotonous building design of modern age, central city of Singapore. Universal designs tend to erodes cultural perspectives in every locality. This design generally has planted in building laws and systems that made local architecture or materials out of the drafting tables. As a tropical country, we were once so attached to wood building and now we are talking about Concrete at the common note. Designs are based on Climate, Geography, and Culture, but why do we have such sights?

The reason for this universalism is the adoption of residential regulation from the developed countries to the north as a standard. We rely on technology as long as the design obeys the building codes and regulations. this Universalism concept goes well with the mass produced housing needed to cater the nation’s need, but unlike for the regional concept which has limitations and has been retarded by the demand of the government.

Universalism: The Global Destruction

Many scholars expressed their concern.The real people in these houses and towns become standardized termites or, within a “housing machine”, foreign bodies, still, all too organic ones, so remote is all this from real people, from home, contentment, and homeland.

I think it’s just rude to come in and tear of a building and build one ugly block and not living a piece of the corner for any respect of the past. Architecture is an art of building that allows people to transcends from time to time, an object that has memories as well.

Frampton (1985) stated that universalism is an international style which generates a limited and vague urban form. The process has eroded regional identity and has replaced it with universal symbol that does not respect the physical and socail background of a region.

The Rules that rules the System.

Housing developers believe mass-produced construction is the best because it is easier to build within the housing regulations at minimal cost. There is also a suggestion that contemporary house variation which are compatible with prefab materials at a lower cost.These batch produced materials can be used in various house sizes and shapes. It’s actually a suggestion by Segal of “Metric Housing ” by the National Building Agency of UK. Its a time and material-efficient system, but what’s stopping us is that we already have our system fixed.

The present codes and regulations in Malaysia do not permit house additions without permission from the local authority. This is centralized for a wealthy family but complicated for middle and low-income family. It is good to prevent urban scrawl.. but has made it minimally feasible for the poor to have house additions. ( Note that our traditional houses concept has allowed expanding space for future generations). The regulations should provide chance rather than a restriction in order to “encourage the discovery of new solutions without endangering safety and health” so that socio-economic performance standards could liberate us from the tyranny of socioeconomic homogenisation.

The Users

I mentioned that this issue isn’t much concern to many people, even Architects as well as we are daily engraved into our task with the designs that are innocent of any awareness. What matters to users is what matters to the Eye. Interior Designing will reflect all the nice tiles and materials.. and nice couch will just satisfy the user.. they will never really notice the space, orientation, and ventilation, until when they realized, then there goes air conditioning, and massive curtains. This is the reality.


The attention given to revive building in a regional context is critical since we have so many environmental issues, global warming, industrial pollution. In this case, it is important for every region to retain its own identity while experiencing the process of becoming modern and civilized. Sustaining any kind of authentic culture in the future will depend ultimately on our capacity to generate vital forms of regional culture while appropriating alien influences at the level of both culture and civilization.

Konya wrote in Design Primer for Hot Climates:

Every Continent has its own great spirit of place. Everyone is polarised in some particular locality, which is home, the homeland. Different places on the earth have different vital effluence, different vibrations, chemical exhalation, polarity with different stars, call it what you like, But the spirit of place is a great reality.

Critical Regionalism is the architecture of resistance to universal concept BUT NOT to technology. We have to admit the fact that technology improves designs and understandings to nature. We could redefine the identity of a region, then apply contemporary materials, tools and construction method, based on technological reason.  

The Paradox

But one of the well example that could reflect how this is affected by economy value is looking at the Authenticity of our traditional houses that made tourism important. Traditional Design becomes the model for tourist resorts and hotels. The purpose is to create an environment of the past for tourists. These designs mainly located off urban and at shore or tropical areas resembles the local traditional architect for its materials and recognizable details. Tourist come here to visit and experience, the resort is a symbol of excessive influence, a place to offer a local atmosphere and design. And in this way, resort is never done by budget when it’s planned for an excessive design of local traditional look building because ultimately the design is the asset.

Sometimes many people ask me, how to be different, to be better. I said everyone is equal, we are different in our ways, we have our cultures, identifications. One of it is this, Architectural identity, Malaysian is losing it. Universalism has a part to be blamed. So where exactly are we? 

 Credits to my lecturer Dr. Sanusi for his inspiring research book that has helped in this post.