People live today in a world where history and technology overlap and intertwine. They live in homes that are made of stone and wood but rely on electricity, natural gas, running water and sewer systems. They sit in old wooden chairs, typing on a computer that is connected to the whole world through fiber lines and wireless networks. They modify and edit on the computer the text they wrote in a bound book with a fountain pen. All of these things they do while drinking a beer that has been made in England the same way since the American revolution, listening to a livestream of some guy in Russia, and watching the embers die in the fireplace. Architecture should reflect today’s layered lifestyles.
Architecture should be a reflection of the time and place of its inception and existence. The idea presented in science fiction and from architects of the recent past that the built environment should be universal, completely modern and forget the past is no longer. The idea that we should build exact replicas of our past is fading. Architecture should combine and assimilate modern technology and planning techniques with vernacular forms and materials in a way that is both familiar and inspiring. The average joe should be able to identify a building that is good while the architecturally enlightened should be able to read the same building by the vocabulary that is used. These ideas should be the inspiration of a new universal design paradigm.
The historical use of the term universal design carries with it a stigmatism of a time and thought process that is currently out of favor, though the idea had a tremendous impact on the built environment. The idea that any building could be anywhere in the world and function for any purpose (all within reason of course) was a huge shift in thought. Unfortunately, this idea carried with it an industrial basis of design that was not totally appropriate for all of the environments that it was inserted. If architects of today were to embrace the enthusiasm for technology that early modernists had and weave that enthusiasm through and merge it into the forms and materials of the local environment, a new universal design paradigm would be created that is consistent from region to region but creates architecture that is unique to each locale.
Why is it important that architecture add to a local character? As the world becomes smaller, there are less and less physical built structures that express a unique sense of place. LA, New York, Montreal, Tokyo, Seoul and many other major metropolitan areas look very similar. As geography is gobbled up at an increasing rate, the natural physical environment can no longer be counted on to provide a sense of place. That leaves the built environment to provide the variety and the sense of belonging to a real place that is craved by humans.
Using vernacular forms and materials as a basis or inspiration for architecture draws from the spirit of a place. Using the thoughts of people from the past, who had to use structures to protect themselves, modify the climate for comfort and do these things with the available materials of the locale, can add value by ultimately creating a unique identity for a place.