Code of Context: The Uneasy Excitement of Global Practice

Safdie Architects. Marina Bay Sands. Singapore

Global, the Winter 2014 issue of ArchitectureBoston magazine, out now, is an examination of the challenges and opportunities facing architects working abroad, from the Middle East to Africa to Asia. The topics explored in this issue include how to value resource-constrained approaches, honor local vernacular, and learn from the urbanization precedents set in other parts of the world. In this article, Jay Wickersham FAIA examines how in a globalized market, architecture firms can take steps to ensure that their designs act in the best interests of the foreign communities they affect.

The signs of architecture’s are all around us. Foreign students flock to Boston to study architecture, prominent buildings are designed by foreign architects, American firms build practices around international projects. Globalization has allowed architects to work outside their own regions and cultures, at a scale and with a freedom of design they might never enjoy at home. But beneath the excitement and glamour of international practice, I sense an unease. Are we creating vital and original new architectures, or are we homogenizing cities and landscapes and obliterating regional differences? Are architects helping to strengthen and develop the economies of host communities, or are they acting as unwitting tools of inequality and repression?

In Defense of Locatecture: Why We Should Move Away From Globalized Models Of Architecture

Gherkin, left. Hearst Tower, right. “Norma Foster’s Hearst Tower in New York seems less at home than does Britain’s ‘Gherkin’ in London”

“Today, European architects regularly work in the United States, Americans work in Europe, and everybody works in Asia. This globalization of architecture would seem like a good thing for us and it’s obviously good for (many) architects. [...] Architecture, however, is a social art, rather than a personal one, a reflection of society and its values rather than a medium of individual expression. So it’s a problem when the prevailing trend is one of franchises particularly those of the globe trotters: Renzo, Rem, Zaha and Frank. It’s exciting to bring high-powered architects in from the outside. [...] But in the long-run it’s wiser to nurture local talent; instead of starchitects, locatects.”

In a fascinating piece for T MagazineWitold Rybczynski discusses the limitations of globalized architecture and makes the case for “” that has a “true sense of place.” Read the full article at T Magazine.

Should You Become a Global Architect?

From upper left: “Chicago Thaws Into Spring,” “Bustling Beijing,” “Approaching London” © Flickr User CC Stuck in Commons. Image

has brought with it many things: the ability to travel, to recognize familiarity in any city, and, most importantly for us, to create trans-continental opportunity in design. It has created a platform for young professionals that no other generation has been fortunate enough to encounter at this scale. If you want to be a Global architect, to chase the award-winning projects, to work side by side with inspiring people, to learn from them and be amongst those at the top of their game, you have to be proactive and seek these people out; in essence, you have to be willing to be mobile.

Relocating for a career is not for everyone and not without risks (those will be covered later); however, having the opportunity to travel to a new city and learn a new skill set is an amazing experience we were both fortunate and proactive enough to capitalize upon. If that’s the kind of experience you seek, then maybe being a Global architect is right for you. Read on to know for sure.

Invasive Aesthetics: A Manifesto for Reviving Architectural Identity in Developing Nations

Dubai. © Daniel Cheong

We have entered an era of ‘modernization’, led by the Western world.  In our times of unprecedented demographic expansion, infrastructural development is racing to meet demand with supply. As architects and designers, we have been pressured to embrace consumerism. has been adopted as a solution to the problem.  Developing countries have equated economic prosperity and success to the adoption of ‘contemporary architecture’ in a bid to demonstrate leadership and innovation. And voila, we have a palette of sleek buildings to meet the population’s needs, as well as to “modernize” our landscape. Surely, mimicking the formula of technologically advanced countries will project us into the public eye.

Well it certainly does, but not necessarily in a positive way. It is creating a global architectural uniformity as designs promoted by Western ‘architectural gurus’ are being replicated around the world. We are neglecting vibrant contextual elements and hence constructing a generic world lacking humane facets of design.  Would it not be a tragedy if Paris, Venice and Barcelona all looked similar? Would we not mourn the vibrancy of Parisian streets around the Eiffel Tower, the romanticism of Venetian waters and the monumental Sagrada Familia that dominates the skies of Barcelona? Do we really want a world that is basically a mirror image of the US?

More after the break…