Local Can Be Universal

Local Can Be Universal

In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote “Familiarity breeds contempt”. By definition “local” is “familiar”. Why are humans so thrilled to go beyond the familiar, the local, and reach for what is new, universal, and salvational? The word “local” has the weight of true value, like “density” or “sustainable” But the lure of connection between all humans is powerfully seductive, and that desire to connect almost always falls short of our hopes.  

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The Logic of Local is irrefutable in many things: politics, food, environmental accommodation, even aesthetics. Common sense sees the value in using what is at hand to effect whatever we do. Less carbon, cost, time, and pollution are undeniable when we employ the things we already have in front of us.

But we humans want to extend our insights, meaning, and yes, influence, beyond ourselves and our embedded cultural origins. We often lurch to seek the universal in direct denial of the local realities of who we are, how we live, and what we value.

Waves of universal religious salvation promise deliverance from our familiar lives, whether Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, or Christian. Whatever local spirituality exists often cannot compete with the promise of transcendent truth. The hope for the sublime is not found in the “local”.  But proselytizing is not limited to religion.

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"Why Did the League of Nations Fail?" History on the Net. Image © 2000-2021, Salem Media.

One hundred years ago The League of Nations was created in Paris in the belief that World War I was "the war to end all wars." The organization lasted until 1946, perhaps the last casualty of World War 2’s devastation. The League of Nations was a full-on projection of Western power that was killed when its irrelevance made World War 2 possible. The irony of attempting to universalize a world that is a tapestry of every race, gender, political devotion into a "League of Nations" seems virtually quaint now. But that overreach of World War 1’s victors had parallels.

In 1887/ L. L. Zamenhof created Esperanto: a new language that was intended to end local language. The hope was that our spoken and written differences could be bridged by a movement. It failed. Very few wanted to leave the local language they knew and understood.

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Trispectivism. Image Courtesy of Wiki commons

In 1932 Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson defined the architecture that exploded after World War 1 in the book "The International Style", and the seminal exhibit "Modern Architecture: International Exhibition" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their work defined the aesthetic earthquake that denied ornament, history, materiality, and any local, vernacular connection. The “International Style” virtually declared that “local” was a fully flawed perspective. The Future was Modern, not Local. That movement, like the League of Nations and Esperanto, was doomed to failure. Wikipedia says the style ended in the 1970s.

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© Henry-Fussell Hitchcock, Jr and Philip Johnson

I do not think "Modern Architecture" ended then. But something is ending, and not just a style. The phrase "White Architecture" was a lyric distillation of The Modern Movement as a style but without irony, those words have aptly described the profession of architecture at the time. Those who made The International Style, Esperanto, The League of Nations have come to be understood as the White, Male, 1% of the intellectual and economic elite of the 20th century.

We now, this century, have a virtual Esperanto, League of Nations, and International Style: it is The Internet. Not a toy, tool, or entertainment, the internet is as basic as any element in every life, and that connection - style-less, apolitical, without a language - is the way all life will change, including architecture. Local can now be Universal.

The world has the prospect of the first generation that was born with an Internet as present as food or sleep in their lives, a world population reaching adulthood and agency. That reality will end many things because it is what the "International Style" or Esperanto could never be: fully egalitarian, open, instant, and free connection between everyone, everywhere, now. A place without borders is "International". A place that is instant is "Modern". Neither is a "style". Those things are human constructs that used to define us

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Courtesy of Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany

Familiarity does breed contempt. What is local is relevant. The imperative to project and extend who we are beyond ourselves is a universal human reality. However, now the reconciliation between the Local and the Universal is at hand, on the Internet. Rather than define one Right way of aesthetics, politics, religion, or speech, the Internet offers one way of seeing every local reality, now.

Architecture is not a moral choice between the “styles” that humans define. Architecture can be revealed to be part of all our local lives, using materials and values that manifest themselves in the building. For the first time that infinitely subjective reality can be seen in fully objective diversity: via the Internet, where the Local is made Universal.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Local Materials. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

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Cite: Duo Dickinson. "Local Can Be Universal" 01 Sep 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/967806/local-can-be-universal> ISSN 0719-8884

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