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Regionalism refers to an architecture of local characteristics like Cape Cod cottages or Mexican patio houses, prompted by climate and available materials. Where it makes few or no references to classical styles it is usually called the vernacular building, implying that it can be handled by craftsmen without education in art history. The regional or vernacular building is most often characterized by the use of a visible roof as a primary element of architectural composition; by a preference for natural materials used more or less, as craftsmen have always used them; and by effects of small, almost domestic scale even for fairly large public buildings. Kinship with modernist abstraction was usually indicated, in the forties and fifties, by shed roofs rather than gables, sometimes as a compromise with zoning codes which forbade flat roofs; by the absence of decorative detail; and by a modest use of glass walls.
The spontaneous ease of this kind of building influenced such European modernists transplanted to the United States as Marcel Breuer and Richard Neutra, both of whom gradually abandoned the white, planar abstraction of their first American houses for natural wood and pitched roofs. In principle, such architecture was to have led to a normative style of wide applicability
In practice, its opportunities were limited, until the fifties, to houses and other small-scale buildings outside the cities or in contexts essentially antiurban. During the forties, Regionalism was advocated, particularly in England and Scandinavia, as a more practical alternative to the theoretical rigors of the International Style, but at the same time, it was dismissed as inadequate and sentimental. Since there is no such thing as regional glass or steel, the argument went, how could one justify regional architecture? And how could the regionalists ever cope with urban planning? But Regionalism did not fade away, it prospered. In town and country, it has gradually extended its range to all kinds of buildings, even the skyscraper.
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