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“How  Important  Is  Context  In  Contemporary  Architectural  Design?”  

 

ARCH  11019:  Design,  Value  and  Architecture  
Session  2011-­‐2012  Semester  1  
 
 
 
 
Coursework  2:  
 
 
 
 

 

‘How  Important  Is  Context  In  Contemporary  
Architectural  Design’  
 
 
 
 
 
Prepared  by:      
Mohd  Firrdhaus  Mohd  Sahabuddin  (S1131077)  
MSc.  Advanced  Sustainable  Design  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

The  University  of  Edinburgh  
Edinburgh  School  of  Architecture  and  Landscape  Architecture  (ESALA)  

2011  
 

1  

“How  Important  Is  Context  In  Contemporary  Architectural  Design?”  

 

Introduction  
 
Contemporary   architecture   is   a   range   of   style   of   architecture   appropriate   to  
the  current  time  period.  It  is  an  evolution  of  modern  architecture  that  connects  
the   internal   space   and   external   contexts,   which   are   optimized   for   current   use.  
Some   opinions   (as   stated   below)   reflect   contemporary   architecture   is   anti-­‐
vernacular,   comfortable   with   new   materials   and   are   not   influenced   by   the  
traditions  and  typography.  
 
‘Contemporary  Architects'  suggests  a  position  that  is  anti-­‐vernacular,  comfortable  
with  new  materials  and  non-­‐local  materials  &  forms,  using  architectural  language  
that  is  contemporary,  in  example  not  generally  steeped  in  past  typographies  or  
traditions.”1  
 
Context   is   external   elements   that   influence   an   object.   These   elements   are  
physical   and   non-­‐physical.   Roads,   buildings,   and   land   contour   are   examples   for  
physical   elements   while   non-­‐physical   elements   are   weather   condition,   local  
culture,  as  well  as  political  and  economic  constraints.    
 
‘Master   planning   starts   with   an   assessment   of   the   ecology   of   the   site   and   its  
context;  we  need  to  know  what  is  there  before  we  can  insert  anything  new.”2  
 
Thus  the  contexts  are  influencing  contemporary  architecture  design.  Design  for  a  
house   in   four   seasons’   countries   for   example   is   different   than   the   design   in  
tropical  countries.    Understand  the  local  contexts  are  important  for  designers  to  
produce  a  good  building  design.  
 
The   context   determines   the   architectural   style,   building   material   selection   and  
site   layout,   which   is   very   important   in   creating   an   effective   design.   All   these  
promote  continuity  between  the  building  and  local  circumstances.  
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________  
1.  Adrian,  W.  &  Isabelle,  L.,  2011,  Contemporary  Architects,  viewed  12  December  2011,    
<http://www.e-­‐architect.co.uk/>  
2.  Ken,  Y.,  2009.  Ken  Yeang  Eco  Master  Planning,  United  Kingdom:  John  Wiley  &  Sons  Ltd,  p.16.  

 

2  

“How  Important  Is  Context  In  Contemporary  Architectural  Design?”  

 

The  Importance  of  Climatic  Context  
 
The   climatic   context   plays   the   important   role   in   design.   Ken   Yeang   explained  
climate  context  as  “understanding   the   site   ecological   history   gives   further   clues   as  
to   what   design   strategies   should   be   adopted”.   3   There   are   three   basic   climate  
groups,   low-­‐latitude   climates,   medium-­‐latitude   climates   and   high-­‐latitude  
climates.   Each   of   the   climates   has   its   own   features;   with   the   architecture  
strategies  should  also  be  appropriate  in  the  circumstances.  

 
Figure  2:  The  different  design  approach  of  a  modern  igloo  house  in  Alaska  and  a  
contemporary  tropical  house  in  Singapore.  4  
 
Designers   need   to   design   buildings   that   meet   the   criteria   of   local   climate   such   as  
building  orientation,  types  of  material  used,  and  also  size  and  type  of  openings.  
For  example,  a  house  with  large  window  openings  in  low  latitude  climate  will  use  
electrical  energy  for  air-­‐conditioning  to  cool  the  building.  The  other  problem  will  
arise   such   as   over   use   of   electrical   power   that   consumes   more   maintenance  
budget.  
 
“Because   of   lacking   attention   to   the   climatic   design   and   depending   merely   on  
artificial  cooling  and  heating  systems,  the  buildings  are  very  hot  in  summer  and  are  
so  cold  in  winter  and  in  result  they  are  quietly  uncomfortable.”5  
 

Unfortunately,  the  improvement  of  the  technology  and  inventions  in  mechanical  
engineering   system   make   designers   so   depending   on   artificial   heating   and  
cooling.6    
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________  
3.  Ken,  Y.,  2009.  Ken  Yeang  Eco  Master  Planning,  United  Kingdom:  John  Wiley  &  Sons  Ltd,  p.16.  
4.  Cubeme,  n.d.,  Architecture,  viewed  6  December,  2011,  <http://cubeme.com/blog/>.  
5  &  6.  Nasim,  I.  &  Elahe,  B.,  2009.  Climatic  design  and  low  carbon  city.  ISOCARP  Congress,  pp.1-­‐6.  

 

3  

“How  Important  Is  Context  In  Contemporary  Architectural  Design?”  

 

 
Figure  3:  The  old  house  and  new  contemporary  house  design  in  Iran.7  
 

“Wind   catchers   have   been   served   as   a   cooling   system,   used   to   provide   acceptable  
ventilation  by  means  of  renewable  energy  of  wind.”8  
 

Iran  has  a  variable  climate  that  generally  hot,  dry  and  cold  at  different  parts  of  
the   country.   Therefore,   the   wind   towers   or   wind   catchers   are   considered   as   a  
part  of  building  form.  It  plays  a  role  as  a  modifying  mechanism  to  adjust  heat  and  
wind  flow  into  the  interior  spaces  and  make  the  spaces  comfort  naturally.9  
 
Therefore,   the   new   contemporary   design   of   Iran   Architecture   has   to   integrated  
with  wind  tower  system.  The  climatic  context  is  so  important  in  Iran  because  of  
its  geological  location.  As  a  comparison,  below  is  an  Iranian  contemporary  house  
that  adopted  the  concept  of  traditional  wind  tower.    

 
Figure  4:  The  new  contemporary  wind  tower  design  in  Iran.10  
   
The  understanding  to  the  local’s  climatic  context  is  the  most  important  strategy  
in  contemporary  architecture  otherwise  the  building  would  be  less  comfort.  
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  
7.  Green  Solutions  Magazine,  2011,  Gym  with  wind  towers,  viewed  6  December,  2011,  
<http://www.greensolutionsmag.com/>  
8  &  9.  Mahnaz  Mahmoudi,  Z.,  2009.  Analysis  on  Iranian  Wind  Catcher  and  Its  Effect  on  Natural  Ventilation  as  
a  Solution  towards  Sustainable  Architeture.  Qazvin  Islamic  Azad  University.  
10.  Cubeme,  n.d.,  Architecture,  viewed  6  December,  2011,  <http://cubeme.com/blog/>.  
 

 

4  

“How  Important  Is  Context  In  Contemporary  Architectural  Design?”  

 

The  Importance  of  Economical  and  Political  Context  
 
The   economical   context   is   related   to   the   condition   or   situation   of   a   country’s  
economy.   Through   these   few   decades,   recession   has   given   a   big   impact   to   slow  
down   the   buildings   construction   and   development.   It   has   also   given   the  
psychological  impact  to  all  practitioners  in  construction  industry.11  
 

“Economic   consideration   were   always   important   in   modern   architecture,   but   aside  
from   a   few,   exceptional   clients,   the   trend   today   is   not   only   toward   ‘cost-­‐effective’  
buildings,  but  also  toward  structures  which  are  not  aesthetically  challenging.”12  
 

Every   country   in   the   world   does   not   have   the   same   economic   viability.   This  
difference   makes   the   practice   of   contemporary   architecture   is   different   from  
place   to   place.   Therefore,   this   context   makes   the   architecture   style   is   geared  
towards  the  simple  and  clean  facade  elements.    
 
One  of  the  design  methods  that  exist  due  to  the  economic  context  is  cost-­‐effective  
construction  method.  Thus,  the  emergence  of  new  methods  such  as  prefabricated  
components   and   module   systems   have   greatly   utilized   in   architectural   design  
today.  
 
This   method   was   introduced   to   reduce   labour   costs   and   speed   up   the  
construction   period.   It   also   can   provide   best   value   for   money   and   client’s  
satisfaction.  
 
“Prefab  homes  are  becoming  popular  in  Europe,  Canada  and  United  States  as  they  
are  relativity  cheap  when  compared  to  many  existing  homes  on  the  market.”  13  
 
Prefabricated  system  makes  construction  costs  cheaper  with  a  better  quality  as  
well  as  environmental  friendly.    So,  the  economical  context  is  also  influencing  the  
contemporary  architecture  design.  
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  
11  &  12.  Philip,  J.,  1996.  Contemporary  American  Architects :  Volume  II,  Italy:  Taschen,  p.6.  
13.  Wikipedia,  2011,  Prefabricated  Home,  viewed  7  December,  2011  <http://en.wikipedia.org/>  

 

5  

“How  Important  Is  Context  In  Contemporary  Architectural  Design?”  

 

 
Figure  6:  Prefabricated  Trojan  House  Designed  by  Jackson  Clements  Burrows.14  
 
In   addition,   political   influence   affects   the   character   of   a   building   as   well.   As  
stated   by   Philip   Jodidio   in   his   compilation   book,   Contemporary   American  
Architects:  Volume  2;  “Fortunately,  the  private  entrepreneurial  spirit  which  made  
for   much   of   the   success   of   United   States   still   exists,   and   many   of   the   buildings  
published  in  this  book  were  built  thanks  not  only  to  the  talent  of  the  architects,  but  
also  thanks  to  the  open  minds  and  spirits  of  the  clients.”  
 
From   the   statement   above,   the   political   influence   proved   vital   in   the   success   of  
the   contemporary   architecture   and   creativity   of   the   architects   to   realize   a  
building  that  meets  the  client  requirements.  
 

Politics   also   plays   a   large   role   in   determining   the   direction   of   contemporary  
architecture.   For   example   in   Malaysia,   the   government   has   made   a   policy   that   all  
government   buildings   must   use   the   methods   of   industrialized   building   system   to  
reduce   the   dependency   on   foreign   workers.   Recently,   the   concept   of  
sustainability  was  introduced  to  reduce  the  amount  of  electricity  and  water  bills  
in  government  buildings.  
 
As   it   happened   in   Switzerland,   the   minaret   that   traditionally   constructed   apart  
with   the   Muslim   religious   buildings   is   prohibited   due   to   local’s   public   protests  
and  referendum.15  
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  
14.  Zinmag  Chronicle,  n.d.,  House  Design,  viewed  7  December,  2011,  <http://www.homemagz.com/>  
15.  Wikipedia,  2011,  Minaret  Controversy  in  Switzerland,  viewed  7  December,  2011  
http://en.wikipedia.org/>  

 

6  

“How  Important  Is  Context  In  Contemporary  Architectural  Design?”  

 

The  Importance  of  Computational  &  Technological  Context  
 
The   latest   technology   here   is   not   about   construction   methods   but   also   current  
technology   in   building   design   process.   The   design   methods   have   become   more  
attractive   with   the   creation   of   computer   software   that   helps   speed   up   the   design  
process  and  simulation.    
 
“Another   significant   element   of   change   which   has   already   begun   to   substantially  
alter   the   built   environment   is   the   generalization   of   the   use   of   computer   assisted  
design.”16  
 
It  assists  architects  to  understand  and  explore  new  design  in  architecture.  Assists  
to   create   and   construct   new   forms   and   also   gives   a   new   dimension   and  
exploration   to   the   designers.   The   software   innovation   happens   when  
contemporary   architecture   is   also   becoming   popular.   Thus   the   development   of  
this   style   of   architecture   has   been   more   productive   as   well   as   many  
contemporary  architects  appear  all  around  the  world.  
 
“Not   only   does   such   technology,   which   has   progressively   become   more   affordable  
and  easy  to  use,  facilitate  design  in  its  technical  aspects,  it  also  invites  architects  to  
explore  hitherto  unheard  of  possibilities  in  creating  new  forms.”17  

 
Figure  7:  Frank  Gehry,  Guggenheim  Museum,  Bilbao,  Spain.  Computer  drawing.18  
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  
16  &  17.  Philip,  J.,  1996.  Contemporary  American  Architects :  Volume  II,  Italy:  Taschen,  p.6.  
18.    MoreAEdesign,  n.d.,  Guggenheim  Museum,  viewed  7  December,  2011,  
<http://moreaedesign.wordpress.com/>    

 

7  

“How  Important  Is  Context  In  Contemporary  Architectural  Design?”  

 
Apparently   the   effect   of   using   computer   technology   in   design   process   of   the  
building   is   very   dominant   and   important   in   contemporary   architecture.   Through  
computer  software,  architects  can  understand  the  exact  situation  of  the  building  
on  site.  It  also  demonstrates  how  the  building  response  to  the  local  climate  and  
be   aware   of   the   construction   issue   before   the   construction   begins.     Therefore,  
exploration   of   the   contemporary   architecture   forms   is   very   prominent   since  
1990s.  

 
Figure  8:    Zaha  Hadid  Architects,  a  3D  simulation.  19  
 
“These  were  developed  as  3D  CAD  models  by  Zaha  Hadid  Architects  and  were  then  
imported  into  acoustic  modeling  software  by  Sandy  Brown  Associates.  This  enabled  
the   investigation   of   different   finishes   and   sculptural   shapes   to   enhance   acoustic  
conditions  around  the  stage  and  audience  areas  of  the  space.”  20  
 

Building  forms  that  were  once  difficult  to  design  now  can  be  demonstrated  using  
computer   software   technology.   It   is   undeniable   that   the   achievement   of  
computer   technology   in   building   design   is   very   important.   The   current  
technology  context  helps  to  improve  the  quality  of  the  architecture  in  conceptual  
and  practical.  For  example,  the  construction  drawing  will  be  much  faster  than  old  
methods   whilst   coordination   with   other   disciplines   such   as   engineering  
drawings  will  be  more  accurate  and  precise.  
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  

19  &  20.    Tecnicheparametriche,  n.d.,  viewed  7  December,  2011,    <http://tecnicheparametriche.com/>  

 

8  

“How  Important  Is  Context  In  Contemporary  Architectural  Design?”  

 

The  Importance  of  Cultural  &  Current  Context  
 
Culture  is  a  way  of  life  of  a  place.  It  is  the  best  way  to  accept  the  constraints  of  a  
place   and   is   followed   from   generation   to   generation.   Sometimes   it   becomes   a  
symbol   and   identity   of   a   place.   Adaptation   into   the   architecture   is   the   most  
popular  way  to  show  the  identity  of  a  place.  
 
“Contemporary  American  architects  often  make  reference  to  local  tradition  in  their  
work,   as   though   the   United   States   could   call   on   a   history   as   rich   and   varied   as   that  
of  Europe,  which  of  course  it  cannot.”21  
 
The   cultural   context   plays   an   important   role   in   influencing   contemporary  
architecture.  The  influence  of  this  tradition  has  evolved  since  the  beginning  and  
also  has  influenced  the  thinking  of  many  contemporary  architects.  
 

“To   this   day,   American   architecture,   like   the   very   history   of   the   country,   is   the  
product   of   wide   range   of   influences,   the   most   important   of   which   clearly   found  
their  origin  in  the  ‘old’  continent.”22  

 
Figure  9:  Louis  Sullivan:  Wainwright  Building,  St.  Louis,  Missouri.  23    

 
For   an   example,   the   Wainwright   Building   designed   by   Louis   Sullivan   was   built  
with   the   elements   of   modern   and   also   adaptation   from   its   original   classical  
forms.  
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  
21  &  22.  Philip,  J.,  1993.  Contemporary  American  Architects :  Volume  I,  Italy:  Taschen,  p.7.  
23.  Wikipedia,  2011,  Wainwright  Building,  viewed  8  December,  2011  <http://en.wikipedia.org/>  
 

 

9  


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