In so many ways, the world has never been smaller than it is right now. From global trade and long-haul flights to Facebook and Google, systems operate across every continent with less friction than ever before. This paradigm shift from local to global is also evident within architecture, where buildings influenced by the International style continue to rise at an incredible rate in metropolises around the globe. As glass and steel towers proliferate and each city begins to look like the next, many in the profession are grappling with a fundamental question: Are vernacular construction methods, materials, and styles in danger of dying out?
“That’s a very important question, if not the most important of our time,” says architect Chris Precht, founding partner of international firm Penda. It’s an issue that Precht has had to consider ever since his studio was born in 2013. Despite its small size, the firm works at an international scale, with projects under way throughout China, Israel, and beyond. Precht is concerned by the increasing homogeneity of the urban landscape, pointing the finger squarely at capitalism as the key driver of this phenomenon. “It doesn’t matter if you look at New York, London, or Beijing; the buildings look and function the same way,” laments Precht. “They are composed of cores surrounded by expansive real estate. It is the age of capitalism; the money is in building, not in architecture. If all our buildings look the same, how can anyone be inspired by them?”
But Precht believes that it all is not lost. “It is up to a new generation of architects to question the status quo,” he said. Penda is leading the way in this respect – Precht and his team rigorously analyze the context of each new project, studying its cultural, social, and artistic influences before lifting a pencil or switching on a laptop to begin drawing. “We ask ourselves questions: What are the strengths of the local builders? What is the local material? What are traditional building methods?”
Top: the Tel Aviv Arcades by Penda. Above: Penda’s Snow Apartment features plaster by local artisans.