Important Tradition And Current Practices Cultural Studies Essay

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There are various organisations and current practitioners that highlight the importance of traditions and support the cause of the conservation and continuity of the traditional practices in contemporary contexts.

The Charter of INTBAU (International Network of Traditional Buildings Architecture and Urbanism) outlines a few of the above mentioned principles.

The Charter states that

"Traditions allow us to recognise the lessons of history enrich our lives and offer our inheritance to the future. Local, regional and national traditions provide the opportunity for communities to retain their individuality with the advance of globalisation. Through tradition we can preserve our sense of identity and counteract social alienation. Traditional buildings and places maintain a balance

with nature and society that has been developed over many generations. Traditional buildings and places can offer a profound modernity beyond novelty

and look forward to a better future."

Extracts of the Charter of INTBAU

In addition there are other movements such as the Congress for New Urbanism that are directed towards combating urban sprawl and creating walk able neighbourhoods. This movement emerged in the 1980s that focused on the way to recreate what were felt to be the best physical qualities of traditional neighbourhoods and small town and thus was initially referred to as "Traditional Neighbourhood Design". It also speaks of ideas such as the erosion of the societies built heritage as one interrelated to community building challenges and preserving of built legacy. Laurice & Macdonald, (2007)

Thus we observe that traditional forms serve as a source of inspiration to the current practices in the development of sustainable neighbourhoods and communities.

"Applying valuable lessons from the past to the modern world, the Congress of New Urbanism outlines principles for building better communities, from the scale of the region down to the block."

Charter of New Urbanism

2. Importance of Traditional Urban Forms2.3 Tradition - Originality - Change

There has been a preconceived notion that tradition is associated with the past and a by gone era that is not "fashionable "per se in the modern contemporary times. Thus traditional forms are assumed to be devoid of novelty and originality since they represent forms that are already exist in the environment.

On the other hand the quest for originality has been criticized as a futile modernist frivolity. Modernism relates this originality to novelty, randomness and provocative otherness.

Traditionalists have defined originality in another spectrum. They suggest that original sense of originality consists in reassessing the foundations of something in its origin. Originality would thus be the very essence of the creative polarity of tradition and nature rather than investigating the boundaries of speculative catastrophes, originality encompasses the continuous reactualisation of original types and patterns in human creation.


Thus these patterns of human creations lie in traditional urban forms and with their changing nature reflect originality.

The aspect of "Change" is thus fundamental for the originality of traditional forms.

Robert Adam proposes that tradition is a medium for change, a change that does not seek to disrupt the equilibrium in the society. This change and the consequential variations are feasible in traditional forms since tradition as a medium is symbolic in nature. This symbolism allows for interpretations and changes.

Adam & Hardy, (2008)

2.4 Tradition & Identity

Identity as a phenomenon arises out of the fact that there are certain differences in places and these differences and variations confer uniqueness to a place that people tend to identify with. Michael Hough proposes that these differences from a historic perspective have not risen from the efforts to create long range visions and grand designs but from vernacular responses to practical problems.

These vernacular responses are often traditional forms. Hough then suggests that in the past there were certain limitations and constraints to the extent to which one could modify the environment. But these limitations at the same time created a sense of being rooted to the place.

Identity is connected with the peculiar characteristic of a location that reflects the physical and social environment. It is also connected to the functional social processes of the people living in the environment. Hough, (1990)

Thus people adapt to their living environment and change it to suit their needs and in the process of living, make it their own. We observe that such living processes occur in traditional forms and we can see a correlation between tradition and identity.

2. Importance of Traditional Urban FormsOn the other hand Dalores Hayden's ideas speak about the relation between tradition and place memory wherein the historic context of traditional forms induces a certain identity to them. With the help of this identity people can define their pasts and such places trigger memories. Hayden, (1995)

2.5 Traditions-Urban Form/Typologies/ Patterns

Traditional urban forms are described as second nature, as if grown out of the ground by Leon Krier. He states that the building techniques of such forms transcend time and space and are a part of an enduring civilisation. These forms are limited horizontally and vertically to what pedestrians can walk comfortably in a routine way.

The public realm in the urban form evolves in a way to create spaces of certain density, size, hierarchy of admixture and proximity. Krier,(2001)

The quarters of these urban forms are mixed use and mixed income. Their architectural variety is the manifest expression of great functional and social complexity. Krier, (2008)

Thus we can deduce certain factors that are associated with traditional urban forms such as built form, scale and hierarchy.

While narrowing down on traditional urban forms, we can categorise them into typologies. This categorisation of typologies is related to Typo morphological studies since they describe urban form based on detailed classification of buildings and open spaces by type.

Anne Moudon proposes that the typo morphological studies considers all scales of built form from small room or garden to large urban areas.

These urban form typologies are dynamic and continuous changing entities immersed in a dialectic relationship with its producers and inhabitants.

In addition typo morphological studies offer a working definition of space and building types and serve as a working definition of space, building types and serve as a rich landing ground for studying the nature of building design its relationship to the city and to the society in which it takes place.

Moudon, (1994)

The practice of typology requires classification of physical form elements into groups based on varied factors such as geometry, use, period of time, symbolism, construction type, style etc. Larice & Macdonald (2007)

On similar lines the typology of urban forms can be termed as patterns.

The patterns of archetypal traditional forms are illustrated in the book A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander wherein he describes these patterns as an interrelated network of spaces that form the urban structure.

He quotes "patterns vary from place to place, culture to culture from age to age, they are all manmade, they all depend on culture. But still in every age and every place the structure of our world is given to it essentially by some collections of pattern which keep on repeating over and over again. Alexander, (1979)

2. Importance of Traditional Urban Forms2.6 Tradition & Adaptability

Traditions in factual terms mean time honoured practices passed on from one generation to another. We observe that as traditions are passed, they are transferred either verbally or through the actual practices involved in traditions such as rituals and customs. These customs or rituals undergo mutation in accordance to the practices of the present generations.

In a similar manner, traditional urban forms undergo transformations and these transformations are a reflection of the adaptability of traditional forms.

Kevin Lynch states that activities in an environment will always change as well as the natural processes occurring there. Furthermore people need some give or plasticity in their environment, they wish to mould it themselves. At the same time these will be disturbed by sweeping and sudden damages.

With respect to these changes adaptability in urban forms is accomplished by growth forms, patterns that leave room for activity settings to expand without disturbing the other areas. Lynch, (1961) p.59

These growth forms shall be further discussed in the theory of Structure Preserving Transformation that in one sense justifies the adaptability of traditional forms as a growth process.

There is another dimension to adaptability of urban forms. This dimension is a part of the typological studies mentioned earlier.

The type of form analysis in the typological studies is useful in understanding prevalent form patterns within specific geographical domains, as well as providing a starting point for design interventions. Designers often use typology as a tool kit to be referred when they come across a project site that emulates conditions similar to where the original referent was found. Thus the lessons of the original form or typology could be adapted to new site conditions.

Moudon, (1994)

There are other theories as well, that are related to the arguments of the neo

empiricists. The concepts of Anthony Vidler (1976) refer to the formation of a third

typology, an extension of the theory of typology. Vidler describes the third typology as an urban form that has been derived from the existing city form. It is an attempt towards fulfilling the desire for continuity in the urban form and the importance of function in form making. He states that when a series of typical forms are selected from the past of the city, they don't come deprived of their original political and social meaning. The original sense of form, the layers of accrued implications deposited by time and human experience cannot be brushed off. Instead the carried meaning of these types may be used to provide a key to their newly invested meanings. He also argues that the types thus derived from the past should not be replicated blindly or with a feeling of nostalgia. They should instead be interpreted within the contemporary times and local context. Thus the main central idea brings out three basic words namely function, local context and contemporary times that are related to the adaptation of traditional urban forms.

2. Importance of Traditional Urban Forms2.7 Structure preserving Transformations- evolution of forms

The theory of structure preserving transformations has been put forth by Christopher Alexander. It is associated with the idea of evolution of living structures in nature. It is interesting to analyse the relation of traditional forms

as living structures that undergo such transformations.

To begin with the central ideas and terms used in the theory are explained.

Alexander states that living structures are not merely structures we find in living creatures, organisms and other ecological and biological systems but they are in a general sense the character of all that we perceive as nature.

These living structures newly emerge in nature as a sequence of transformations that act on a whole and in which each step evolves as an apparent and continuous result from the immediate preceding whole.

It is during this emergence we observe that living structures have enormous respect for the existing state and always find a next step forward which preserves the structure of what exists and develops and extends its latent structure as it creates change, evolution or development.

Alexander, (2002)

This development is termed as the emergence of a whole wherein whole refers to the entire existing state of a structure. This existing whole could be an initial empty state, a whole with weak latent centres but with the potential to emerge or with developed centres surrounded by subsidiary latent centres. Thus we see that the emergence of the whole is mostly governed by the development of various centres of different intensities. This emergence is termed as the unfolding of the wholeness.

The phenomena of unfolding wholeness occur due to sequential transformations.

Such transformations in living structures are smooth and such smooth transformations are known to be Structure Preserving Transformation.

Alexander states that idea of structure preserving transformations is quiet general. If we are faced with any configuration simple or complex and we are asked to modify it by adding elements or by making changes, we can distinguish between the types of additions and changes which preserve or enhance the structure and types which weaken or destroy the structure.

Alexander, (2002)

2. Importance of Traditional Urban Forms

A sequence of graphic structure preserving transformation has been explained below.

A sequence of pattern that develops from a row of dots, Alexander, (2002) p.61

Stage one consists of the wholeness of an empty space.

The next stage indicates the system of latent, not strongly visible centres

Then the space is embellished which supports and brings out the structure that exists. In the final stages one can see a pleasing and harmonious pattern

It is interesting to note that in this whole process of structure preserving transformation, nothing new has been injected. The newness has been created by intensification of what exists. Thus the procedure is both conservative that is it respects the previous existing structure and is innovative since it creates a new structure not previously visible.

Alexander, (2002)

Alexander further explains that a single bad transformation can upset the smooth unfolding. If we make one transformation which destroys a structure in the middle of a sequence of good ones, the pattern thus developed is not harmonious and consistent with the previous structure and it is difficult to repair such unbefitting transformations.

It is proposed by Alexander in this theory that traditional forms are often structure preserving and their evolution is a part of a growing process similar to living structures. The wholeness of these forms can be enhanced, extended and intensified. It is occasionally pruned and trimmed and only very rarely destroyed altogether.

2. Importance of Traditional Urban Forms

With the interpretation of this theory we get a fair idea of the evolution of traditional forms and the different ways they undergo changes in their physical form in order to adapt to the present times. It also brings out the fact that the formation of harmonious traditional forms is a growing process and has reflections of the past forms. It is worth noting that the transformations are flexible in nature and can have various permutation and combinations. This aspect helps in creating forms that are different from one another as well as induce a certain amount of flexibility in their growth process.

In addition one must understand that these transformations are sensitive to wrong induction that is devoid of context with the sequence. Hence we realise the importance of the sensitivity required in the further growth of the present traditional forms.

2.7 Summary

With an analytical review of the extract we can conclude that traditional forms are a part of the ongoing movements that defy the concepts of modernism and advocate that elements of the traditional forms are a source of inspiration in designing harmonious environments that are both socially and functionally satisfying.

With the study of certain arguments we observe that these forms have an element of originality and it is governed by changing forms due to their associated symbolism. These forms have been formed due to an incremental process and have longevity. Longevity along with their historic context, flexibility in accommodating new functions, personalisation by its users gives it a sense of identity.

Traditional forms can be classified into different typologies and patterns and these typologies are influenced by factors such as scale, built form, geometry, hierarchy, symbolism, climate and function.

These traditional forms can be adapted within their own domains or their lessons can be interpreted to provide a foundation for new designs.

Lastly we observe that these forms have a certain evolutionary process and that it is important to understand the elements that influence this incremental process in order to realise the significance of these forms and adapt them in the contemporary times.