For a child in a classroom who will never experience a traditional Scottish ‘black house’ by any means other than words and pictures, it remains an abstract notion, even an absurdity; that men and women might live cheek by jowl alongside beasts as a means to survive the cruel winter. Only two rooms; herd in one and folk in the other. For our ancestors who lived through this, the memories might be of family and survival, coloured by a lack of any useful comparison – this was the only life. For the modern Hebridean though, the black house might conjure a notion of identity more specific than flag-waving nationalism, that speaks of heritage and inheritance.
The definition of ‘local’ shifts with our point of reference. Technology has reduced travel times around the world, reduced the cost of these journeys and increasing their convenience, but we still have a connection to the people, places and smells of our homeland. If anything can be built anywhere, where once we were limited to the materials and technologies close at hand, we have a responsibility to consider why we build what we build. In a global community is there still space for individual identity? Should there be?
Perhaps it is more important now than it ever was. Our cities are living, breathing organisms and our job as architects is to find the nerve; the pulse of each unique place and discover what makes them so. Identity is our point reference and architecture our touchstone as we navigate the unfamiliar, broadening our horizons and understanding of who we are. It makes us feel safe.
Though our windows may be from Norway and our slates from Galicia, the way in which these elements are articulated is – or should be – specific to the demands of climate and culture A balance of ethics and aesthetics. Architecture still has an accent, even if it is more widely travelled than it once was.