Local Can Be Universal

Geoffrey Chaucer, a 14th-century English writer, wrote that “Familiarity breeds contempt”. “Local” means “familiar” by definition. Why is it that humans are so excited to look beyond the familiar and the local and seek out the universal, new and salvatorial? Although the word “local” is a valuable term, it does not have the same weight as “density” and “sustainable”. However, the lure of human connection is strong. We are often disappointed by our desire to connect.

In many areas, the Logic of Local is undisputed: politics, food and even environmental accommodation. Common sense recognizes the importance of using what’s available to make a difference in everything we do. When we use the resources we have, we can reduce carbon, cost, time and pollution.

Humans want to expand our understandings, meanings, and influence beyond our cultural roots. In our quest for the universal, we often ignore the realities of who and how we live and what we value.

Universal religious salvation promises deliverance from all our familiar lives, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem or Moslem. The promise of transcendent truth often outweighs any local spirituality. The “local” is not the place where the sublime can be found. 

In Paris, 100 years ago, the League of Nations was founded in the belief of World War I being “the war that would end all wars.” It was perhaps the final casualty of World War 2’s destruction. The League of Nations was an open projection of Western power, which was destroyed when it became irrelevant and made World War 2. It is almost comical that we are trying to make a world that is a mosaic of every race, gender and political commitment into a “League of Nations”. However, the overreach of World War 1’s victorious had parallels.

L. L. Zamenhof, an 1887/ founder of Esperanto, created a new language to replace the local language. Our spoken and written differences could be merged by a movement, the hope being. It didn’t work. It was a failure.

Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Philip Johnson and others defined the new architecture after World War 1. They published “The International Style” in 1932 and created the landmark exhibit “Modern Architecture: International Exhibition” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their work outlined the aesthetic earthquake which rejected ornament, history, and materiality. The “International Style” declared that the “local” perspective was completely flawed. The Future was Modern, Not Local. This movement, along with Esperanto and the League of Nations, was doomed for failure. Wikipedia states that the style was abandoned in the 1970s.

(c) Henry-Fussell Hitchcock, Jr and Philip Johnson

I don’t think that “Modern Architecture”, has ended. However, something is changing and it’s not just a style. The expression “White Architecture” was a poetic distillation of The Modern Movement’s style. However, without irony, these words have accurately described the profession of architecture of the time. The International Style, Esperanto and The League of Nations were created by the White, Male, 1% of 20th-century intellectual and economic elite.

This century has a virtual Esperanto League of Nations and International Style. It is The Internet. The internet is not a tool or toy. It is a fundamental element of every person’s life. This connection, which is apolitical and apolitical without any language, is how all things will change. The internet can be global.

The possibility exists that the world will be the first generation to have the Internet as a part of their daily lives. This would also mean that the world’s population will reach adulthood and become agents. This reality will change many things, as it is what “International Style” or Esperanto cannot be: fully egalitarian and open to all, instantaneous, and free of charge connection between everyone, anywhere, anytime. International is a place that has no borders. It is called “Modern” if it is always available. Both are not “style”. These are human constructs that were used to define us.

Courtesy of Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany

Familiarity breeds contempt. Local is relevant. Universal human reality is the imperative to project and expand who we are beyond our own selves. The Internet allows for the reconciliation of the Local and Universal. The Internet is not a single way to see every local reality.

Architecture is not about choosing between “styles” humans choose. It is possible to see architecture as part of our daily lives by using the materials and values found in the building. The Internet is the only way to see infinitely subjective reality in its full objective diversity. It’s the Internet that makes the Local universal.