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Terroir and Architecture
Posted on May 11, 2020 @ 8:05PM

Our present position begins with the observation that people and cultures are defined by the balance they make between the general and the particular. We feel that in Western society this balance is in jeopardy. Mass culture is becoming so predominant that the local and the particular are becoming less and less evident. This is the 'McDonald's Theorem' - the proposition that international capitalism is creating a uniform world culture. Architecture can play an important role in this context, as a counterbalance to the increasing generality of other aspects of culture. That is why we think architecture should become increasingly oriented towards the particular. Of all the arts, architecture is most capable of dealing with the particulars of situation - with 'place'.
~ John Patkau

In France, there is a strong recognition of the particularity of place so strong that they have a word for it: Terroir. The concept of terroir underlies the conceptual and legal premise for their vigilant appellation and wine traditions and laws. It refers to the sum of the impact that the particular characteristics of a place, such as climate, geography, geology, topography, soils, etc. all collectively bestow on crops that are raised there.

I strongly believe that apart from the client, the site is in most cases the most fundamental aspect of an architectural design commission. Every project has a unique mix of limitations and opportunities; for those who are attentive to it, there is a distinct, particular terrior for every site. For me, an architectural commission is about the land as much as it is about building; they are not separate considerations. They are two sides of one question. Every act of architecture is a redefinition of the environment, an intervention in the natural and cultural landscape. Design that honors the site as well as the client ~ that leaves it meaningfully enhanced rather than diminished ~ is well on the way toward excellence.

Author: Sam Rodell

Sam has been practicing as an award winning architect for over thirty years, and has also built many of his clients' projects.  He is currently licensed to practice architecture throughout most of the western United States and Canada, and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) which expedites registration in other states and provinces. He was the first Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC) architect in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.