Architecture as Cultural and Location Grounding

Thomas Vander Wal has been traveling a lot, and he’s finding that the local architecture can have important effects on his feelings of connectedness.

This is interesting to me because one of the hallmarks of the much maligned International Style of architecture is a trans-national vocabulary that is rooted more in fantasies about the machine age rather than in local context. Much of the design work we do online follows similar rules that hint at a global style (or styles), and results in a homogeneousness that is meant to convey “that we, too, can design like North Americans”. Here’s an example: an article by a Russian developer that proposes a categorization of different web UI styles, all based on designs for sites for US-based companies, presumably for replication by other designers.

Perhaps more culturally-aware design can help bring a feeling of rootedness to websites, much like culturally-aware architecture can for cities. How should we approach this, when we’re being sold on the notion of “global commerce online”?