Is “the new modernism” in domestic architecture—sometimes called “internationalism”—a useful step on the road toward sustainable buildings? Mindless recreations of traditional forms from other times and places are no better, as many writers have noted, but any building's natural and cultural context must play a fundamental role in the design, materials selection, and even the detailing, if sustainability is to be more readily achieved.

The role of place-based planning has been well researched and reported (Clarke 2006; Mant 1998, 2000; NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning 2001). Less well understood is the role of “localness” in building design. This informs the overall form of buildings, and their detailing, as well as their technical functionality. A local understanding stems from a sense of materials, climate, and indigenous or local culture, and informs the design process at every level. In this article, the position of internationalist domestic architecture (espoused in glossy architecture publications) is criticised, drawing also on previous research (a case study of the outcomes of a place-based planning instrument, by the author, and a joint paper on locality-based design written jointly with Trevor King). The internationalist design approach is shown not to provide culturally appropriate or technically sustainable buildings.

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