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Vernacular Architecture

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10 years ago

Vernacular is derived from Latin word vernaculus, which means “domestic, native, and indigenous”. In architecture it means a building that is origin of a specific time or place; it has not been inspired, copied or imported from anywhere. This practice is mostly used for residential buildings. Vernacular Architecture Guru Ronald Brunskill defines this form of architecture as

…a building designed by an amateur without any training in design; the individual will have been guided by a series of conventions built up in his locality, paying little attention to what may be fashionable. The function of the building would be the dominant factor, aesthetic considerations, though present to some small degree, being quite minimal. Local materials would be used as a matter of course, other materials being chosen and imported quite exceptionally.”

However, the thing to keep in mind is that this type of architecture should not be confused with “Traditional Architecture” as both maybe linked but are not the same. The Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World defines the same architecture type as

“…comprising the dwellings and all other buildings of the people. Related to their environmental contexts and available resources they are customarily owner- or community-built, utilizing traditional technologies. All forms of vernacular architecture are built to meet specific needs, accommodating the values, economies and ways of life of the cultures that produce them.”

Another concept that tends to be thought quiet often is that architects practice vernacular architecture which is definitely not true. Each architect designs according to his or her own style; their individual style is designed by their inspirations or their thoughts.  Paul Oliver, is an architectural historian and his book Dwellings, states

 “…it is contended that ‘popular architecture’ designed by professional architects or commercial builders for popular use, does not come within the compass of the vernacular”

Many modern architects have studies Vernacular Architecture but this does not mean that they practice it, although inspirations has been drawn from vernacular buildings many time. The first ever recorded practice of vernacular practices was seen in 1946 by an Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy as he was asked to design the town of New Gourna near Luxor. Although this failed as the risks and the elements worked against it, it was the first of its kind.

1964 brought the first exhibition in the Museum Of Modern Art; New York called Architecture without Architects by Bernard Rudofsky. It was accompanied by the book with the same title which had black and white photography of the buildings. Rudofsky was the first man to use the term vernacular in architectural language, the exhibition was extremely popular and we quote him

“For want of a generic label we shall call it vernacular, anonymous, spontaneous, indigenous, rural, as the case may be.”

Another name popular for bringing regional modernism in South Asia is Srilankan architect Geoffery Bawa. Along with him many names have emerged on the architectural scene such as Charles Correa an Indian architect, Muzharul Islam and Bashirul Haq who are Bangladeshi architects, Aldo van Eyck  another Dutch architect. All these explored the limitations and horizons of vernacular architecture and played with the idea itself creating amazing buildings.

Paul Oliver also states

“As yet there is no clearly defined and specialized discipline for the study of dwellings or the larger compass of vernacular architecture. If such a discipline were to emerge it would probably be one that combines some of the elements of both architecture and anthropology with aspects of history and geography.”
Vernacular Architecture is most influenced by aspects regarding human behavior and environment. Every place has its own approach to the construction and the use of the dwellings. At first they may seem the same but variations are present and every building will follow the same law of physics and will show similarities to the structural forms.  One of the most influences vernacular architecture has is macro climate.

Buildings in colder areas will have high thermal mass or high levels of insulation, they are made to prevent heat loss and the openings such as doors and windows are less than normal. In contrast buildings in warm climates are airy, have more openings and are constructed with lighter materials.  For buildings with continental climates the buildings are made to stand both hot and cold temperatures.  The effects of climate on Vernacular architecture are quite different when it comes to region. Mediterranean Vernacular is similar to Middle Eastern as both have courtyards, lots of windows and doors and a pond which cools down the air.

Similarly North African vernacular is quite different from these two as chimneys are made for fire places, thermal mass is often very high and small windows are kept for maximum heat storage.

If still confused, consult a professional architects Amer Adnan Associates to find the best match for your home.


Amer Adnan Associates