Define vernacular architecture
Vernacular architecture is characterised by its reliance on needs, construction materials and traditions specific to its particular locality. It is a type of architecture which is indigenous to a specific time and place and not replicated from elsewhere. Historically, vernacular architecture has incorporated the skills and expertise of local builders as opposed to formally-trained architects.
Whilst often synonymous with primitive, nomadic or traditional architecture, can also apply to certain types or architecture in developed countries and urban societies.
Lessons from vernacular architecture
The development of vernacular architecture centres on the functions that the building type is required to perform. The design then generally evolves over time, becoming more refined and tailored to the contexts in which it exists, including; the availability of resources, local technology, climate, local culture, environment, economic conditions and historical influences.
As a concept, the term ‘vernacular’ became commonly used in the 1800s, at a time when western colonial powers were exploring the new worlds that were being discovered. It is sometimes used as a derogatory term, suggesting something that may be quaint, but is derivative and has not been ‘properly’ designed by a professional.
During the first quarter of the 20th century, high profile architects such as Adolf Loos, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier began to extol the virtues of vernacular architecture. However, it wasn’t until 1964 that a successful exhibition by Bernard Rudofsky called ‘Architecture without Architects’ that the form became popularised.
What is the vernacular architecture building process?
Vernacular architecture represents the majority of buildings and settlements created in pre-industrial societies and includes a very wide range of buildings, building traditions, and methods of construction. Vernacular buildings are typically simple and practical, whether residential houses or built for other purposes.
Sustainable vernacular architecture
Vernacular architecture, the simplest form of addressing human needs, is seemingly forgotten in modern architecture. However, due to recent rises in energy costs, the trend has sensibly swung the other way with 'contemporary vernacular architecture'.
Architects are embracing regionalism and cultural building traditions, given that these structures have proven to be energy efficient and altogether sustainable. Alike Japanese vernacular architecture, Spanish vernacular architecture, Cape vernacular architecture, British vernacular architecture, Asian vernacular architecture, Brunskill vernacular architecture, mediterranean vernacular architecture and more. This is not the same with with traditional Irish vernacular architecture nor Chinese veernacular architecture. In this time of rapid technological advancement and urbanization, there is still much to be learned from the traditional knowledge of vernacular construction, yet evolved in its roots of sustainability.
These low-tech methods and materials used in vernacular architecture which are perfectly adapted to its locale are brilliant, for the reason that these are the principles which are more often ignored by prevailing architects.
Examples of vernacular architecture:
1. Broken Angel House
Broken Angel or the Broken Angel house was a building located at 4/6 Downing Street in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, at the intersection of Downing and Quincy street. The house was featured prominently as a backdrop in the film Dave Chappelle's Block Party and was demolished in 2014. Artists Arthur and Cynthia Wood built the top part of the structure in the 27 years that they were owners of the building. Arthur had a camera obscura on the top area and a room that looked like it floated in the air. The inside was like a huge cathedral with arches and colourful "stained glass windows" that were made from the remains of bottles and glass.
2. The Historic Driftwood Resort
The building is distinguished by board and batten exterior walls, wood shingled gable ends with decorative truss work and rustic balcony railings. The courtyard is marked by two stone walls, into which are embedded two rusty, ancient cannons. Ceramic tiles decorate the courtyard floor. A breezeway is at the east end of the courtyard and is flanked by stairs leading to the second floor. The hallway at the north end features a small mural of a Spanish explorer landing in the new world. The breezeway walls feature graffiti from visitors, applied ornaments and portions of a wood mantel.
3. Pagaruyung Palace
Pagaruyung Palace is the royal palace of the former Pagaruyung Kingdom, located in Tanjung Emas subdistrict near Batusangkar town, Tanah Datar Regency, West Sumatra, Indonesia. It was built in the traditional Minangkabau Rumah Gadang vernacular architectural style, but had a number of atypical elements including a three-story structure and a larger dimension in comparison to common rumah gadang.