Saturday, February 24

Vernacular Architecture for Modern Times

With respect to architecture, the term vernacular is used to describe building designs and styles that reflect the local customs, needs, and building resources available. Since antiquity, people have learned through trial and error, the various structural concepts we often take for granted today. Vernacular architecture is the product of generations of experimentation, trial and error.

Although associated with outdated and primitive methods, the positive benefits of vernacular housing designs – even in today’s ultra-modern world – are many. In fact, it is because we as a global race have advanced so much, so fast, in these very areas, that we have caused widespread depletion of resources, to the point that we have started to go back to our roots to find answers.

In our quest for new and better designs, stronger, more robust materials, and spacious, luxurious living spaces, we have all but forgotten what it has cost us. Technology and advancement in science can be a beautiful thing, but we must in our pursuit of such blessings, not forget to think further than our own short lives.

A generally recognized prerequisite for vernacular designs is the utilization of locally or regionally available resources. Another is that these resources be sustainable. These criteria ensure that needless fuel and energy isn’t spent on transporting supplies and materials when they can be acquired locally, and also that the local resources aren’t exhausted either.

Back before long-distance transportation of materials was viable, houses matched the resources locally available. In woody areas where there was plenty of lumber, it was common to find wooden houses. Likewise, in regions where trees and forests were scarce, indigenous peoples would opt to use mud and stone. In this way, local housing would reflect local resources.

Of course, in all things a balance is important. In today’s society, convenience and quality of life play a large role, which unfortunately places us in a rather frustrating game of tug o’ war with our environment – or should I say environmentalists. Even incorporating only the artistic and unique aspects of vernacular architecture is a start, and this is already being done.

The laws of physics have been around for long time, and this is proven by certain standard and uniform methods and “rules” that all structures – new and old – follow. Just because these guys didn’t get a Masters in modern structural engineering, it doesn’t mean their houses didn’t stand. In fact, all modern knowledge is the collective experience, trial, error, and hand-me-downs of such men and women throughout history.

There is much we have learned from history, and much we can still learn. – Vernacular architecture and the simple and humble ways of our forefathers is a small part of what we can still learn.