Vernacular architecture is an architectural style that is designed based on local needs, availability of construction materials and reflecting local traditions. At least originally, vernacular architecture did not use formally-schooled architects, but relied on the design skills and tradition of local builders. However, since the late 19th century many professional architects have worked in versions of this style.
It tends to evolve over time to reflect the environmental, cultural, technological, economic, and historical context in which it exists. While often difficult to reconcile with regulatory and popular demands of the five factors mentioned, this kind of architecture still plays a role in architecture and design, especially in local branches.
Vernacular architecture can be contrasted against polite architecture which is characterized by stylistic elements of design intentionally incorporated for aesthetic purposes which go beyond a building’s functional requirements. This article also covers, where somewhere between the two extremes yet based upon authentic themes the term traditional architecture
Architecture designed by professional architects is usually not considered to be vernacular. Indeed, it can be argued that the very process of consciously designing a building makes it not vernacular. Paul Oliver, in 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.Oliver also offers the following simple definition of vernacular architecture: “the architecture of the people, and by the people, but not for the people
Frank Lloyd Wright described vernacular architecture as “Folk building growing in response to actual needs, fitted into environment by people who knew no better than to fit them with native feeling. suggesting that it is a primitive form of design, lacking intelligent thought, but he also stated that it was “for us better worth study than all the highly self-conscious academic attempts at the beautiful throughout Europe”.
Since at least the Arts and Crafts Movement, many modern architects have studied vernacular buildings and claimed to draw inspiration from them, including aspects of the vernacular in their designs. In 1946, the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy was appointed to design the town of New Gournanear Luxor. Having studied traditional Nubian settlements and technologies, he incorporated the traditional mud brick vaults of the Nubian settlements in his designs. The experiment failed, due to a variety of social and economic reasons, but is the first recorded attempt by an architect to address the social and environmental requirements of building users by adopting the methods and forms of the vernacular.:11
In 1964 the exhibition Architecture Without Architects was put on at the Museum of Modern Art, New York by Bernard Rudofsky. Accompanied by a book of the same title, including black-and-white photography of vernacular buildings around the world, the exhibition was extremely popular. It was Rudofsky who first made use of the term vernacular in an architectural context, and brought the concept into the eye of the public and of mainstream architecture: “For want of a generic label we shall call it vernacular, anonymous, spontaneous, indigenous, rural, as the case may be.
Since the emergence of the term in the 1970s, vernacular considerations have played an increasing part in architectural designs, although individual architects had widely varying opinions of the merits of the vernacular.
Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa is considered the pioneer of regional modernism in South Asia. Along with him, modern proponents of the use of the vernacular in architectural design include Charles Correa, a well known Indian architect; Muzharul Islam and Bashirul Haq, internationally known Bangladeshi architects; Balkrishna Doshi, another Indian, who established the Vastu-Shilpa Foundation in Ahmedabad to research the vernacular architecture of the region; and Sheila Sri Prakash who has used rural Indian architecture as an inspiration for innovations in environmental and socio-economically sustainable design and planning. The Dutch architect Aldo van Eyckwas also a proponent of vernacular architecture. Architects whose work exemplifies the modern take on vernacular architecture would be Samuel Mockbee, Christopher Alexander and Paolo Soleri.
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