Vernacular Architecture and the 21st Century

Photo by Flickr user: seier + seier -

, 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. Architects are embracing regionalism and cultural building traditions, given that these structures have proven to be energy efficient and altogether sustainable. In this time of rapid technological advancement and urbanization, there is still much to be learned from the traditional knowledge of vernacular construction. These low-tech methods of creating housing which is perfectly adapted to its locale are brilliant, for the reason that these are the principles which are more often ignored by prevailing architects.

More on vernacular architecture after the break.

Photo by Justin Gaurav Murgai -

Vernacular architecture originated when mankind was forced to make use of the natural resources around him, and provide himself shelter and comfort which is responsive to the climate, a shield from the elements. It is a pure reaction to an individual person’s or society’s building needs, and has allowed man, even before the architect, to construct shelter according to his circumstance. Such simple traditions have long been regarded as backward, and have been replaced by half-digested, largely inappropriate architectural values.

Photo by Flickr user: Anguskirk -

The humanistic desire to be culturally connected to ones surroundings is reflected in a harmonious architecture, a typology which can be identified with a specific region. This sociologic facet of architecture is present in a material, a color scheme, an architectural genre, a spatial language or form that carries through the urban framework. The way human settlements are structured in modernity has been vastly unsystematic; current architecture exists on a singular basis, unfocused on the connectivity of a community as a whole.

Photo by Jason Unbound -

Vernacular architecture adheres to basic green architectural principles of energy efficiency and utilizing materials and resources in close proximity to the site. These structures capitalize on the native knowledge of how buildings can be effectively designed as well as how to take advantage of local materials and resources. Even in an age where materials are available well beyond our region, it is essential to take into account the embodied energy lost in the transportation of these goods to the construction site.

Photo by David Hoffman -

The effectiveness of climate responsive architecture is evident over the course of its life, in lessened costs of utilities and maintenance. A poorly designed structure which doesn’t consider environmental or vernacular factors can ultimately cost the occupant – in addition to the environment – more in resources than a properly designed building. For instance, a structure with large windows on the south façade in a hot, arid climate would lose most of its air conditioning efforts to the pervading sun, ultimately increasing the cost of energy. By applying vernacular strategies to modern design, a structure can ideally achieve net zero energy use, and be a wholly self-sufficient building.

Photo by Tom Parnell -

If anything is to be taken from vernacular architecture, it provides a vital connection between humans and the environment. It re-establishes us in our particular part of the world and forces us to think in terms of pure survival – architecture before the architect. These structures present a climate-responsive approach to dwelling and are natural and resource conscious solutions to a regional housing need. The benefits of vernacular architecture have been realized throughout the large part of history, diminished during the modern era, and are now making a return among green architecture and architects. In order to progress in the future of architecture and sustainable building, we must first gain knowledge of the past and employ these strategies as a well-balanced, methodical whole to achieve optimum energy efficiency.

References: Lindsay Asquith & Marcel Vellinga, Nick Ladd, Adrian Atkinson
Photographs: Flickr: seier+seier, Justin Gaurav Murgai, Anguskirk, Jason Unbound, Tom Parnell

Cite: Edwards, Sarah. "Vernacular Architecture and the 21st Century" 12 Aug 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 May 2015. <>
  • David Basulto

    Great article Sarah! I’d like to mention this project by URBANUS as another example:

  • auto

    Architects can’t do vernacular, they are the worst person to attempt it. Vernacular has to be truly vernacular to exist at all and built by people who only know one way to build.

    • David

      Are we talking the same language?

    • Sharon Ponsford

      So true! We can mimic as much as we like, but true vernacular can only be acheived by the native people, raw, and unspoiled. Using the traditional building methods handed down through the generations … not learned at university. But we can try our best to mimic it, for the look and feel. But in most cases, the result is without character, and too “perfect”.

    • John

      Maybe you are right “Architects can’t do vernacular.” But we sure as hell can learn from it.

      I would love to read more posts about vernacular architecture, it could offer a humbling realization that even people without professional degrees or titles can still make some fantastic buildings. Jane Jacobs was for diversity and so am I! More vernacular posts please!

  • Al

    Glenn Murcutt anyone?