Vernacular techniques and local materials are becoming more and more relevant in architecture, but is it possible to bring these concepts to large urban areas?
In 1984, the Amazonian architect Severiano Porto had already pointed out the need to make architecture more connected to its location. Using local materials and techniques is becoming more important each day, considering the impacts of the commodity chain of building construction on the planet. Not surprisingly, the number of projects that use this approach is growing every day, as Severiano has already mentioned in his work since the 1980s.
Let's try to shake things up a bit and change everything we have learned and have become used to, so we can try to toss away inadequate concepts of construction, solutions, and spaces, and using creativity, safety, and courage, replace them with other strategies that are more suitable to our [Amazonian] region, for the benefit of the people who live here, in the houses that are built here. — Severiano Porto's closing remarks during the "Artes Visuais na Amazônia" (Visual Arts in the Amazon) Seminar.
While reclaiming the culture of ancient peoples, vernacular techniques have been used as a means to enable projects such as schools, community centers, and other types of infrastructure to support the community. Using local materials and techniques is often motivated by the lack of financial and material resources, very common in remote impoverished regions. These techniques vary according to the location, but the main principle is to use accessible materials that are locally sourced.
The most commonly used materials, which we are most familiar with when thinking of projects using natural techniques, are the different types of soil, like sand or clay, as seen in the School in Ghana / Alberto Figueroa, the Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School / Diana Kellogg Architects, and also in the Doctor's House for Maji Moto / Studio TOTALE.
There are also many different types of structures using wood, as in the Jetavan Spiritual Center / Sameep Padora & Associates, the Busajo Campus / StudioBenaim, and the Lycee Schorge Secondary School / Kéré Architecture, and also using bamboo, like in the Secondary School in Cambodia / Architetti senza frontiere Italia.
Some projects also use natural fibers, such as the Kindergarten Zimbabwe / Studio Anna Heringer and the Village designed by Warka Water and Arturo Vittori. Natural stone is another example, as in the Himalesque / ARCHIUM, which relies heavily on this material.
However, this logic is difficult to apply on a large scale, especially in big cities where all the natural land cover has been destroyed. So, contemporary architecture faces an important challenge: incorporating this philosophy of natural materials and techniques into a large metropolis consumed by urbanization. This raises yet another important question: is there enough room in our current model of cities for such integration?
Big cities lack empty lots and natural materials, and specialized labor is also hard to find since the mechanization of the construction industry has resulted in the loss and marginalization of ancient skills and increasingly isolated communities. Conventional building methods in large cities usually involve materials and techniques that negatively impact the environment and society, but on the other hand, are very inexpensive and easy to obtain.
Given the outlook for the future of our planet, we must consider changing the way we build cities and occupy our land. Therefore, we should focus on integrating natural materials with techniques that are available and affordable in big cities, as seen in the “Heart of Yongan” Community Center / TJAD and the Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou Residencial Village / A( )VOID. However, we should also pay attention to the process, choosing the methods and materials that have a lower impact on the environment, both locally and globally.
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Local Materials. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.