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Vernacular Architecture

Online Course Probes Cultural Context of Asian Vernacular Architecture

08:00 - 31 July, 2018
Online Course Probes Cultural Context of Asian Vernacular Architecture , The Ise Grand Shrine in Osaka, Japan. . Image © Flickr User Tetsuya Yamamoto
The Ise Grand Shrine in Osaka, Japan. . Image © Flickr User Tetsuya Yamamoto

A new online course offered by the University of Hong Kong (UHK) through knowledge-sharing platform edX will probe the relationship between Asian culture and the continent’s vernacular architecture. Free and open to anyone, the introductory course entitled “Interpreting Vernacular Architecture in Asia” has an inclusive mission: to make the often alienating world of art and architectural history accessible to the general public by removing barriers to entry.

Paradigma Ariadne's Design for House With a Hundred Rooms Stretches into Visual Infinity

06:00 - 30 July, 2018
Renders by Whitebox Visual. Image Courtesy of Paradigma Ariadné
Renders by Whitebox Visual. Image Courtesy of Paradigma Ariadné

Hungarian architects Paradigma Ariadné push the concepts of progression and growth to a literal spatial extreme in their proposal for a new sport complex for the MTK Football Academy. Drawing inspiration from the diagram of traditional European peasant houses, the design stretches into a kind of visual infinity, stacking all the rooms in the building along a single horizontal axis.

Courtesy of Paradigma Ariadné Courtesy of Paradigma Ariadné Renders by Whitebox Visual. Image Courtesy of Paradigma Ariadné Renders by Whitebox Visual. Image Courtesy of Paradigma Ariadné + 11

25 Examples of Vernacular Housing From Around the World

09:30 - 26 July, 2018
25 Examples of Vernacular Housing From Around the World , © <a href='https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2d/Pfahlbaumuseum_Unteruhldingen_amk.jpg'>Creative Commons user AngMoKio </a> licensed under <a href=’https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/'>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>
© Creative Commons user AngMoKio licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Where do people live around the world? It seems self-evident that most residential architecture is not as focused on aesthetics as the pristine, minimalist villas that cover the pages of design magazines (and, admittedly, websites like this one). As entertaining as it is to look at those kinds of houses, they’re not representative of what houses look like more generally. Most people live in structures built in the style of their region’s vernacular—that is, the normal, traditional style that has evolved in accordance with that area’s climate or culture. While strict definitions of residential vernacular architecture often exclude buildings built by professional architects, for many people the term has come to encompass any kind of house that is considered average, typical, or characteristic of a region or city. Check out our list below to broaden your lexicon of residential architecture.

© <a href='https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5e/Iglu_1999-04-02.jpg'>Creative Commons user Ansgar Walk</a> licensed under <a href=’https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/'>CC BY-SA 2.5</a> © <a href='https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Wohnsiedlung-Wassertorplatz-Bergfriedstr-Berlin-Kreuzberg-Okt-2016.jpg'>Creative Commons user Gunnar Klack</a> licensed under <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/'>CC BY-SA 4.0</a> © <a href='https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Bay-and-gable_2.JPG'>Creative Commons user SimonP</a> licensed under <a href=’https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/'>CC BY-SA 3.0</a> © <a href='https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/Swiss_chalet.jpg'>Creative Commons user Cristo Vlahos</a> licensed under <a href=’https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/'>CC BY-SA 3.0</a> + 26

Habitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet

03:30 - 4 June, 2018
Habitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet, Habitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet
Habitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet

Climate change is the biggest challenge facing our planet. There has never been a more important time to understand how to make the best use of local natural resources and to produce buildings that connect to ecosystems and livelihoods and do not rely on stripping the environment or transporting materials across the globe.

The culmination of years of specialist research, Habitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet, a once-in-a-generation large format publication, gathers together an international team of more than one hundred leading experts across a diverse range of disciplines to examine what the traditions of vernacular architecture and its

Winners of 2018 VEX Competition Reimagine Vernacular Architecture and Design

06:00 - 1 June, 2018
Winners of 2018 VEX Competition Reimagine Vernacular Architecture and Design

The Association of Siamese Architects (ASA) has announced the winners of the 2018 VEX: Agitated Vernacular Competition. This year’s ASA International Design Competition aimed to "upend the typical associations of vernacular architecture and design," what vernacular should or should not be. The goal was to re-think vernacular as something that can "assume performative roles and possess generative potentials."

The winning designs challenge the notion that vernacular design is opposed to modernity, thus it is "static and unimprovable," and opposed to technology. Selected from over 230 applications from nearly 30 countries worldwide, the six winning projects are from The Netherlands, India, China, Poland, and Thailand.

Why African Vernacular Architecture Is Overdue for a Renaissance

09:30 - 20 February, 2018
The Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali. Image © <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Djenne_great_mud_mosque.jpg'>Wikimedia user Ruud Zwart</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/nl/deed.en'>CC BY-SA 2.5 NL</a>
The Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali. Image © Wikimedia user Ruud Zwart licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 NL

This article was originally published on Common Edge as "Making a Case for the Renaissance of Traditional African Architecture."

Last September, Nigerian Afrobeat musician Wizkid played to a sold-out house at the Royal Albert Hall in London, joining a growing list of illustrious African musicians, such as Selif Kaita, Youssou Ndour, Miriam Makeba and others, that have performed at that prestigious venue. This event affirmed the unfolding cultural renaissance across the continent, but it also signified the rising global influence of African music, movies, fashion, cuisine and the arts.

Sadly, traditional African architecture, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, has not profited from this renaissance and has instead steadily lost its appeal across the continent. In spite of its towering influence in the pre-colonial era, it has largely failed to develop beyond the crude earthen walls and thatch roof architecture; for this reason it has remained unattractive to homeowners who often associate it with poverty. Consequently, the neglect of indigenous architecture has resulted in the dearth of skilled craftsmen knowledgeable in the art of traditional building, a reality that has further dimmed hopes for a revival of this architectural style.

Welded Steel Wigwam by studio:indigenous Connects Past to Present at Exhibit Columbus

09:30 - 8 October, 2017

In this video, Spirit of Space visits Exhibit Columbus to see Wiikiaami, a parametrically designed structure by studio:indigenous. Beginning in 2016, Exhibit Columbus is an annual event which invites people to travel to the small, but architecturally fascinating Midwestern town of Columbus, Indiana. Free and open to the public through November 26th, Exhibit Columbus displays 18 unique, site-responsive architectural installations.

via Screenshot from video via Screenshot from video via Screenshot from video via Screenshot from video + 5

The Architecture of Some of the World's Oldest Continuously Inhabited Cities

09:30 - 1 May, 2017
The Architecture of Some of the World's Oldest Continuously Inhabited Cities

What’s so great about the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world? Probably the fact that their societies have been evolving in one unbroken series of eras, with ever-changing values and styles that have, among other things, given rise to architectural memories of their long histories. These cities aren’t like the archeological sites we visit to see how people lived thousands of years ago; they are the exact places people lived thousands of years ago, places where people are still living today, with their rich histories buried under layers of paint and concrete instead of earth.

With ancient cities found in regions around the world, the variety of architectural treasures that can be found in these cities is vast. To give you a taste of their diversity, here is a selection of 18 of the oldest continually inhabited cities from various regions of the world, ranging from youngest to oldest, with a small snippet of their various architectural puzzles. 

© <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Berat.jpg'>Wikimedia user Joonas Lytinen</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en'>CC BY 2.0</a> © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/dziecienocy/5039948774'>Flickr user dziecienocy</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a> © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/worak/907175079'>Flickr user worak</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a> © <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gopuram-madurai.jpg'>Wikimedia user Nataraja</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0/deed.en'>CC BY-SA 1.0</a> + 20

How a Return to Vernacular Architecture Can Benefit the People of Mali's Dogon Region

07:00 - 7 April, 2017
How a Return to Vernacular Architecture Can Benefit the People of Mali's Dogon Region, Primary School Tanouan Ibi. Image Courtesy of LEVS Architecten
Primary School Tanouan Ibi. Image Courtesy of LEVS Architecten

In our article in February, "11 Vernacular Building Techniques That Are Disappearing," we discussed vernacular techniques that, through the introduction of modern building and the waning prevalence of traditional lifestyles, were slowly becoming lost forms of knowledge. What we didn't discuss, though, was that few of the techniques were disappearing without some form of resistance. After the article was published we were contacted by Dutch architecture firm LEVS Architecten, who highlighted their efforts work in the Dogon region of Mali, where they work with local communities to continue--and improve--the vernacular Dogon tradition.

Despite the fact that LEVS Architecten has worked extensively within this tradition, they still consider themselves modern architects who are simply looking for responsible, alternative solutions, and have even found opportunities to utilize this knowledge for architecture projects back in the Netherlands. As Jurriaan van Stigt, partner at LEVS Architecten and chairman of Partners Pays-Dogon, explained in an interview with ArchDaily, vernacular architecture is “in the undercurrent of our thinking and approach to the tasks that lay behind every project.”

Primary School Tanouan Ibi. Image Courtesy of LEVS Architecten Primary School Tanouan Ibi. Image Courtesy of LEVS Architecten Courtesy of LEVS Architecten Practical Training College in Sangha. Image Courtesy of LEVS Architecten + 18

11 Vernacular Building Techniques That Are Disappearing

09:30 - 20 February, 2017
11 Vernacular Building Techniques That Are Disappearing

"Vernacular architecture can be said to be 'the architectural language of the people' with its ethnic, regional and local 'dialects,'" writes Paul Oliver, author of The Encyclopaedia of Vernacular Architecture of The World’. Unfortunately, there has been a growing disregard for traditional architectural language around the world due to modern building technology quickly spreading a “loss of identity and cultural vibrancy” through what the Architectural Review recently described as “a global pandemic of generic buildings.” People have come to see steel, concrete and glass as architecture of high quality, whereas a lot of vernacular methods including adobe, reed or peat moss are often associated with underdevelopment. Ironically, these local methods are far more sustainable and contextually aware than much contemporary architecture seen today, despite ongoing talks and debates about the importance of sustainability. As a result of these trends, a tremendous amount of architectural and cultural knowledge is being lost.

© <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/34501870@N00/7344205654'>Flickr user Ashwin Kumar</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a> © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/seier/2849255440'>Flickr user seier</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a> © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrispark1957/4858624932/'>Flickr user chrispark1957</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-NC-SA 2.0</a> © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/sarah_c_murray/4846710439'>Flickr user sarah_c_murray</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a> + 12

An Eco-Village for Orphaned Kenyan Children - Competition Winners Announced

16:00 - 11 February, 2017
An Eco-Village for Orphaned Kenyan Children - Competition Winners Announced , Orphanage Home Courtyard. Image Courtesy of ClarkeHopkinsClarke
Orphanage Home Courtyard. Image Courtesy of ClarkeHopkinsClarke

The One Heart Foundation has announced the winners of the Children’s Eco-Village Design Competition. Attracting 45 submissions from 21 countries, the brief asked participants to propose an environmentally-friendly campus for orphaned and abandoned children, to be built in Soy, Kenya.

School Courtyard. Image Courtesy of ClarkeHopkinsClarke Approaching the school drop-off. Image Courtesy of ClarkeHopkinsClarke Entrance from the main road. Image Courtesy of ClarkeHopkinsClarke Income-generating eco-farm. Image Courtesy of ClarkeHopkinsClarke + 23

4 Chinese Vernacular Dwellings You Should Know About (Before They Disappear)

09:30 - 31 January, 2017
4 Chinese Vernacular Dwellings You Should Know About (Before They Disappear), © <a href=‘https://www.flickr.com/photos/justaslice/3051644043'>Flickr user Slices of Light</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en'>CC BY-NC-ND 2.0</a>
© Flickr user Slices of Light licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Vernacular architecture refers to designs which find their primary influence in local conditions: in climate, in materials, and in tradition. In a country as diverse as China, with 55 state-recognized ethnic minority groups and widely varying climates and topographies, many different vernacular dwelling styles have evolved as pragmatic solutions that accommodate the unique needs and limitations of their sites.

Rapid urbanization in China has favored high-rise apartment towers over traditional housing because of their ease of construction and the population density they enable, making vernacular dwellings increasingly rare throughout the country. Some firms, like MVRDV and Ben Wood’s Studio Shanghai, have taken note of the many benefits that vernacular dwellings provide, and have created projects that attempt to reconcile tradition with urbanization. Even if you aren't planning on building in China any time soon, the following housing styles have much to teach about what it means to live in a particular time and place. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does encompass the main types of vernacular dwellings seen throughout China.

How the White, Stepped Roofs of Bermuda Allowed Residents to Live Without Fresh Water Sources

16:00 - 27 December, 2016
How the White, Stepped Roofs of Bermuda Allowed Residents to Live Without Fresh Water Sources, © <a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bermuda_roof.jpg'>Wikimedia user Acroterion</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en'>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>
© Wikimedia user Acroterion licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Visitors to Bermuda are likely to notice one key feature about its architecture: across the islands, the pastel-painted houses all share a distinctive white, stepped roof style. A recent article on BBC News Magazine explores the original reason for, and subsequent history of, this unique roof design, showing how vernacular architectural elements often fit into a larger narrative of culture and geography.

How Combining Traditional Asian and African Design Could Minimize Diseases in Rural Tanzania

09:30 - 9 October, 2016
How Combining Traditional Asian and African Design Could Minimize Diseases in Rural Tanzania, © Konstantin Ikonomidis
© Konstantin Ikonomidis

Architecture firm Ingvartsen Architects has turned their gaze towards “cultural exchange architecture”—not with the aim of exploring identity or experimenting with aesthetics, but with a practical purpose in mind: to minimize the spread of diseases. The Magoda Project combines Asian elements with traditional rural African building methods in the village of Magoda, in the Tanga region of Tanzania, taking shape in the form of eight prototype homes. The design goes to show that cultural exchanges in design and architecture can make great contributions towards problem solving for a humanitarian purposes, not only to improve health and hygiene, but also comfort and happiness.

© Konstantin Ikonomidis © Konstantin Ikonomidis © Konstantin Ikonomidis © Konstantin Ikonomidis + 26

The Soul of a Community: How a Young Architect Helped Resurrect a Village Longhouse in Borneo

10:00 - 6 June, 2016
The Soul of a Community: How a Young Architect Helped Resurrect a Village Longhouse in Borneo, Construction of the split roof beside closed roof by the chief carpenter. Image © Josh Wallace
Construction of the split roof beside closed roof by the chief carpenter. Image © Josh Wallace

A version of this essay, originally titled "Rumah in the woods: Resurrection of the Nanga Sumpa Longhouse," reached the top 8 in this year's Berkeley Prize. It was shared with ArchDaily by the authors.

These bodies are perishable, but the dwellers in these are indestructible and impenetrable.

This verse from Bhagavad Gita (a Hindu religious scripture) speaks about the human body and soul. For me, even a piece of architecture has a soul which rests in its place. We can feel its presence even when the building is no longer there.

Construction of the communal gallery (ruai) with temporary bracing. Image © Josh Wallace Villagers using flipbook to understand the various options for the longhouse in a   way that is more coherent than verbal discussion. Image © Josh Wallace Post (tiang) splice detail. Image © Josh Wallace Village Chief’s post raised with the help of Borneo Adventure and the villagers. Image © Josh Wallace + 24

Why I Created a Database to Document African Vernacular Architecture

09:30 - 3 June, 2015
Why I Created a Database to Document African Vernacular Architecture, Mali - Niongono village House of the head (patron) of one of the big families of Niongono. Image © Daniel Schumann
Mali - Niongono village House of the head (patron) of one of the big families of Niongono. Image © Daniel Schumann

Architecture is a unique component of a country's culture just as much as its language, music, art, literature or food. Architecture is also the most visual of those cultural components; the pyramids in Egypt, skyscrapers in New York, a temple in Japan, and onion domes in Russia all convey a unique image. This is called “genius loci,” the “spirit of a place”. Every country has its own genius loci, its own uniqueness. Vernacular architecture is composed of local materials and derived from local customs, techniques that have been passed on from generation to generation. But vernacular architecture in most (if not all) African countries is disappearing, being abandoned for western materials and techniques.

Rwanda - Kings Hut interior. Image © Larsen Payá Ethiopia - chicken coop constructed with woven reeds. Image © Abby Morris Benin - a Tata Somba. Image © Lafia Yarou Zambia - thatch stored in bundles being applied to roof. Image © Jon Sojkowski via Zambia Architecture + 14

Vernacular Architecture and the 21st Century

13:00 - 12 August, 2011
Photo by Flickr user: seier + seier. Used under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>Creative Commons</a>
Photo by Flickr user: seier + seier. Used under Creative Commons

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. 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.