What is Vernacular Architecture?

Vernacular architecture is a type of local construction that uses traditional materials and resources from the area where the building is located.  Dating back thousands of years, vernacular architecture was born out of simplicity where the building was done outside any academic tradition, and without professional guidance. It encompasses a wide range of building types, with different methods of construction from around the world.  Vernacular architecture represents the majority of buildings and settlements, created in pre-industrial societies, and constitutes 95% of the world’s built environment. Hiring an Architect was not always an option and was unaffordable to most.

The term vernacular means “domestic, native, indigenous”; from Verna, meaning “native slave” or “home-born slave”. The word probably derives from an older Etruscan word. The phrase dates to at least 1857, when it was used by Sir George Gilbert Scott, as the focus of the first chapter of his book “Remarks on Secular & Domestic Architecture, Present & Future.” Wikipedia  A proponent of the Gothic Revival movement in England, Scott used the term as a pejorative referring to the “prevailing architecture” in England of the time as opposed to the Gothic he wanted to introduce. 

Vernacular architecture serves immediate, local needs and is constrained by the materials available in its particular region. It reflects local traditions and cultural practices. Materials that were handy were incorporated into design and building. The study of vernacular architecture did not examine architects that were schooled formally. The focus was on the design skills and tradition of local builders.  Unfortunately, they were rarely given any attribution for their work. 

Vernacular architecture tends to be overlooked in traditional histories of design.  It cannot be described by one specific style, so it cannot be summarized in terms of easy-to-understand patterns, characteristics, materials, or elements. Because of the usage of the traditional building methods, vernacular buildings are considered cultural expressions. Some examples can be found in aboriginal, indigenous, ancestral, rural, ethnic, or regional areas. 

More recently, vernacular architecture has been examined by designers and the building industry in an effort to be more energy conscious with contemporary design and construction; part of a broader interest in sustainable designDue to environmental concerns, and a limited supply of building materials, the future of architectural design may see a return to vernacular architecture.  This trend will again lead builders to search for materials no farther than their own backyard.

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