Vernacular architecture

From Academic Kids

Vernacular architecture is a term from academic architecture to categorize structures built outside of academic tradition. The definition can include a wide variety of domestic and agricultural buildings, industrial buildings, commercial structures, etc. The distinguishing feature of traditional vernacular is that design and construction are often done simultaneously, onsite, by the same people. At least some of those who eventually use the building are often involved in its construction or at least have direct input in its form. Vernacular building shapes, floorplans, materials, construction techniques, and other characteristics are often generated from centuries-old local patterns. These patterns are continually changing, but do so slowly. The new houses built from old patterns physically manifest, and then perpetuate, cultural norms and accumulated building craft. Vernacular buildings have been praised by many writers for their sophisticated adaptation to their environment and users' needs.

Vernacular buildings have made up a large portion of the built environment throughout human history because the profession of architect is a relatively new invention, because academic architecture has tended towards a narrow range of acceptable styles and forms, and because even today architects are involved in only a small percentage of built structures.

Once seen as obsolete, vernacular architecture is now the subject of serious academic study, and is increasingly considered a potential component of sustainable development for its quality of adaptation to the local environment. An early work was Bernard Rudofsky's 1964 book "Architecture Without Architects: a short introduction to non-pedigreed architecture", based on his MOMA exhibition. The book was a gentle reminder of the legitimacy and "hard-won knowledge" inherent in vernacular buildings, from Polish salt-caves to gigantic Syrian water wheels to Moroccan desert fortresses, although it was considered iconoclastic at the time. The most comprehensive work is the "Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World" published in 1997 by Paul Oliver of the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development. Oliver has argued that vernacular architecture will be necessary in the future to "ensure sustainability in both cultural and economic terms beyond the short term." Christopher Alexander attempted to identify adaptive features of traditional architecture that apply across cultures in his book A Pattern Language. Howard Davis's book The Culture of Building details the culture that enabled several vernacular traditions.

Some extend the term to include any architecture outside the academic mainstream. The term "commercial vernacular", popularized in the late 1960s by the publication of Robert Venturi's "Learning from Las Vegas", refers to 20th century American suburban tract and commercial architecture. Unlike traditional vernacular, however, the design and construction of these types of buildings is remote from their eventual users, and they do not represent long cultural traditions; those who study traditional vernacular architecture hold that these characteristics define a more useful and fundamental partition of architecture into vernacular and non-vernacular than whether or not a kind of architecture is accepted within academia.

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