Neo-Vernacular Architecture – With the outbreak of the Industrial Revolution, architectural practice also benefited from its impact. Construction became faster with industrially manufactured materials mainly Glass, Steel, and Reinforced Cement Concrete. And thus, their evolving construction techniques gave rise to Modern Architecture. The Modernist style of architecture was also opted as a medium to break out from traditional architectural style. 

An overview of Neo-Vernacular Architecture - Sheet1
Glass buildings traps heat on the inside, also reflects harsh sunlight to its surroundings_©Shutterstock

With time, the unthoughtful pursuit of Modern Architecture led to sky-high embodied energy and carbon footprint. The unconscious imitation of typical style of architecture led the fading of vernacular architectural practices and made a hazardous impact on the natural environment. It also elevated the mechanical energy demands of the building as it proved to be noncompliant to local climatic conditions. Furthermore, the architectural practice became associated with malpractices to maximise monetary benefits due to huge costs incurred.

All these factors demanded an architectural style that would create minimum hindrance to the environment while fulfilling the multiple requirements and paying homage to local traditions and culture. Vernacular Architecture was seen as a solution. But, the unadulterated form of vernacular architecture could not be practised due to evolving necessities. It demanded higher strength and stability to suffice current requirements and needed technological interventions. Therefore, Neo-Vernacular Architecture emerged as a solution. 

Neo-Vernacular Architecture is an amalgamation of modern technologies and traditional practices. It is a perfect mix of old and new architectural styles to accommodate contemporary requirements and revive vernacular architecture making minimum disturbance to the environment. The intervention of modern construction technology ensures the higher strength and stability required to fulfil multifaceted modern necessities while the intervention of Vernacular Architecture ensures the low carbon footprint and embodied energy of the buildings. 

Progression to Neo-Vernacular | Neo-Vernacular Architecture

An overview of Neo-Vernacular Architecture - Sheet2
Vernacular and Neo-Vernacular phase of Bamboo Architecture_©Pinterest, IBUKU

Vernacular Architecture was pursued without the indulgence of architects mainly in pre-industrial times. It was highly governed by the geographical location of the building which advocates for the adoption of materials and climate-responsive design strategy.  Vernacular buildings exhibit an influence of local traditions and culture in their form and design. They were an outcome of a simplified response to the functional and occupational requirements of the user with minimal services. 

On the contrary, in modern times buildings are designed to cater the multifaceted necessities which require advanced automated services. Technology plays a vital role in incorporating advanced services into a building. The latest construction materials and techniques with high sustainability quotients are also crucial for the competitive architectural profession.

An amalgamation of sustainable vernacular trends and contemporary technology gave rise to Neo-Vernacular Architecture. ‘Neo’ indicates the adoption of the latest construction materials and techniques while the ‘Vernacular’ part aims to revitalise the disappearing local architectural style of a place. Therefore, the Neo-Vernacular approach focuses on creating holistic buildings, minimising the disturbance to the environment, and reviving local architectural practices.

Attributes of Neo-Vernacular Architecture

In the design process of any particular building, concepts about low carbon emissions and embodied energy should be followed at each step from inception of the project to its completion. Neo-Vernacular concepts also aim to reduce the operational and maintenance outgoings mandatory for a building. Five specific characteristics of Neo-Vernacular Architecture are discussed below:-

1. Cultural Adherence | Neo-Vernacular Architecture

An overview of Neo-Vernacular Architecture - Sheet3
Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur exhibits concepts of ancient stepwells and courtyards_©Britannica

Inhabitants of any building possess a sense of ownership towards it. The feeling of familiarity and oneness gets enhanced when structures exhibit local cultural and traditional elements. Neo-Vernacular Architecture is established by altering traditional architectural forms to incorporate contemporary needs. Such buildings ensure a more peaceful and tranquil impact on the occupants rather than a brutal one. People experience warmth and relaxation while being in such buildings. 

2. Energy Efficiency

An overview of Neo-Vernacular Architecture - Sheet4
Solar panels topped on the roof of Atal Aksaya Urja Bhawan_©Edifice

Neo-Vernacular buildings are meant to consume the least possible energy at all stages of their life cycle i.e. conception, construction, and operation  Right from the conceiving of the building, energy efficiency has to be kept in continuous consideration. The embodied energy i.e the total of all kinds of energies involved in a building’s life cycle is minimum for Neo-Vernacular structures.

Energy efficiency is attained by adopting locally available materials with the least negative impact on the environment. Climate-specific passive design strategies viz. Building orientation with respect to solar path and wind movement is employed to design Neo- Vernacular buildings. Consequently dictating the position of fenestration, courtyard, water-bodies, landscape elements, sunshades, and even facade details, etc.

3. Vernacular Influence | Neo-Vernacular Architecture

Random rubble stone masonry as done in vernacular architecture_©d6th Design Studio
Random rubble stone masonry as done in vernacular architecture_©d6th Design Studio

Neo-Vernacular buildings result from a conscious approach to Vernacular Architecture, unlike the latter which was purely based on the unconscious passing of knowledge through generations. The neo-vernacular buildings are an outcome of a deliberate approach to creating technically sound vernacular buildings fulfilling contemporary requirements. The local vernacular elements and concepts are modified to stand out in the modern world and to sustain progressive multiple functions. Neo-Vernacular buildings have a unique identity, they resemble a modernist past but a retro-future or present.

The adoption of vernacular elements in the building also revives the diminishing local crafts and provides employment to their indigenous artists. Local architectural trends also find homage in neo-vernacular buildings. 

4. Coherence with ongoing practices

Pre fabricated construction adopted in Anantya Resort, Coorg_©AD
Pre fabricated construction adopted in Anantya Resort, Coorg_©AD

Vernacular buildings without technical intervention would not be able to serve desired strength and stability. Even the most ordinary high-rise and large-span structures are possible due to some technical interventions to be under safer limits. Modern technology facilitates the production of advanced derivatives of local materials. Such materials possess low embodied energy and energy-efficient characteristics. Faster construction lowers the overall cost of the project and its quicker delivery is also aided by technology. Traditional craftsmen are rare to find in the current scenario, therefore technology helps in creating replicas or exact same vernacular elements in Neo-Vernacular buildings. Erratically, modern construction techniques and materials are cladded with natural materials to impart local characteristics.

5. Harmony with the Site and Surroundings

The Khyber Himalayan Resort follows the site terrain and harmonises with the suuroundings_©
The Khyber Himalayan Resort follows the site terrain and harmonises with the suuroundings_©

Neo-Vernacular buildings stand in harmony with its site. The buildings are never intended to outshine their surroundings but rather enhance the existence of each other. Neo-Vernacular Architecture aims to create minimum disturbance to the existing site conditions. It is done through the coordination of colours, and materials between the site and the building. Site topography and drainage patterns are kept into conscious consideration during the design of neo-vernacular buildings. Sometimes the site is modified to optimise the functional and climatic requirements of the building. The unity among the built entity with its environment helps attain energy efficiency and reduces operational resources incurred. 

Conclusion | Neo-Vernacular Architecture

Neo-Vernacular Architecture is a blend of ‘Neo’ pertaining to technological advancement in the profession and ‘Vernacular’ relating to the native architectural practices of a place. The environment-friendly approach to providing contemporary requirements within the vernacular setting gives rise to neo-vernacular buildings. They signify the older form of modern buildings and the contemporary form of vernacular buildings.

The geographical location of the building plays a pivotal role during building design as it dictates the vernacular practices, passive design strategies, traditional aspects, topographical conditions, adoption of local materials, their intervention with modern technology, and their specific construction methodology, etc. All these elements vary from place to place resulting in a unique identity of the built environment, unlike modern buildings with no exclusive features. 

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"Yamini has an innate fanaticism toward sustainable creations with low embodied energy and carbon footprint. She affirms an architects’ apical felicitation lies in their ability to create such sustainable entities that facilitate people to be closer to their origin and mother nature."