Vernacular design, in general, is the design of buildings or objects based on the locally available materials and according to the local traditions. The belief system of our ancestors is expressed through structures and things, which are pure and true to the local context. 

But how do we relate vernacular design with modern folks? Is it by putting a modern techie in a vernacular house and expecting him to follow all traditions or redefining traditions to suit the fast racing world? The Tedx Talk by Eames Demetrios (Demetrios,2015) sheds light on this meticulously for a better understanding and a united walk into the future.   

What is vernacular design?

Eames Demetrios has been a keen observer of the details in nature, and how man has responded to it over time. The details intrigue him as they express the design response to the problem done with utmost commitment. He gives an example of the woodwork done to fill the gaps of a footpath along the mountains of the Alps, which serves its sole purpose and is true to its problem. Adding extra unwanted features to it would just hide the problem and disguise the existing design.

Architects and designers today, add elements that act as a key feature representing their identity through their project. The essence of vernacular design is lost in the process as the true self has not been expressed rather self-expression of the designer peaks out a bit. Eames talks about his favorite place in Singapore, the Haw Par village, which depicts very true traditional values through modern materials. 

Even this is vernacular design as it is made with complete commitment and is made to function fully. The use of modern glass tumblers to serve very traditional drinks in a traditional village of Indonesia is an example of how modern people and vernacular design work together. The values and assumptions haven’t changed over time, however, modern people have become.

Ted Talk for Architects: What might modern folk and vernacular design be? by Eames Demetrios at TEDxSingapore - Sheet2
Traditional drink in a modern vessel

Vernacular values and assumptions

Though some vernacular assumptions lead us to a better future, there are some which are completely based on monetary benefits but disguised under the efficiency cloak. The speaker talks about this issue by saying that modern time has deviated from the purity of these assumptions and has made people believe that the higher the cost, the higher is its value. 

The examples given by the speaker are apt to the growing population and make us question why a few things are the way they are.

Overrated efficiency

 The speaker says that efficiency has become overrated as any change in the present world comes with a tag saying green, efficient, net-zero, or pollution-free, etc like an added advantage. But aren’t these the fundamental essentials of any product or company rather than a choice with the sole purpose of attracting customers. Why didn’t we think it is mandatory and not optional? Is it true that all things that are tagged ‘efficient’ are not for monetary self benefits but genuinely for the goodness of the world? 

The speaker addresses these questions with appropriate examples in his TEDx Talk.

Ted Talk for Architects: What might modern folk and vernacular design be? by Eames Demetrios at TEDxSingapore - Sheet3
Overrating efficiency

Need for new vernacular designs

Maybe for the modern world to function well we need to improvise some of the vernacular assumptions as they might not satisfy our requirements. But do these improvised assumptions really satisfy our needs, is a question to be answered. The speaker voices his concern over the direction of these values and assumptions in modern society. We should be able to harvest the fruits of these values to make more wise decisions in society. 

The speaker talks about the Swedish ship Vasa, which was built based on the vernacular assumptions, but sank as this incremental knowledge was not sufficient to build such a big ship. Such failures demand new assumptions to match the growing needs. 

Eames talks about the importance of vernacular spirits that is within everyone and needs to be satisfied without being overshadowed by modern developments. The need for new assumptions and values is critical right now, and we need to be humbled to take any action and walk united towards a better future. As said by Eames Demetrios, ‘if you don’t have humility, you will be humbled, but if you do have humility, you will still be humbled, but you may be better prepared’. He creates an impactful ending with a very thoughtful and need-of-the-hour question, kindling the listener’s mind.

The speaker has meticulously talked about the importance of vernacular designs and how modern folks assume them to be. The wide range of examples helps the audience to understand better its urgency. He has expressed how we are approaching the world with vernacular designs, but not analyzing if they need amendments for a better future. Changes that we make, the deviations from vernacular design should have a good result, based on which further decisions can be made. If it fails, understanding the cause and building new assumptions to lead a quality life is important. 

This intriguing perspective of vernacular design needs more attention for a sustainable future.

Here is the Link for the Tedx Talk, TEDx Talks (2015) What might modern folk and vernacular design be? | Eames Demetrios | TEDxSingapore, Youtube video available at:


Karpagam is a 3rd year undergraduate student who is very passionate about architecture and takes advantage of any opportunity that comes her way to build herself as an architect .She believes that through healthy discussions, critical changes can be brought in the society.