Contemporary and Vernacular. While one word defines a type of architecture that’s highly progressive, modern, high tech and expressive; the other deals with traditional, simple, and practical techniques, the simplest form of addressing human needs. While contemporary architecture is of the 21st century, using advanced materials and spread across a global scale, the vernacular is a style that has been existing since the beginning of time, makes use of local materials, and varies from region to region. Quite the contrast, am I right? But what if I tell you that a new style born from the coalescing of the two, is on the rise in India?

Though vernacular aspects are seemingly forgotten in modern architecture, certain architects have now started embracing regionalism and cultural building tradition. With rapid technological advancements and urbanization, incorporating knowledge of vernacular construction has proved to be a step forward in terms of sustainable architecture.

A thorough study of the history, social, cultural, climatic conditions, and techniques of many regional styles have shown that these low-tech methods of construction, perfectly adapt to its locale. Many vernacular structures have been established to be not just energy efficient but sustainable as a whole, by using materials and resources close to the site.

The right amount of involvement of vernacular ideologies in the design of buildings for the future is what can be termed ‘contemporary vernacular’. Read on to see how this distinct style has arisen and evolved in numerous parts of the country.  

1. Brick House by iStudio architecture at Wada, Mumbai

To start, this farmhouse is set amidst a rural settlement and is made of wood, stone, bricks, and bamboo in their naked form. Further, eco-friendly technologies like rat-trap bonds, brick jaalis, and built-in furniture are not only economical but also give an earthly feel to space. Striking features that give it a contemporary touch are its organic form that emerges from the ground and into the skyline, as well as curvilinear spaces that flow into each other.

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2. Kripacharya Farmhouse by Q designs in Pune

From chira a local red laterite stone, to kund a traditional central open space, to padwi or large verandas; this house is the manifestation of everything vernacular. Glass openings for direct daylight and double-layered terracotta roofing for insulation are some of the many brilliant choices in terms of climate responsiveness.

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3. Cape House by Architecture and Beyond in Surat

This eccentric name came from the fact that a gigantic brick ‘cape’ embraces this two-story house as it rises and shapes the skyline. Eco-friendliness, style, and cost-effectiveness have been the mantra for this house and that’s why bricks have been used extensively while being paired with other materials to provide rustic modernity.  

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4. Pearl Academy of Fashion by Morphogenesis in Jaipur

While we’re still exploring west India, it would be wrong to miss out on vernacular attributes of Rajasthan. The Pearl Academy uses several elements to create an ‘environmentally conscious passive habitat’ like step-wells which are a traditional way of cooling, along with jaali skins that filter air and light while ensuring privacy.

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5. Asha Niketan by Fournier in Kolkata

French architect Laurent Fournier came to Kolkata to study the city’s heritage but fell in love with traditional bamboo and mud huts of rural Bengal; leaving him with no choice but to stay and incorporate this into his work. His first project, a meditation room for the mentally challenged did justice to the vernacular style by using local materials like exposed brick for walls, terracotta tile roofs, and large windows with bamboo mesh, locally known as dharma. A huge advocate of environment friendliness, Fournier made sure to build the structure in a zig-zag shape to retain the surrounding trees.   

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6. Primary school by Fournier in Agra

This school although built by Fournier is considerably different from the previous, and that is a striking feature of his work; his style often varies with location. This school is built with massive brick arches and jaalis inspired by Fatehpur Sikri. The building uses no concrete, and steel only in minimal quantities. The arches prove to be a contemporary element symbolizing the sky and ‘lightness floating overhead’.

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7. Vashi Farmhouse by d6thD Design Studio in Amalsad

Nestled away in the rural landscape of south Gujarat, this weekend house is the perfect amalgamation of regional elements as well as luxury and extravagance. Its sloping roof helps contend with heavy rainfall, while a deeply covered veranda acts as a transition space and a shield against hot exteriors.

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8. Oland Estate by Biome in Tamil Nadu

A series of 9 bungalows by Ar. Chitra Vishwanath is built completely from the mud available on site along with the locally available stone. The steep slanting roofs not only protect the structure from climatic and rainfall conditions but also give the homes an idiosyncratic identity.

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9. Buddhi School by Biome in Bengaluru

An institution for the children of special abilities, the campus of Buddhi school was built to give primary focus to the playground as a central space. Sustainable daylighting and ventilation are a meager part of the design, while a remarkable and unique feature noted here is the use of slit windows with slanted walls that keep out the rainwater.  

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10. Resorts in Andaman and Nicobar Islands

We know that a majority of ‘contemporary vernacular’ structures were built to be sustainable, eco-friendly, or even economical for that matter. However, we also see that in some places this type of architecture was incorporated for a whole other reason, and that is to promote tourism. A way of depicting the culture of a place through architecture is a sure-shot way of absorbing tourists to a destination and has worked wonders in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

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Medha Kulkarni
Author

Currently a student of Bachelors in Architecture, Medha yearns to unceasingly learn new things. Here at RTF, she intends to put forth her ideas on architecture, and believes that words encapsulate the essence of a design. She aspires to create something beautiful, one day.

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