What is Vernacular Architecture? According to its etymology, “verna” means native and “architecture” is to design buildings, thus vernacular architecture is an architecture style that is built to meet the present needs, keeping in mind the local climate, culture, and materials. But its presence appeared a long time back when the need for “a shelter” had risen, which pushed humans to use indigenous techniques and materials to formulate an optimum solution for themselves. This gave birth to a “tent” that now has innumerable design options. Since then this field is evolving yet dispersed. It is evolving because the local conditions proportionally evolve and dispersed because it is purely regional and its diverse nature makes it difficult to be propounded into a singular style with a name. It is in contradiction to the aesthetical and modern architecture of the present times.

Why architects must study Vernacular Architecture?
Vernacular architecture ©Nadejda Aliénor Illustration

In the 1800s, the term Vernacular was looked down upon and was used for an entity that was ordinary and designed out of necessity. In 1964 an exhibition was held by Bernard Rudofsky, called “Architecture without Architects”, this very event established the significance of the term “vernacular architecture” amongst the architects, which was followed by amplification by ace architects like Le Corbusier, Adolf Loos, and Frank Lloyd Wright. 

As Frank Lloyd Wright says, we have to create an architecture that speaks for its time and place and yet yearns for timelessness. An architect cannot and should not create spaces without sensitivity and awareness towards the historical interventions, making it imperative to understand the factors that help designing spaces that are contextual with the surroundings and yet eternal.

With the onset of modern architecture, the latest technologies and construction methods and manufactured and processed materials became a norm, but in reality, they are energy drainers and impact the environment on huge levels. On the contrary, vernacular architecture is sustainable in its approach and uses green building techniques to work around its design schemes. It works on techniques that lower the carbon footprint, hence reducing the pressure on the environment. For example, the Warli House in Maharashtra uses karvi stones to create a light external envelope that quickly dissipates the internal heat creating a cool interior atmosphere in a hot and humid climate of the central plain. Another example of a climate-responsive building style is the Bhonga House, which is a typical Rajasthani circular house that has thick mud walls, protecting the inmates from the hot and arid climate of the desert city. Taking a cue from the above studies Modo Designs have designed a house known as The House of Courtyards in Ahmedabad, which has been built on the concept of “pols”, typical to the city’s vernacular architecture, where a “pol” was a cluster of houses around a courtyard that has a common entrance and also gives protection from the harsh weather conditions by sufficing cross-ventilation. This house is built around a series of open courts that create a tunnel effect in the interiors and create a cool atmosphere. 

The Atlantic, an online blog has posted an article, “Why every city feels the same” by Darren Anderson. It articulates that all cities nowadays have a repetitive architectural monologue and have become a plethora of glass, concrete, and steel. They have parted ways with their local traditional architecture, thus losing out on their originality. He addresses that these cities are facing a major identity crisis. If vernacular architecture is allowed to play its role, the cultural landscape of a city can be protected, creating a dialogue between the city and its inhabitants. 

Talking about India, it is a land full of assorted cultures that include festivals, religions, foods, attires, and occupations, thus breeding various examples of vernacular architecture. Some examples are the Havelis of Ahmedabad, the typical brick architecture of Chandigarh, or the houses in Himachal Pradesh, which have a separate room for grain storage, as agriculture is their major source of income and many others like them. Architects like Raj Rewal have also designed low-cost housings like the Aranya Housing in Madhya Pradesh on the lines of a typical Indian city that has narrow streets with congregational spaces to celebrate the culture of the city. Sadly, it’s fading, the notion of modernity is overshadowing the need to protect the cultural heritage.

While we are living in times when we can export and import materials nationally and internationally on a phone call, we also increase the cost of the project, which in turn creates a gap in the economic growth of the country. In introspection, the vernacular architecture uses homegrown materials thus cutting down on various costs like the processing and manufacturing, the transport, and the cost of intricate construction processes for its application, then why not shift to a more local approach. These materials that are used depend on the location, they can be wooden in earthquake-prone regions and brick and clay in hot and humid climates.

Thus, understanding Vernacular Architecture and its characteristics are very important for architects, as it can help regulate the brimming problem of environmental degradation and also help society stay true to its culture and heritage. A proper approach has to be adapted in the induction of these vernacular values in architects, which has to begin at the grass-root level that is at the graduation level, following proper specializations. It has to be given more importance than just mugging up the definition, only then will the results be visible. 

Author

Ishita Jindal, an architect and a teacher who is inquisitive and believes that learning never ends. She is an enthusiastic reader and loves to write, be it a note or an article. She believes that imagination creates architecture, thus loves to dance and watch movies to nurture it.

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