Vernacular Architecture is known for its use of local materials and knowledge of material combination without any supervision of a professional architect. The term Vernacular Architecture means, ‘domestic,native,indigenous’.  Many tribal settlements and traditional building represent vernacular architecture for eg. Wada Housing in Maharashtra, Bhonga Housing in Gujarat, Toda Tribal Hut in Nilgiri Mountains etc. Vernacular architecture is functional, informal and designed mostly with mud and bamboo.

Today,as the demand for sustainable architecture increases many architects and designers are investing their time and resources to decode the world of vernacular architecture around the world, so to merge traditional outlooks with modern techniques

9 Things Architects should learn from Vernacular Architecture- Principles - Sheet1
The environmental,socio-cultural and socio- economic sustainable principles ©Vernacular Architecture: Versus – Learning vernacular heritage to sustainable architecture

1. Co-existence

Co-existence - Sheet1
Documenting the Last Vernacular Village In Himachal ©Himanshu Khagta Photography, CEPT

Architecture is not just about filling the site with steel blocks or construction concrete rather it’s about understanding the place with consideration of its social, cultural, and environmental essence. Contrary to traditional architecture, the architectural space in contemporary architecture depends on an artificial urban landscape to harmonize and rationalize it with the individuality of contemporary buildings. Cities are full of landmarks rather than co-existed urban form. Whereas traditional architecture was harmonious with the surrounding, climate, geography, landscape and human psychology along with successfully co-existing, treating architecture as a holistic natural living element, stand still yet function, similar to trees as an organic living environment inventory with judicious use of building material, form and technology.

2. Local materials

Local materials - Sheet1
Coconut Leaf Hut mad of Bamboo, Cocont Leaf ©

The vernacular architecture was designed in direct response to the locally available material such as bamboo, thatch, sticks, mud, or grass for construction, which were more energy-efficient, cheap, affordable, easily available, and even required less labour. The building construction material used today is more synthetic, not sustainable, and hard to reuse such as concrete and steel. The building industry consumes immense energy and contributes majorly to the world’s greenhouse gas emission.

3. Construction methods

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Construction Methods ©

Traditional architecture still exists today and proved to more durable in comparison to modern architecture. The use of local material allowed easy extraction, easy preparation, and the possibility of creating composite which permitted thermal efficiency, recyclability, biodegradability, and sustainability. The construction method was changed on trial and error basis and material for construction was changed or added depending on the survival of the building. The vernacular architecture was the result of those attempts to create the best suitable building according to the context.

 4. Sustainability

Sustainability - Sheet1
The Natural Vernacular of NM takes advantage of the thermal mass of adobe, collecting the heat from the sun in the day to re-radiate it at night ©Clark Richardson, WordPress

Vernacular buildings around the world are a great example of sustainable solutions to building problems. The buildings were energy-efficient and highly sustainable due to the use of local material and building technology. The architecture was in deep harmonization with site surrounding and had a minimal environmental impact as the most commonly used building material were mud and earth, which improved the building’s thermal and acoustic performance and enhanced the sustainability aspects. The construction was done on sustainable principles using local materials and technology through the amalgamation of the physical and natural environment with cultural, social, and mystical values offering rational solutions to the harsh climate and human needs.

5. Culture

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Vernacular Architecture of Nagaland ©

Each community had its style of architecture, that featured their main character, culture, and retrieved a sense of heritage, giving them a unique appearance. They cannot be separated from the culture they were developed in, resulting in their own regional and economical aesthetic. The houses are built according to their regional possibilities, needs, availability of materials, topography, and climate. Traditional buildings that were rich for their culture have lost their identity due to the influence of Western culture which led to the construction of buildings that were internationally acceptable and used similar material across the globe.

6. Climate Responsive

Climate Responsive - Sheet1
Climate responsive vernacular, Swahili Housing ©Semantic Scholar

The glass and steel architecture constructed all over the world ignores the specific climate of the place and is left at the mercy of the climate. The buildings are fully air-conditioned and require year-round air conditioning contrary to the natural cooling options used by vernacular buildings which consumed less energy. These buildings prove to be inefficient, where glass exterior traps the sun’s rays during summer and haemorrhages heat throughout the winter.

7. A contextual approach to design

A contextual approach to design - Sheet1
Bhonga Housing, Kutch,India Vernacular Architecture of Gujarat ©Aniruddh Dubey, Slideshare

A building’s fundamental purpose is to provide a comfortable living environment, protected from the extremes of climate, as well as respond to the site, setting, and context. The construction style of each vernacular style differs according to the context of the site. For example; the traditional buildings of North-Eastern India  are constructed over varying topography consisting of plains, mountains, and frequent flood-affected areas, using bamboo which is found in great abundance in the North-Eastern region; Giant houses built in Fujian, China from the 12th – 19th century with the main purpose of prevention against the plunder and attack of the outside forces, constructed strong fortress using locally available material that protected inhabitants from the outside dangers.

8. Expandable form and space

Expandable form and space - Sheet1
Different forms of Vernacular Architecture ©Archdaily

Architecture should be capable of growing according to the changing needs of the inhabitants. The form which easily accepts change and process-based incremental growth. Vernacular architecture had the potential to accommodate such changes in its spatial layout. For example, the traditional Malay house, the Bumbung Panjang, could easily allow an addition to the house on the simple roof in an efficient way.

9. Building Image

Building Image - Sheet1
The Next Vernacular Architecture ©Magzter

All the buildings of a particular vernacular style looked similar due to the use of the same material, color, and technique of construction. There was a sense of equality among people living in such dwellings which were achieved through the outside building image. All buildings seemed equal and there was a less visible difference between rich and poor from the outside.