Yesterday, while perusing my Google alerts on architecture, I stumbled across an article titled “Is Vernacular Architecture Dead?” and thought it was worth a second glance. My first step after that was Googling ‘vernacular architecture,’ which, according to Wikipedia, is a style of design based on local needs, materials, and traditions. This made me think of both adobe homes and igloos, where people gathered materials and built their homes, and my knee-jerk reaction was yes, it is.
As I read further, the argument for vernacular architecture being dead included things such as our increasing connectivity and global awareness. It is so easy to find something on the internet you like that you may have never seen before or may not have been exposed to if not for the wonders of the world wide web. So why not bring pieces of another culture into your area?
Another contributing factor is cost. Building the same structure(s) over and over bring about some financial savings for construction companies and developers. There is an economy of scale in buying a few materials in large quantities and allowing for customization based on colors and finishes. The tradespeople also become more adept at creating these buildings because they understand how things are going together and can find better/quicker ways to construct them. Anyone looking to build is going to be aware of costs and want their money to go as far as possible.
While there is logic to these arguments, my experience would say that there are people who are embracing local architecture. We have people call the office who have found home plans online but find they just aren’t working. Sometimes, things just don’t fit the location or respond to the site. Can you imagine a lovely tiki hut on a snowy mountaintop? Sure, you can do it, but why? It doesn’t address climate issues. The heating bill would be outrageous.
There is also an increasing awareness of utilizing local materials with “green” building design. This is something we try to do as much as possible. It’s environmentally conscious and it’s cost-efficient. Why pay to have materials brought in, when you have it in your backyard already? There is the additional benefit of saving fossil fuels during transport.
There are practical reasons to embrace vernacular architecture. Climate would certainly be one of them. Sustainability would be another. There’s also the question of whether a building is appropriate and “fits” the area. This is almost always an underlying concern for our staff when designing. So, based on my experience, vernacular architecture is alive and well.