June 23, 2007

03 Comtemporary Vernacular Architecture

The following lesson after the notebook is about Vernacular Architecture.
What is vernacular architecture? How is it different from traditional architecture?
We got a brief and sounding definition from wikipedia (the super encyclopedia):

Vernacular Architecture is a term used to categorize methods of construction which use locally available resources to address local needs. Vernacular architecture tends to evolve over time to reflect the environmental, cultural and historical context in which it exists. It has often been dismissed as crude and unrefined, but also has proponents who highlight its importance in current design. (Holm, Ivar (2006). Ideas and Beliefs in Architecture and Industrial design: How attitudes, orientations, and underlying assumptions shape the built environment. Oslo School of Architecture and Design.) In contrast to planned architecture by architects, the building knowledge in vernacular architecture is often transported by local traditions and is thus more - but not only - based on knowledge achieved by trial and error and often handed down through the generations rather than calculated on knowledge of geometry and physics. This of course does not exclude architects from using vernacular architecture in their designs or being firmly based in their regional vernacular architecture.

This is the first example came into my mind: the iglu of Eskimo.

The idea of vernacular architecture became an interest among architects with modern ideology by Bernard Rudofsky's 1964 book Architecture Without Architects: a short introduction to non-pedigreed architecture, based on his MoMA exhibition. It gives a new aspect to architecture after the era of the Modern Masters.

The term vernacular is derived from the Latin vernaculus - a slave quarter at the back of the master's garden - In terms of language, vernacular refers to language use particular to a time, place or group. In architecture it refers to that type of architecture which is indigenous to a specific time or place (not imported or copied from elsewhere). It is most often used to apply to residential buildings. (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/vernacular, http://dictionary.cambridge.org/define.asp?key=88049&dict=CALD, http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/vernacular)

The local church in Norway. Very nice Vernacular Architecture.

A fisherman village in the south of Thailand.

The term is not to be confused with so-called "traditional" architecture, though there are links between the two. Vernacular architecture may, through time, be adopted and refined into culturally accepted solutions, but only through repetition may it become "traditional." Traditional architecture can also include temples and palaces, for example, which would not be included usually in the rubric of "vernacular." In Japan, for example, not all pre-modern architecture is "vernacular," which would usually refer only to rural buildings and structures. In the US, vernacular architecture might refer to a so-called craftsman bungalow, fashionable in the nineteenth century, even though the bungalow as an architectural form did not originate in the US. "Vernacular" might even refer to a building like the 1848 Duncan House in Cooksville, Wisconsin. All in all, the use of the term "vernacular" can be quite ambiguous.

On this ambiguity, we had a long discussion in the class.
Of course, very simple huts and houses in the country side could be catagorized into Vernacular Architecture. But is shophouses we see around us everywhere in Thailand vernacular architecture? But it has an air-con? Is technology like air-con considered imported? Hin (sila) one of the students gives his opinion that air-con is quite an available common modern technology that we could almost consider it a material like wood..so perhaps our shophouses around could be considered also Contemporary Vernacular Architecture.

This approach would go in the same line with the term commercial vernacular as Robert Venturi and Denis Scott Brown use in their book 'Learning From Las Vegas' which refers to the 20th century American suburb commercial architecture. (The book is one of the most important books of the 20th century architecture theory). Rem Koolhass's Delirious New York is also in the same family of thoughts. His 'culture of congestion' is to describe architecture and urbanism of the 20th century city emerging without 'great' architects, but with the dreams and desires of capitalism.

The discussion on Vernacular Architecture made us think a lot about all. I finished the lecture by showing a house I visited 5 years ago at On-nuch garage slum - the biggest garbage disposal area in Bangkok. The house is built from carefully selected garbage and left over - metal boxes for snacks. The details are well thought, so well thought that we as an architect are amazed. The owner / builder of the house is a man of his 40s, who never built anything in his life before.... An excellent example of Contemporary Vernacular Architecture?

The house was still under construction 5 years ago when I visited.

The detail of the opening of the house.

The roof tiles are made of the metal boxes cut into small pieces too.

The columns are reinforce concrete molded by the metal bins, without removing the mold afterward! Very interesting...

We are thinking a lot about our Contemporary Vernacular Architecture.