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Vernacular architecture is a terminology which is made use of in referring to skills and competences which were used to build residential shelters by use of materials which would be obtained from the surrounding environment. This was done and is still practiced in many parts of the world today especially in the developing economies. One dominant feature of vernacular architecture is that materials used for construction are sourced locally to build shelters in order to satisfy the basic human need for housing. The issues of modern design and building style do not arise in vernacular architecture because the most important need is to provide basic housing for the occupants.
Vernacular architecture has undergone a series of revolutions with time due to several key factors which surrounds it. For instance, environmental issues have continued to alter the way vernacular architecture is being pursued. In addition, both historical and cultural values as well as legislation have significantly modified vernacular architecture. This paper seeks to analyse the past and present condition and application of theories which have had a remarkable effect on vernacular architecture. Furthermore, whether these theories have a stance from an established position or not is well discussed. Finally, the relevance of vernacular architecture in modern civilisation and if the concept can be used to solve housing needs in Third World countries is equally explored.
Architectural designs which are created by skilled and highly competent architects do not belong to vernacular architecture. In fact, the latter has been considered to a primitive way of building and perhaps lack any kind of professionalism both in its design and functionality. The argument that can be posed forward is that the basics which are entailed in the process of articulating the design of a building goes far much beyond vernacular architecture. In this regard, it is imperative to consider some theories which have been advanced in the past attempting to distinguish vernacular architecture from the actual architecturally designed buildings. According to Oliver (2006), the designing of architectural buildings has no single element of vernacular it. The author is quite categorical that vernacular architecture might be meant for use by the people bearing in mind that it is constructed by people. However, he strongly differs with the purpose for which vernacular architecture is meant expounding that it is not fit or suitable for human use. Such an assertion clearly casts a dark shadow over the suitability of vernacular architecture for human settlement. Besides, the author seems to acknowledge that architecturally designed houses fairly and comprehensively serves the needs of people in contrary to vernacular architecture. Nevertheless, it is equally worthy to understand that there exists a broad difference between vernacular architecture and traditional housing. The use of locally available materials to construct vernacular architecture does not imply any sense or practice of barbarism as it may be conceived by many opponents of vernacular architecture. Additionally, vernacular architecture has been perceived as simple constructions which have been put up by unskilled architects and who are mainly driven by their raw native desires. This definitely suggests that vernacular architecture depicts a non-civilised way of designing buildings. This, according to Oliver (2006), has been accentuated by inadequate intelligence. In other words, little knowledge is applied in the application of vernacular architecture as compared to professional architecture. This argument may be lacking a well established stance especially if we put the modern architectural designs and works into perspective. Many modern architects have at one time or the other borrowed so much from the vernacular architecture even as they produce the best fit designs in buildings admired by many (Glassie 2000). Besides, vernacular architecture just as it is has been a thriving ground for talent and skill development. There has been a lot of inspiration drawn vernacular architecture by the contemporary designers. The most touching part is the vernacular aspect in these buildings. For instance, Hassan Fathy who was a North African architect made a remarkable contribution in the designing of New Gourna after he had involved himself with a detailed examination of the cultural villages in Nubia. These Nubian villages exemplified the art of vernacular architecture. Although he did not succeed in attempting to incorporate the aspects of the vernacular architecture to professional, there are several similar attempts which have been successfully pursued in different parts of the world.
Oliver (2006) further underscores that vernacular architecture has no any discipline footing through which it can be studied as it is the case with professional architecture. The inclusion of such an informal pursuit in the field of architecture may lead to some confusion and it would be better if vernacular architecture is categorised as a humanity study with an inclination towards anthropology.
Another concern is that vernacular architecture is still looked down upon in the new century amid the rise and rapid advancement of technology and modern civilisation. This can mainly be attributed to some of the impeding theories which have been put forward both in the past and the present time. The field of architecture and even the syllabus content has not put any emphasis on vernacular architecture (Asquith & Vellinga 2006). Furthermore, the earlier skills which were developed by vernacular architects have been neglected and consequently do not occupy a special position in the modern society. Amid the denial that vernacular architecture can indeed help resolve housing challenge in the Third World is the growing concern in cases where basic housing is still a grievous challenge to millions of people in the underdeveloped and developing countries.
Sincerely speaking, the main role of buildings is to provide shelter to its occupants. However, the question about comfort and design chips in. nevertheless, housing needs in the urban set up in developing countries is a growing challenge as the majority of city and town dwellers cannot afford the basic cost of housing when they are actually struggling to get their daily meal. As a result, the development of informal settlements has gripped virtually most urban centres as residents tend to seek cheaper and affordable housing for their families. The state and condition of these settlements are appalling and measures far much below the standards of a well constructed vernacular architecture. In addition to the housing problem, there are other associated costs which residents cannot elude. For example, social amenities like piped water and electricity are still not within the reach of many in these growing economies. Vernacular architecture then provides a ready made solution to the housing problem in the Third World.
In solving the challenges of housing in the Third World countries, it should e understood that the need for modern design and contemporary artistic styles is not a prerequisite. There are other demanding influences which can be considered in addressing vernacular architecture. One such factor is the climatic pattern of the region where the vernacular is being constructed. The local climate will determine several elements of the architectural needs of the building. A case example is a building constructed in a relatively cold climate. There will be need to consider mechanisms which can be used to preserve heat. Fortunately, most of the developing world bloc lies within the tropics and therefore may not require special installations of heating systems to be in place. Vernacular architecture therefore can help suffice housing needs in these weak economies. However, a building which has been constructed in a very cold climate may require special additional features to cope with the extremely low temperatures. This becomes another demanding task in the Third World bearing in mind that the economies may not be able to install heating appliances in the vernacular structures.
Cultural background of the communities practicing vernacular architecture is yet another consideration which may be put into mind. Different communities have varying ways of organising their settlements. Issues regarding safety and cultural norms are keenly put into consideration when developing vernacular architecture. Also, the prevalence of nomadic dwellings in the developing world is a vivid illustration that the adoption of vernacular architecture is not a new phenomenon but t has been practiced for a long period of time. In fact, vernacular architecture is perceived to be as old as mankind himself. The nomadic structures are in fact very temporary and are usually expected to last for a very short period of time before the occupants can vacate it and seek another location. If such temporary shelters can thrive in the Third World among communities which move from one place to another, then the adoption of vernacular structures in urban centres can alleviate housing shortage experienced in urban centres.
A contemporary theory surrounding the establishment of vernacular architecture has it that the movement of people in urban areas and thereafter resettling them in these buildings will lead to loss of their identity as human beings alongside reducing their societal recognition (Upton & Vlach 1986). Although this may sometimes act as an impediment in the attempt to develop vernacular housing, it should be borne into mind that vernacular architecture comes along with its own cost which should be tolerated. The very function which these buildings serve should remain the focal point of interest. Nonetheless, vernacular architecture can be given a comparison of an automobile through which the public has the overall mandate to control it. A good example is when mankind has converted these vernacular structures into centres of tourist attraction luring visitors from all walks of life. If indeed vernacular architecture is old and perhaps outdated, then tourism would not have thrived from such establishments.
The diffusion theory also attempts to bring on board the concept of vernacular architecture (Upton & Vlach 1986). There is often a great curiosity to learn the origins of certain aspects in our society such as how the initial housing designs were and the development stages of the same. Vernacular architecture is indeed an example of one theory of passing on of information from one person to another. While the theory of diffusion has it that information on vernacular architecture may not have originated from one source, the overall impact and significance of vernacular architecture remains to be of importance up to date. The diffusion theory lays an assumption that vernacular architecture is a system which is void of any beauty and lacks the basic theory which is duly important just as it is in professional architecture. This wholesome assumption that vernacular architecture may in itself a void practice is really debatable. by drawing an analogy between artifacts from vernacular architecture and modern constructions, it is evident that a lot has been borrowed from these building remains in terms of original idea and style. It is therefore a relative fact to lay down claims that vernacular architecture is a consequence of insensible imitations of rare construction plans.
However, according to Upton and Vlach (1986), diffusion theory may not be blamed as such. They assert that this theory has formed a firm platform for the studies on vernacular architecture in the continental Europe and the American world. Without this theory, there would be less and inadequate information known on vernacular architecture to be studied by the preceding generations. One major impact of the diffusion theory in the United Kingdom has been tagged on the crown post roofs as well as different house plans. Moreover, it is also believed that building lay outs may have originated from countries like France and thereafter moved to different places within Europe and finally to the rest of the world. From this theory, it is also imperative to explore whether the stance taken is worth it.
Vernacular architecture has played important roles which other disciplines would not have explored. For instance, the museums have managed to save some of the artifacts obtained from ancient remains of vernacular architecture. This has laid a reliable information base for the public on matters regarding the history of vernacular architecture. Modern architecture embraces o much the application of technology which implies that the concept of design is highly values. This is not the case with vernacular architecture. As mentioned earlier, there are several human response activities which have called for the need to erect vernacular architecture especially in disaster stricken zones. In such incidences where there is urgent need for shelter, vernacular architecture has bee of great help. It is therefore vivid that this type of architecture is quite useful in the human society today. Most of the theories which have been deliberated upon in the past have greatly attempted to demean vernacular architecture. Few theories have appreciated the significance of the same. This difference in opinion has led to retarded progress vernacular architecture.
There are several benefits which this type of architecture would have over professional architecture. For example, the theory of diffusion has explained the diverse sources of vernacular architecture which implies that it is a concept which has existed for long. However, the underlying factor here is that vernacular architecture and this application has shed a lot of light to the contemporary architecture in spite of the low position it holds in most societies today. Moreover, vernacular architecture has created a platform through which we can make an analogy of the past ad the present times.
The passion in vernacular architecture has been dormant for a long period of time due to the regressive theories of the past. Modern theories on vernacular architecture have changed its face and as a result, there is a growing interest altogether (Schlereth 1982). A modern theory has it that vernacular architecture is a rich source of culture and conventional values cherished by many. This can be linked to the development of social centres like museums which have been used to preserve human heritage both for current and future studies.
Contemporary works of art have improved the face of vernacular architecture. Coupled with the modern theories on architecture, the expression that vernacular architecture is less beautiful and therefore lacks the aesthetic value is fast disappearing. From 1960s, there were studies which were launched to highlight greater importance of vernacular architecture on matters such as the environment and technology. By 1997, there were several publications in place emphasising the importance of vernacular architecture. The hallmark of this new face of vernacular architecture was the publication of the ââ‚¬Å“Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the Worldââ‚¬. This publication contains literature on vernacular architecture authored by several professionals from all over the world. In this encyclopedia, modern theories on vernacular architecture have been elaborated. For example, vernacular architecture is viewed as the backbone of professional architecture. As a result of these changes in the whole perception surrounding vernacular architecture, it is currently being applied in the modern practices of environmental conservation. It has come into notice that vernacular architects of the modern times are well placed in articulating the type and nature of materials to be used in constructions compared to professional architects who basically rely on technological advancement and modern applications in the construction process. The vernacular architects are also more knowledgeable on the changing environmental needs and therefore they can easily adapt to it. This is not an easy exercise for the professional architects who rely heavily on the use of programmed working plans.
In addition, vernacular architects are well paced as risk takers than their professional counterparts. This is because the former can experiment with the different available options in order to produce desired results. Through this risk taking initiative, vernacular architecture has experienced growth through innovation and invention while professional architecture seems to follow certain old age strict codes and can hardly go through any significant revolution.
A remarkable example which entails the role played by vernacular architecture is modern settlements which have been constructed in some Third World countries especially in the urban areas. This has been done to reduce housing problems experienced in the urban and sub-urban set ups in addition to providing social amenities like water ad electricity to a large group of people within a small piece of land. These vernacular architectures have substantially reduced the emergence and escalation of slum dwelling by city residents in addition to reducing environmental pollution through excessive extraction of permanent building materials from the environment.
In summing up, it can be observed that vernacular architecture may be deemed as a real time solution to housing challenges in the Third World countries by providing better and yet affordable alternative to housing. Additionally, the cultural and historical factors which have been associated with vernacular architecture are also real assets in the pursuit of human heritage. This has been seen through the development of museums where vernacular artifacts have been preserved for the purpose of transmitting knowledge from one generation to the other.