Vernacular architecture  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Vernacular architecture or popular 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 since the arrival of postmodern architecture has proponents who highlight its importance in current design.


An early work in the defense of vernacular was Bernard Rudofsky's 1964 book Architecture Without Architects: a short introduction to non-pedigreed architecture, based on his MoMA exhibition. The book was a reminder of the legitimacy and "hard-won knowledge" inherent in vernacular buildings, from Polish salt-caves to gigantic Syrian water wheels to Moroccan desert fortresses, and was considered iconoclastic at the time. Rudofsky was, however, very much a Romantic who viewed native populations in a historical bubble of contentment. Rudofsky's book was also based largely on photographs and not on on-site study.

A more serious work is the Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World published in 1997 by Paul Oliver of the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development. Oliver has argued that vernacular architecture, given the insights it gives into issue of environmental adaptation, will be necessary in the future to "ensure sustainability in both cultural and economic terms beyond the short term." Christopher Alexander, in his book A Pattern Language, attempted to identify adaptive features of traditional architecture that apply across cultures. Howard Davis's book The Culture of Building details the culture that enabled several vernacular traditions.

Some extend the term vernacular to include any architecture outside the academic mainstream. The term "commercial vernacular," popularized in the late 1960s by the publication of Robert Venturi's "Learning from Las Vegas," refers to 20th century American suburban tract and commercial architecture. There is also the concept of an "industrial vernacular" with its emphasis on the aesthetics of shops, garages and factories. Some have linked vernacular with "off-the-shelf" aesthetics. In any respect, those who study these types of vernaculars hold that the low-end characteristics of this aesthetic define a useful and fundamental approach to architectural design.

Among those who study vernacular architecture are those who are interested in the question of everyday life and those lean toward questions of sociology. In this, many were influenced by The Practice of Everyday Life (1974) by Michel de Certeau.

An architect whose work that exemplifies the modern take on vernacular architecture would be Samuel Mockbee, whose pioneering work with Rural Studio is well-regarded and widely discussed amongst practicing architects and academics alike. Christopher Alexander and Paolo Soleri have a body of work which

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