“The Responses of Vernacular architecture to Social, Economical and Environmental Conditions”

The Responses of Vernacular architecture to Social, Economical and Environmental Conditions

Herby Fleuridor

 

Abstract

Vernacular architecture is a style that has been linked to being very informal and rural in terms of appearances, technology, built and considered as very primitive type of architecture by person that do not understand it. What this piece of writing is trying to achieve is, showing the importance of this style and how it is linked to social, environmental and economical factors. The information provided shows how not only this is true but also shows how the elements and principles used in vernacular architecture can be used and implemented in solving design issues faced in the present concerning sustainability, resilience, technology and materiality. The conclusion of this research shows that the way to improve architecture is through using techniques and principles from past vernacular architecture and implement them into the present buildings.

 

TABLE OF CONTENT

Abstract

Acknowledgements

Introduction

Research Scope

Hypothesis

Aims & Objectives

Literature Review

What is Vernacular Architecture?

Rural and Urban Vernacular Architecture

Differences between Rural and Urban Vernacular Architecture

Formal Vernacular Architecture in Urban Areas

Informal Vernacular Architecture in Rural Areas

Factors affecting the type of vernacular architecture

Terrain

Weather and Climate

Materiality

Methodology

Limitation

Findings & Analysis

Case Study 1 – Turks & Caicos Islands

Adaptive Environmental Response

Case Study 2 – Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt

Case Study 3 – Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Sustainable Design

Conclusion

Lessons from Vernacular Architecture

Bibliography

Appendices

 

Introduction

Vernacular Architecture is said to be “the architectural language of the people' with its ethnic, regional and local 'dialects” (Oliver, 1997).

It is a term mostly used to describe and categorize indigenous, tribal, and traditional architecture and is linked to the responses of the needs of inhabitants of an area that evolve organically from everyday human practices (M.Vellinga, 2007). Although this definition categorizes this style of many into one, based on building traditions, the appearances and building technology varies within some countries and some extend across political boundaries of others.

A look at modern Vernacular Architecture today can be labeled as a form of gentrification based on its adaptation into urban areas. This is due to the modern first world influence that has made it internationally popular not for what it was but for what it can become.

But when observing architecture in different areas, considering the separation of rural and urban areas as well as other factors such as materials, type of structure and design, it creates an open discussion into the linkage between vernacular architecture and the social and economic factors of that particular place as well as environmental factors.

In simpler terms, this research will investigate whether the existing vernacular architecture of an area is the product of an architectural response to the accessibility and availability of materials. This also considers the economic stability of an area, as well as the response to social and environmental factors such as climate, terrain, accessibility to water. Thus the Title of this dissertation, “The Responses of Vernacular architecture to Social, Economical and Environmental Conditions”.

 

Research Scope

 

Key Question

The exploration of existing literature in vernacular architecture that contained different case studies and information is being used to strengthen and reinforce the hypothesis on whether vernacular architecture is a response to social, environmental, and economic factor and how it can be used to resolve social, environmental and economic issues using the principles of this Vernacular Architecture.

Aims & Objectives

What is discussed in this research aims to challenge existing information and confirm or reject whether there is a connection between vernacular architecture and social, environmental and economic factors for the purpose of learning how to build up cities to be more resilient. Where as the information provided in this research is intended to be used by designers and planners to help with issues that have plagued formal architecture. A look into this topic can serve as precedent when it comes to urban planning, in minimizing the issues concerning the housing crisis, and making sure housing crisis does not become more of an issue in years to come as what is seen in countries such as Brazil, where there are bout 220,000 people without a proper place to live (Seidel, 2014). Lessons can be learned from this research on how to approach solutions to the affordable housing crisis using technology and concepts from vernacular architecture to lessen the negative social impact that these issues create in communities. Issues like these are not stationed to one location and without proper solutions can develop into a world wide issues.

 

Literature Review

 

What is Vernacular Architecture?

To first understand what vernacular architecture is, Nomads are used in this instance to show where the first presence of this style began for the understanding of its history. As they were the pioneers of this style because they were a community people who lived in different locations, constantly moving from one place to another with no settled home and this required them to move with items which they can constantly use to construct shelter with and also adapt to different locations and their materials in order to create those shelters. Shelters such as Tents, and Huts. (M.Vellinga, 2007)

The reason that they are being considered as the first group of people to be involved with vernacular architecture movement is because of the way that they constructed their shelter to suit their needs which was dependent on continuous movement which was an efficient strategy for exploiting scarce resources.

(Oliver, 1997) mention vernacular architecture had to do with what was indigenous to an area. Indigenous as defined by the Oxford Dictionary meaning to originate or occur naturally in a particular place or to be native of a area. The word “vernacular” was derived from the Latin word Vernaculus meaning native.

Unlike the professionalism of architecture as we know it in the present, this architecture style was a style that required skill and craftsmanship because it mostly consisted of traditionally self built buildings. This confirms the notion that this style was one that encouraged and was influenced by culture, tradition, gender roles and symbolism. (M.Vellinga, 2007) Over time, it has been difficult to define this style based on its form, structure, and its informal design. But this informal style has over the years been the result of external factors. Because of the informal characteristics in its earlier time, and the professionalism of architecture in the same era, vernacular architecture had not been a main focus in the field of architecture. But its impact on the design of buildings is undeniable as we approach times where sustainability plays a necessary role in the effectiveness and efficiency in the life cycle of buildings.

Rural and Urban Vernacular Architecture

To categorize vernacular architecture is no simple task, as this would require one to list numerous cultures and places, as it is what determines the type of vernacular architecture. There is no one type of vernacular architecture, there are numerous as each has a distinct style, in terms of aesthetic and built. But Vernacular Architecture can be categorized within two categories which is Vernacular Architecture in Rural and Urban Areas.

Differences between Rural and Urban Vernacular Architecture

Urban Vernacular architecture is different from its rural architecture. Unlike the rural architecture, the urban is very high-rise and contain more dense settlements. The planning is very free formed and organic as buildings are constructed and layered over time through needs of its residence. With its typology, the concern are more focused on having shelter. Rural Vernacular Architecture in indeed in the country side but unlike Urban Vernacular Architecture are less dense and tend to have low rise buildings and are small compared to its counterpart.

Formal Vernacular Architecture in Urban Areas

Urban Architecture is what has been globally accepted as a current form of architecture that’s specific to built up areas such as cities. Due to modernism, and as well as Industrialization. It is safe to say that the 19th century changed the way architecture was approached due to new architecture. Due to social issues at the time such as world war 2, the need for housing for families, mass production, energy consumptions as well as weathering patterns brought about urbanism. This has in a way create its form of architecture. An example of this is mentioned in (Vale, 1995), prefabricated housing. At the time, housing was an issue, the speed at which it was built as well as material. Prefabrication became a natural response to the epidemic especially considering it was in the time of crisis, “World War 2”. While this was a formalize approach to this urban design.

Informal Vernacular Architecture in Rural Areas

When one thinks about the word informal architecture, it is automatically connected to harsh surroundings, low-income areas, and the countryside, rural areas. Naturally vernacular architecture has also been linked to these characteristics but due to modernism and urbanism and globalization, this has changed quite a bit in an attempt to improve the living standards of areas.

An extension of informal settlements in all of Egypt is one of the threats to quality of life on a social, environmental and economical level.

In most areas surrounding Dakhleh Oasis, there’s intrusive reinforced concrete and unfinished blocks that are condensed to shape informal spots throughout the built up spaces. But the characteristics of the local architecture in such areas are shaped by the locals to show their social, culture and aesthetic values. Meanwhile, primitive environmental strategies are reflected through the use of the natural resources, local materials and building technologies. There is attempt to formalize these rural areas, but this has failed due to a lack of understanding of these communities and their development (socially, culturally, economically).

But another major issue when it comes to architecture of all cultures has been linked to its availability of resources (Balblo, 2014). Architecture has reached a period where sustainability has become a major part in design stages because of the concern for limited resources and the effect on life after a built. Islamic architecture is an ante litteram synthetic expression of functionalism and sustainable design because of its functional design, customized and adaptability to the environment and availability to local resources and materials while keeping its cultural connection (Balblo, 2014).. An example of this is the urban design of villages near the Dakhleh Oasis that was built on a hill for defensive purpose while having slopes that extended to flat zones where artesian wells provided water. Another part in consideration of this example stated was the geomorphology of the area, the physical features of the surface of the earth and their relation to its geological structures.

The informal characteristics such as appearance and use of materials as well as location of vernacular architecture are noticeable key features when this style is mentioned. Unfortunately, it has also been linked to areas defined by the United Nations as slums or shantytowns. These are areas that are likely to be dwellings with a lack of minimum hygiene standards, infrastructure and living space. This has been categorized as an informal type of architecture because of how unorganized the urban planning is. This is known as informal architecture. A place that can be linked to this informal category is Brazil. This is a country that is greatly affected by its economic marginalization in the rural areas known as the “favelas” which has become a breeding ground for a type of architecture not accepted by its government that has created a social separation between the different classes of people in Brazil. This is arguably a characteristic of this style of architecture informal aspect but it is arguable a response to the lack of economical and social resources.

Factors affecting the type of vernacular architecture

While there are social factors and economic factors involved with defining of vernacular architecture, there is one that has great impact on this type of architecture as well. Environmental conditions, inhabitants that inhabit an area must consider the terrains of a place. This will require either the environment or the inhabitants to adapt to the change and introduction of each other. Places will accept or reject its inhabitants in some cases. Under harsh circumstances, provisions are made to create a symbiotic relationship between and its environment.

This is determined by factors such as Climate, Terrain, and Material availability.

Terrain

this is described as the surface layer of the land. This includes elevation, slope, and orientation of the land. Different areas have different terrains, such as mountains of the Himalayas in Asia, or flat areas in parts of Africa, or wet areas such as islands of the Caribbean. There is always a mention on terrains when it comes to buildings and structures. Some terrains are flat and others are not. There are terrains that consist of a lot of hills that are high and low. Types of terrain are determined by their weather patterns, rock formation, soil, vegetation and as well as elevations of the terrain.

Weather and Climate

has to do with the conditions of the atmosphere over a period of time. Weather being over a short period of time and Climate being over a longer period of time (30 year interval). This includes rainfall, temperature and wind, humidity and atmospheric pressure of an area. (NASA, 2005)

Materiality

this has to do with materials that the earth itself produces, or elements that a specific area contains to produce a material, such as the Amazon forest contain timber that can be used to built houses, South Africa contains natural resources such as cobalt, iron, uranium, copper, petroleum just to name a few.

The important thing of these factors is that one affects the other. The type of terrain will affect weather and climate pattern and vice versa, the type of climate will affect the materiality of an area, such as the vegetation of an area.

With these factors considered, for inhabitants, different approaches will be required, to live and thrive within an area.

While the hypothesis of this paper is leaned towards the relationship between vernacular architecture and social, economic and environmental factors, it is arguably a discussion on how to improve life cycle of buildings and improve the way we live on a daily basis by recognizing the faults in these factors so that architecture becomes as sustainable as possible. This piece of writing explores those possible reasons of this not happening because of issues that arise from these social, economic and environmental factors.

Methodology

The research question of this paper is focused on whether vernacular architecture is a response to social, environmental and economical circumstances. The methodology chosen to demonstrate findings are second hand sources such as case studies, journals and literature.

This research will present a breakdown into the classification of vernacular architecture, which is formal and informal architecture. This is to argue of a line drawn between the formal and informal architecture by using examples of each type to show how the responses from economic as well as social create these two categories. This analysis will be used in relation with poverty stricken areas that have been link to vernacular architecture such as Brazil in an effort to show how these areas responded with circumstances such as environmental, social and economic marginalization in order to find solutions on how to approach issues such as housing crisis to introduce new affordable schemes in an attempt to improve the standards of living in poverty stricken communities.

Case studies are introduced to show the characteristics of vernacular architecture. This will mean analyzing the buildings in these case studies to make certain distinction between formal and informal vernacular architecture noticeable. The case studies show a distinction between the types of buildings built in a financially stable location against ones that are not. This will pinpoint the effects of this on the social aspect of individuals within the area, which have arisen because of this marginalization. Brazil is used as an example where there is a visual separation of an organized built up Rio against the Favelas, which has been separated by a wall which visually shows the separation of formal and informal vernacular architecture.

The effects of the environment towards vernacular architecture are mentioned to give insight into the relationship between humans and the environment. To better understand the impact of environmental factors on vernacular architecture, factors such as climate, terrain and location are analyzed using Turks and Caicos Islands as a case study. This location in addition to its climate conditions demonstrates how environmental factors has impact their style of building which is different from styles of buildings in Europe. Their used of masonry while it is imported but has become an adaptive style to combat the conditions they are in.

This research main objective is to demonstrate how lessons and principles of vernacular architecture can be explored in order to apply those same principles towards new sustainable ways of building in order to create more resilient buildings. In a period of progress and advancement, it does not hurt to regress into the past to study the vernacular architecture of settlements in areas such as Dakhleh Oasis in Western Egypt to understand, the principle and technology behind the resilience of their structures in response to the environment. Principles that can be use with current technology to address new global challenges such as housing crisis, weather crisis.

This piece of writing will compare and contrast the vernacular architecture of selected locations. They will be subjected to the social, environmental and economic factors. Such areas included Turks and Caicos Islands, Brazil, and Dakhleh Oasis in Egypt. This process will involve using visualization as a means of observational study to understand similarities and differences in these styles. A criteria breaking down characteristics of each places such as terrain, weather and climate, materiality and rural and urban design will also be used to analyse the different technology used in each area to pinpoint attributes that make vernacular architecture a suitable responses to existing issues in communities.

This will help understand the vernacular architecture of these locations, and in return the lessons learned from them can be used in implementing better technique, better design when it comes to urban planning in regards to factors that have become an issue.

Limitation

The size of the dissertation limited the amount of information that could be placed findings.

The time frame for the submission of this dissertation was a major draw back as well, which affected the amount of information that could be collected for this research.

Case studies are an important and useful method of data collection but there are also disadvantages to it in relation to this research. These disadvantages are the amount of case studies that can be used based on the size of the discussion. Another is the amount of relevant information associated with the case study are required more in-depth analysis that would not have been able to fit with the word count of research. The case studies were subjected to selection bias, which affected the responses to the aim of the research. The case studies were qualitative, which means information found were based on verbal description and subjective opinions.

Findings & Analysis

 

Case Study 1 – The Turks and Caicos Islands

The Turks and Caicos Islands consist of 40 islands and cays. Eight of which are inhabited. The British Overseas Territory is located in the Atlantic Ocean but considered a part of the Caribbean Region. The average temperature of the islands are between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (29-32 degrees Celsius) from June to October and can reach as high as 35 degrees Celsius in late summer months. The island is kept at a comfortable temperature due to its trade winds. (TCI Tourism Board, 2007)Rainfall is annually averaged to about 21 inches can increased to 40 inches due west of the islands especially due to hurricanes. (VisitTCI, 2008)

Because of the weather and climate pattern of these islands, due to its location in the equator as well as other islands of the Caribbean region, it is susceptible to harsh storms such as hurricanes. This devastates the islands with strong winds reaching 100 mph and flooding if residents do not prepare for it or have proper shelter built to handle these types of conditions. (VisitTCI, 2008)

Hurricanes in the islands of Turks and Caicos are factors contributing the adaptation of using concrete blocks for its building. This building has been such a key element in the construction of buildings in the Turks and Caicos Islands so much that it has become part of the building regulations that buildings are to be built using these blocks or stronger materials to withstand the harsh storms. This is why in recent years the islands construction has gone from timber construction to masonry construction. An adaptation to the environmental conditions. This is because the masonry buildings are much stronger to resist the strong winds and would prolong the life of the buildings. Residents are advised to installed hurricane shutters to their windows to keep the residents safer in their home.

The heat is another factor that cause most of the buildings in the islands to have a lot of windows for airflow. There still include other provisions that has affected the way residents of the island build. Being surrounded by the Ocean, It has caused residents to raise their buildings. As Turks and Caicos terrain is very leveled as compared to other areas, its buildings are not affected as much.

 

Adaptive Environmental Response

Turks and Caicos Islands is an example chosen to show how devastating the climate can be for an area and inhabitants. The responses to these environmental factors are what has shaped the vernacular of their buildings and created a type of architecture that is known as Caribbean Architecture. This type of architecture shows the effectiveness of climate responsive architecture. In more rural areas of this country, its architecture is linked to being a type of informal architecture, because in most instances the buildings were built to act as shelter for residents, and with each different area, there was distinction within their design and structure based on what was available for construction within each area while adhering to the social and culture of that place. As these are times where climate is becoming a major issue in a lot of countries, looking at how the Caribbean has dealt and responded to the harsh storms and climate conditions can assist in the way available resources can be used to create building able to withstand these storms. Looking at what works and what doesn’t can help create better adaptive environmental buildings.

Case Study 2 – Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt

The Dakhleh Oasis is one of the five principal oases in the western desert of Egypt. Located South East of Cairo, and surrounded by the empty expanse of the Eastern Sahara. Due to the extreme arid conditions of the Sahara Desert, the source of water at the western desert oasis is from artesian wells and underground pressure. (Weber, 2014). In this area of Egypt, earth is the main building material. Because of the hot-arid climate and availability, earth has always been the most prevalent building material that is viable and a realistic option for most of the building built in areas such as these. (Minke, 2006).

Morgan mentions in Earth architecture from ancient modern, that these vernacular structures show a level of sophistication in the desert climates that makes houses warm in winter but also keeps them cool in the summer while keeping residents protected against wind and sand storms. These buildings have been said to be impervious to insects, fire and rot resilient as well which is possibly the reason these structure have lasted thousands of years. (Morgan, 2008). This piece of knowledge gives a lot of information on sustainable materials that is useable in constructing buildings, seeing that the present time are plaque with issues of overheating within buildings, these techniques can teach us on technologies that can be used to resolve this. Technique such as these can possibly involved not using mud brick as a structural element but using the material as a form of plaster or render, which would keep the cooling properties in summer and vice versa.

Case Study 3 – Brazil

Brazil is the largest country in South America with its people ethnicity being Latin. As the country is a beautiful place and a major tourist destination, there are a few issues that plaques it such affordable housing crisis. One of the areas that shows this is Rio De Janeiro. While these shanty towns or favelas as they are referred to are very rural and informal in their appearances, they have some elements to them that are very important and can be used in the way urban design is approach in terms of materiality, cost and culture.

There are countless examples of these poorly built and designed buildings but what they all have in common are they were built purely from scavenged materials from abandoned buildings around the city which made them arguably free of cost (Talarico, A., 2014 ). Another aspect of the slums of Rio De Janeiro is the strong ties to cultural as two to three generations of family would be under one household and because of the closeness in the way these buildings are built, a community is form in these slums but because of poor design, and lack of sanitary facilities, these communities are more susceptible to diseases and infections (Cavalcanti, 2017).

 

Sustainable Design

What sustainable design aims to do is to reduce negative and detrimental impact on the environment and the health, comfort and safety of people by improving the way buildings are designed and perform. The sustainability of buildings are linked to the reduced consumption of non-renewable resources, minimized waste and the creation of healthy environment as defined by the USA General Services Administration.

This is achieved during the production of building components, during the construction process as well as during the lifecycle of the building.

(Kazimee, 2008)The sustainability of Vernacular Architecture is also about managing the balance between preservation and use. Approaching current times, Vernacular architecture has tried to become more urban. This was undoubtedly due to architects looking for a new ways of designing as well as making housing as affordable and sustainable as possible. Dwellers of rural vernacular buildings show insight in the use of limited local materials, minimum waste of the materials available, the ability to use inspiration from forms of nature. From a economical few most of these rural and informal vernacular buildings are almost cost free as locals would use mud bricks, scraps of wood, blocks from their surroundings. Person build their dwellings at zero cost towards labour. The possibility of reusing what is already available is one aspect of vernacular architecture that is needed to be implemented in achieving sustainability with new buildings. Examples of this sustainability within rural areas is the Slums of Brazil. Where most of the dwellings are built from scraps of materials found around the city and these buildings are built upon to create a large community of vernacular architecture (ORTIZ, 2016). For Sustainability to be achieved using examples of areas such as the slums of Brazil, there requires a combination of the indigenous architecture and utilization of appropriate technology that is subservient to social values so that the same social issues that are seen from the slums of Brazil does not replicate itself.

 

 

Conclusion

Looking at vernacular architecture, It is the language of the architecture of a place, in terms of what a culture has determined it to be and the way of design and construct to suit their needs in terms of building, which can be said for most in a broad spectrum.

In conclusion to this research, Vernacular Architecture in relation to economical, environmental and social issues and constraints has shape it as we know it today. It is indeed linked to informal aspects seen in architecture. This is seen with the informal and unorganized characteristics of architecture in the areas of Brazil but in that same analysis it show a relation between vernacular architecture and sustainability where responses to social, environmental, and economics has shaped how the Settlements of Brazil grew to become the way they are.

The architecture is a product of the needs of the people in a place which will show distinctive features based on social, and economic stability of the people in that area. (M.Vellinga, 2007)

It is safe to say that Vernacular Architecture has experienced a great deal of changes during history and has found itself in many cultures over the globe. One of the points of this research was to not only demonstrate the linkage between Vernacular Architecture and Social, Environmental and Economical conditions, but to demonstrate the importance of this style and how its concepts and principles can benefit the built environment. These concepts and principles found in areas such as Egypt, and Brazil, demonstrate how this approach can be used to create more sustainable buildings. With examples such as Turks and Caicos Islands shows how materials not native to an area can be used to achieve similar resilience and sustainability in design by adapting.

Lessons from Vernacular Architecture

Addressing human needs in architecture has almost seemed to been forgotten in modern day architecture. We have seen the outcome and effects of this negligence through rises in energy usages, the amount of pollution and as well as waste. Because of this, there has been effort towards a new approach in designing building which is using concepts from vernacular architecture. The reason for this is because of their energy efficiency, sustainability and as well low construction cost. Architecture is about designing to adhere to the need of people, not only physically, and economically but also socially. This is a trait of Vernacular Architecture which are design to be harmonious with their environment which adheres to the humans desire to be culturally connected to their environment. It provides a connection between people and their environment. Vernacular architecture approach is towards green architectural principles of energy efficiency and resources in close range to its site. These principles creates longevity in their built. The responsive characteristic of Vernacular Architecture over the course of its life, is proven to lessen cost of utilities and maintenance.

Buildings have a major effect on the environment, which if threatened, will threaten the liveability of humans on the planet. Most of these threats are not only from the poorly designed buildings but from the materials that these buildings are being built with. Vernacular Architecture demonstrates how the use of materials which are around us can be used instead, which minimizes the use of materials that would have greater impact on the planet.

Vernacular Architecture concepts were developed and used throughout the centuries in different areas across many civilizations through trial and error. The introductions of new technology in the construction industry has deprived the construction industry itself of certain skills as well as environmentally sensitive designs for settlements. This is why Vernacular Architecture can be used as a model in creating sustainable architecture in relation to the environment, social and economics of an area. Vernacular Architecture, did not only resolve issues concerning responses to climate conditions but physical, social function and aesthetics were considered as well. Good examples can be drawn from the cross section of Egypt where the design or structure of these early settlements was determined by issues such as climate, culture, environment and materials. Their settlements seemed to live in harmony with their surroundings, which means they were very sustainable.

 

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