Vernacular architecture

„Architecture is the work of nations”.

John Ruskin (English art critic)

Community architecture. Natural as a cultural form. Memory of the native place.


According to its definition, vernacular architecture is an architectural style mainly based on local needs, construction materials available within the community and, most important aspect, it reflects community’s local traditions.

Etymologically speaking, the term vernacular comes from Latin, “vernaculus” meaning “indigenous, domestic, native”, derived from “verna”, which is “native slave”.

Vernacular architecture, often called traditional architecture, although the terms are not absolutely synonymous, tends to evolve over time to reflect the cultural, economic, technological and historical context in which it exists.

Particularities. Vernacular vs traditional.


Ronald Brunskil, an authority on the history of architecture, defines the essence of vernacular as: “… a building designed by an amateur without any training in design; the individual will have been guided by a series of conventions built up in his locality, paying little attention to what may be fashionable. The function of the building would be the dominant factor, aesthetic considerations, though present to some small degree, being quite minimal. Local materials would be used as a matter of course, other materials being chosen and imported quite exceptionally”.(Illustrated Handbook of Vernacular Architecture, London, Faber & Faber, 2000, pages 27-28)

As we mentioned in the beginning, vernacular architecture is not to be confused with so-called traditional architecture, although the two terms are often used as synonymous. In fact, there are links and similarities between the two.

Traditional architecture also includes buildings bearing elements of the so-called polite architecture, such as palaces or temples, which normally would not be included under vernacular. In architectural terms, “vernacular” can be considered in contrast with “polite”, which means characterised by stylistic design elements integrated by a professional architect for aesthetic purposes only and serving no functional requiremets whatsoever.

Role of the architect and influences on vernacular architecture


As a rule, architecture designed by professional architects is not considered to be vernacular. One may argue that the very process of consciously designing a building makes it not vernacular. However, many modern architects have carefully analysed vernacular buildings and claimed to be inspired by them, including later vernacular elements in their designs.

Vernacular architecture is influenced by a wide range of aspects belonging to human behaviour as well as to environment, resulting in many different building forms for almost every different context. Thus, even in neighbouring villages we may encounter slightly different approaches to the construction of the houses, even if they appear at first to be identical. In spite of these variations, every building is subject to the same laws of physics, hence explaining the significant similarities in structural forms.

Materials and environment


The construction materials provided by the local environment is the ultimate aspect of vernacular architecture. Thus, areas rich in trees will develop a wooden vernacular, while areas characterized by lack of forests will be forced to use stone or mud to build their homes. As an example, in the Far East it is common to use bamboo, since this material is plentiful, therefore cheap and easy to find, and versatile.

Vernacular is almost by definition sustainable and it will not exhaust the local resources. If it is not sustainable, this means it is not suitable for its local context and thus cannot be vernacular…


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