Vernacular Architecture is a branch of architecture which deals with using minimal amounts of natural building materials, using local skills, based on old architectural designs and sensitive to local culture. These designs are not universal and are specific to certain regions. “The basic elements of a modern building like cement, steel, glass, ceramic, plastic, synthetic fiber are not connected to nature in the same way mud, brick, lime, thatch, timber and grass are“, says Architect R.L. Kumar. He is an Aga Khan award for Architecture nominee known for his pioneering work in this field of architecture.
Have you ever heard of bricks being made with straw and mud from your own basement? Or mortar being made exclusively of sand? You may have seen such houses in quaint little villages and it is no surprise that it’s making a comeback in this age of cost-effectiveness and climatic and socio cultural sensitivity.
Vernacular Architecture, is a growing (albeit after a huge downfall) design philosophy that integrates Architect and the builder or contractor. Ar. Kumar designs and builds all of the houses himself reducing the cost by about 25-30%. The term is often confused with Sustainable design or architecture. While Sustainable design is the use of new methodologies or industrial techniques, Vernacular architecture is the use of least “industrially processed materials” and time tested methodologies that do not need modern resources like electricity or chemicals. Although Sustainable design and Vernacular architecture both focus on cost-effective, the latter is cost-effective for the long-term and the former is cost-effective both for long and short-term.
Look and Materials: So what Vernacular Architecture look like? Although Vernacular Architecture may look good and rustic, it does not focus at all on it. Architects of this subject tend to focus on climate and cultural needs. The use of locally available material like stone, exposed brick, laterite or mud tend to reduce the over all foot print of the project.
Construction Methodologies: The foundation is dug before the rainy season so as to allow rain water to naturally compact the soil in the rainy season. Other techniques which have been used for centuries is making bricks in summer or mining for rocks before the rain. Labour is also arranged considering the harvest seasons, since most of the labour are also farmers. Such practices tend to interfere less with the environment and social factors.
Due to the lack of literature for Vernacular Architecture, R.L. Kumar has taken it upon himself to produce literature and research papers. You can have a look at some of them here.
You can see another well compiled article about South Indian Vernacular styles here.