Commentary: Reflections on the Gist of Vernacular Architecture

20 Mar 2021 10:01 AM | Christine R Henry

by XK Bromley

Using search engines or even a tangible Dictionary can leave someone more confused about what vernacular architecture is or is supposed to be when looking for answers. But what is the best way to summarize its meaning quickly? First, as far as a consensus of what Vernacular Architecture is, this may not be possible. Perspectives can change, and chances that everyone is at the same level of understanding for a concept isn't always feasible. But the following are some further thoughts beyond quick search definitions to help find its “gist”:

Building material culture creates matter and focal points that expand dialogues in our telling about space, place, and time. This telling, in part, is vernacular architecture. Some folks say that vernacular architecture's defining element is the design applied or everything but polite architecture (a theory to create a formal language for architecture to be universally enforced). Yet, vernacular architecture is not a set style or an opposite. See, vernacular architecture is an ongoing conversation (however rudimentary) about building. And what defines "building" is crucial to include when discussing Vernacular Architecture. 

Long before there were blue hard hats at construction sites carrying blueprints (also known as “The Polite”), buildings' planning and organization were done and continued to be done by a wide range of individuals and partnerships. This wide range of historical, anthropological, landscape, and traditional planning is part of vernacular architecture. Vernacular architecture is not everything but does mean it is a type of communication, a language, about the planning of a building.

This communication is a significant part, often the foundation, of building art, science, and business. The structure made from a building isn't just a house to skyscrapers. It is the building of just about anything one can imagine or already have done so. Therefore, discussing what vernacular architecture is may not be such a quick answer. But the discipline of vernacular architecture allows for windows of opportunity to show light in overlooked areas. It is a guide for the past and a pathway forward.

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