Can you explain what exactly the term ‘vernacular architecture’ means?
The term ‘vernacular’ simply means native and refers to buildings that have come about from generations observing the surrounding conditions. They are linked to an area’s climate, economic activities and to the available materials. The Bolivian Chipaya people, for instance, use salt mud from the plains to protect from the extreme temperatures of the Altiplano. They also build dykes made out of grass to re-direct the local river.
The real challenge now is to learn how to mix old and new, and to come up with hybrid solutions that work for everybody. For example, figuring out from the older generations how traditional architecture works and then finding a way to adapt it to meet the aspirations of teenagers who have mobile phones and use social media.
So what is wrong with current approaches to world architecture?
There are three inter-linked problems: climate change, globalization and uncontrolled urbanization. When people design buildings in temperate climates and then copy and paste these designs to vastly different areas, you tend to end up with a large carbon footprint and buildings that don’t perform as well as they should.
High CO2 levels lead to climate change and food shortage. This, in turn, can force people out of the country and into the cities. By contrast, when you use local materials and renewable energy you reduce carbon emissions and provide jobs.
That’s not to say there’s no place for western architecture, but just not everywhere.