Vernacular Architecture: Staying Close To Home

There are hundreds of different types of architecture alive in this world today. Some of these architectural styles are hanging on by a thread while others are thriving. One of these types of architecture is vernacular architecture. 

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Image from Yellowstone Traditions

Vernacular architecture can be hard to define because it is such a broad term overall yet specific depending on the region you are in. To explain this better, let’s delve deeper into what vernacular architecture means. 

What Is Vernacular Architecture? 

Vernacular architecture is a type of architecture defined solely by location. This is because vernacular architecture is architecture that is indigenous to a specific region. It isn’t a style that can be put onto paper.

Vernacular architecture describes a certain type of architecture found that is regional. The materials, style, and everything else are regional. It isn’t a specific design style but is functional and pragmatic. 

Any type of home can be a vernacular home. Because it isn’t defined by the design style, per se, you can create any design style and make it vernacular. The important part is where the home is built. 

For example, an igloo is vernacular unless it is built in the desert or another warm climate. It is only vernacular if it is built in the cold where it is indigenous to the region. With that process, you can find out if any home is vernacular. 

Vernacular Definition 

The term vernacular is usually used to describe a language. It is used to describe a term that appears in language but not in formal writing that is native to a specific place or region. The terms are not official but created by the people. 

For example, slang terms that are not defined in standard dictionaries can be considered vernacular. Especially when they mean something else in another region. But even terms that aren’t slang can be vernacular. 

As long as the terms are regional and non-formal, they can be considered vernacular. These are words and phrases that you wouldn’t normally write but you say in everyday life. Profession-distinct terms are also considered vernacular. 

History Of Vernacular Architecture

History Of Vernacular Architecture
Image from Keating Moore Construction

Vernacular architecture may be one of the oldest types of architecture on earth due to the broadness of the term. It is also an old style because it uses local materials and isn’t made to be flashy at all.

Oftentimes throughout history, contractors, or those who built houses at the time, were not involved in vernacular architecture. Because this style of housing was used by those who wanted to do things the cheapest way possible.

The term didn’t exist until the 1800s and wasn’t popularized until the 1960s. Up until then, the style of housing didn’t even have a name but was a common way to build things for the lower and middle classes.

Characteristics Of Vernacular Architecture 

Characteristics Of Vernacular Architecture 
Image from Cathy Schwabe Architecture

There are many things that make an architecture vernacular. While the definition is tentative it generally refers to homes or buildings with specific styles of architecture in the region known primarily by the locals. 

These few characteristics are all you truly need for a vernacular home. Because the term isn’t specific and isn’t widespread, it can be difficult to get it wrong. So these few things can help you get it right.

Practicality 

This is the main characteristic of a vernacular home or building. Because in vernacular architecture, everything is done for practical reasons. You won’t see elaborate homes with strange and pretty yet useless adornments.

In fact, you will see the least amount of materials used and the best style of housing for the area. Every board or stone that is placed is there for a reason and it isn’t to attract anyone, but rather because that is what is best.

Locally Sourced  

In vernacular architecture, everything that is used to build the house is found locally. This was the only option a thousand years ago, and even today, it is usually much easier than getting imports from somewhere else.

If the house was built in the forest, it would probably use wood and if it was built in the mountains it would probably use stone. This was a great way to respect the environment in the ways that you can. 

Cultural 

Here is the thing with this one. This type of architecture doesn’t show off culture in the way that is often done today. Instead, people would use religious symbols and cultural icons for their own pleasure in their homes.

This was the norm and is still often done in many cultures today. The cultures shown were local as well as ancestral. People would honor their families by displaying their culture in their homes for their immediate family to learn about. 

Climate-Friendly 

This one is quite important and goes along with the “practical” side of vernacular architecture. If the climate was cold, you won’t see holes for windows and straw roofs without packed cob to protect the home. 

Instead, each house is made to perform all year long. Winterizing may be done but in general, the homes are ready to outlast every season no matter how hot or cold it may be. Because the local climate is known by builders. 

Examples Of Vernacular Architecture

Image from Sun Forest Construction

There are many different types of vernacular homes in history and the world. In fact, you could probably find multiple different types of vernacular architecture for each country in the world, likely many more.

Because that is the primary thing that defines vernacular architecture. It has to fit the area. If the home looks out of place or too eclectic then it probably isn’t vernacular but another similar type of architecture. 

Igloo

The igloo is one of the most easily recognizable styles of homes in the world. It is used only in regions with snow and ice. This is a vernacular architecture style because it uses snow and ice and is indigenous to certain areas. 

Igloos were traditionally used by the Inuit culture. They protect families from the below-freezing temperatures by shielding them from the wind and giving them a good place to build a fire in the snow.

Teepee

The teepee is an old Native American home that uses animals skins over wooden poles. It is durable, warm, and comfortable. It can also keep families dry during rains and cool during heat waves in the summer.

Teepees are also portable and can be deconstructed and put back up like a tent. But the structure’s primary purpose was to create a safe way for the American Indians to build fires while letting the smoke out of their homes. 

Dugout 

A dugout home is a home that uses the ground, usually a hill, to create shelter for families. This natural type of home is in the ground so it is naturally cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

They were popularized in the old west when homesteaders moved across the United States and Mexico. They would find hills and dig out the side, using reinforcements where necessary to build their homes.

Chalet

The original chalets were probably first built in Switzerland but soon moved to Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, France, and Scandinavia during the Belle Époque era. Today, they are seen everywhere. 

While some chalets were more ornate than others, the basis of them included gabled roofs with wide eaves, exposed beams, and weatherboarding. Many homes draw inspiration from traditional chalets. 

Minka

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Image from hoffmangrayson

Minka homes are native to Japan that belonged to non-samurai castes like farmers and merchants. These were very interesting homes though the plans were put in place with practicality in mind and nothing more.

The minka homes were box-like and open-concept. They are the traditional Japanese homes you imagine when you think of Japan. Furniture was to a minimum but the architecture was definitely ahead of its time. 

True Farmhouse

The true farmhouses found in history were definitely vernacular architecture. While today’s farmhouse has been modernized and is often considered high-end, the traditional farmhouse was anything but. 

That’s because farmers were not necessarily wealthy and they built their own homes. Oftentimes, they used nothing but what they could find on their own property, which is the root of all things vernacular. 

Cob House

A cob house is a house made of cob, of course. This cobb is made from subsoil, water, fibrous organic material, and sometimes lime. It is a very old type of house and is often considered the oldest building material in the world.

That’s because the materials used to make cobb have been around forever. Literally forever. Plus, it was easy to create without any tools whereas houses made of wood or large stones would have been difficult to make. 

Why Choose Vernacular Architecture 

It can be difficult to decide on a type of architecture but the reasons for choosing vernacular architecture are primarily based on its characteristics. However, today, the reasons for using vernacular architecture is different than it was before.

People now choose vernacular architecture because it is simple, affordable, and a great way to choose minimalism. So if this sounds like you then you may be interested in getting into vernacular architecture. 

If you aren’t a minimalist but are still interested and you don’t know why then it’s probably because you enjoy appreciating culture. Vernacular architecture is a wonderful way to do this staying true to your region.