Vernacular architecture is a category of architecture based on local needs and construction materials, and reflecting local traditions. It tends to evolve over time to reflect the environmental, cultural, technological, and historical context in which it exists. While often not thoroughly and academically planned, this kind of architecture played and still plays a major role in the history of architecture and design, especially in natural and sustainable building.
In vernacular architecture, the function of the building would be the dominant factor, while aesthetic considerations, though present to some degree, are considered less important. Local materials are used as a matter of course, with other materials being chosen and imported only if necessary.
Almost 90% of all buildings in the world, ordinary buildings built by ordinary people, are thought to be vernacular. Buildings built with local materials by local residents using built-by-hand construction methods create a lasting architecture that is specific to place and culture. Vernacular architecture provides shelter and comfort with the evolution of craft passed down through generations.
Because local residents build using local materials, vernacular architecture inevitably expresses the culture of both the people and the area. Indigenous buildings, repeated over generations, become time-tested responses to local climate conditions as well. From igloos to bamboo houses, from stone cottages with thatched roofs, people create shelter and comfort in unique structures in response to their location on the globe.
Vernacular buildings derive their form and design from a commonly shared tradition of construction. Buildings that fit into this category are not architect or pattern book designs where appearance is dictated by contemporary stylistic trends. Rather, buildings of this type reflect the ethnic or regional heritage and cultural traditions of their builders.
Traditional/Vernacular buildings are often direct links to the building practices of the past, employing the basic construction techniques of that region. They were often strictly utilitarian structures, built from affordable and readily available materials to satisfy basic and immediate needs. A vernacular form may also be chosen for cultural reasons, not because it is the only available design option, but out of respect for past tradition.
Certainly, buildings of this type were intended for both short term and long term use. For many reasons, economic, cultural, and environmental, these basic vernacular buildings are continued to be built. The vernacular category is a rather broad umbrella, covering a wide variety of building forms based on common cultural past designs.
Floor plans and site orientation can be important elements in identifying vernacular design, since simple vernacular forms were often later enhanced by high style architectural details.
The architectural description “vernacular style” is often used to describe all non-architect designed buildings, or hybrids displaying bits and pieces of various styles. It is also used to refer to barns, summer kitchens, spring houses, smokehouses, and other agricultural outbuildings. In truth, vernacular buildings include a wide array of structures across a long span of time. They are an important part of our architectural heritage; they tell the story of the “common folk” of our region. For that reason these types of buildings are sometimes referred to as “folk architecture” as well.