As the world moved ahead propelled forward by technological advances, many rejected the traditional means of living. One of the practices that was left behind, was Vernacular Architecture.

In the world of smart houses and rotating buildings, vernacular architecture often gets a bad rep for its simplicity and rudimentary design. The houses created are often sparsely furnished and tiny compared to modern houses. But as energy costs constantly rise, and more people look at sustainable alternatives, the spotlight has come back on vernacular architecture.

The idea behind vernacular architecture is simple. It uses the materials found locally, and combines it with the culture and ethos of the local area. It often takes the temperature, the environment, and other factors into account as well. ‘Modern houses’ which we see around the world right now, which as a matter of fact, are largely based on western architecture, are not designed to cater to the specificities and nuances of a particular location.

Take the Sam Hut in Rajasthan. These rectangular huts are protected from the intense heat and rains through a verandah. The huts roof is strong enough to be walked upon and is covered with a layer of mitti- mud that reflects sunlight off the roof, keeping the interiors cool. The wooden doors of this hut are also very small to minimize the amount of sand that enters the house, a real menace in the hot deserts of Rajasthan.

Another worthy example are the houses in Northern Africa and the Middle East. They have large towers called windcatchers, that are an interesting and innovative architectural element. These architectural designs are not merely for aesthetic reasons but are essential as they provide scaffolding to the house, provide subterranean cooling and provide natural ventilation and passive cooling. All of these are essential features in hot climates and show that the houses we often dismiss as primitive are modelled specifically to their location and are well-developed.

Another important point is environmental sustainability. Vernacular architecture sources materials directly from nature. The materials are biodegradable and produce little to no waste. The materials are also locally sourced drastically reducing carbon footprint. Compare this to the enormous amounts of non-biodegradable waste generated through the building processes of modern houses.

This is not to deny the numerous benefits of modern architecture, in particular its stability and sturdiness. However it does go to say that architecture can be further developed by studying these vernacular houses and using them to further our understanding of how to build sustainable and efficient structures.

-Adyesha Singhdeo