Track 1: Decline vs. Revival: Tempering the Impulse to Tear Down and Start Over
Unlocking the Technical Mysteries of the Vernacular; Understanding high-performing traditional vernacular building systems and details
Tuesday, September 25
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: BNCC- 101AH
Why do certain highly evolved vernacular building forms, components, systems, and details look the way they do, how can we better understand why they have worked well and proven reliable and durable for decades or centuries, and what can we learn from them today to further the state of the art of both preservation and architectural design?
In long-standing, time–tested vernacular building forms, particularly those in harsh climates, the practical consideration of creating shelter that used the readily available local materials, and that performed in the given climate was paramount. In vernacular architecture these practical considerations were overriding, and typically did not yield to stylistic predispositions or preconceptions (as they often did in high-style architecture), thus making the vernacular a particularly rich laboratory to study, explore, and seek to understand the often profound technical logic and lessons that are embodied in these traditional, often deceptively simple, construction details and systems. Occasionally, their underlying logic is readily apparent, but more often, the logic is not obvious, and highly evolved technical details are mistaken for mere stylistic preferences or local construction traditions.
The highly evolved vernacular forms and details of an English half-timbered, wattle and daub jettied building, the form and foundation details of an Alpine chalet, the passive cooling system of an antebellum Louisiana plantation house, the roof eave of an ancient Roman villa, the walls of an early New England ice house, or the form and articulation of the tower of an austere medieval Italian church, and countless other vernacular forms are like Darwin’s finches and the Galapagos tortoises in that have each evolved to be particularly well-suited to survival in their particular environment.
In this presentation, the author provides a detailed exegesis of over a half dozen common but seldom understood vernacular building details that could be, and often are mistaken for merely stylistic, or merely local building traditions, however, each is a very high-performing technical detail. By better understanding how these details and systems actually work, attendees will not only better understand how to maintain and preserve them, but they will also sharpen their eye toward better understanding and deciphering the hidden logic of other traditional vernacular details not presented that they may encounter in their own work. By better understanding and conveying to others the fascinating hidden technical logic of how these traditional vernacular details, systems, and buildings work remarkably well, attendees will be better able to temper the impulse of others to proclaim these buildings dysfunctional or obsolete, and thereby temper the impulse of others to tear down these buildings and start over.
- Understand the hidden technical logic of more than a half dozen traditional vernacular details.
- Analyze and break-down previously unseen traditional vernacular details to understand and explain how they function.
- Analyze and explain the important role of overall building form in the durability of individual building components and systems
- Apply the lessons of traditional vernacular architecture to contemporary preservation or architectural design projects today.