What Are Vernacular Technologies?

What Are Vernacular Technologies?

Vernacular architecture has been gaining more and more space in theory and design practice, with its characteristics being studied and revised. An impulse related to different factors, but mainly to the context of climate change that we are experiencing, which calls for more sustainable and context-connected construction solutions.

Within this scope, much is said about the different vernacular techniques employed in architecture, whether it is the production of adobe bricks, thatched roofs, woven bamboo walls, among many others. However, while vernacular technique focuses on specific actions or skills, its meaning differs from vernacular technologies.

According to the dictionary, the definition of the word “technique” refers to a “special skill to perform something”. For example, in cooking, a chef may have a special technique for quickly chopping vegetables without getting hurt. Technique is as old as human civilization, it appears since the manufacturing of hunting instruments, or even before that, being a “know-how” that characterizes the presence of a human culture.

Technology, on the other hand, is the study and knowledge of technical, industrial, and scientific processes and methods. It refers to the use of tools, machines, and processes to solve problems or meet human needs. Using the example of a chef, technology would be the sharp knife or food processor he uses to chop vegetables. Technique, therefore, would be “how to do it” and technology “what to use”, or the application of scientific knowledge for the invention and improvement of tools and techniques.

In architecture, while vernacular technique corresponds to construction methods, limited to specific actions, vernacular technology refers to a broader constructive system, processes in constant evolution, aiming for more efficient and effective use of resources. Compared to general building technology, vernacular technology essentially involves local materials, so it does not need to be supported by intricate transportation systems, and it also values the maintenance of materials as naturally as possible, preserving their colors and textures.

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In the improvement of vernacular processes over time, contemporary “what to use” has been associated with digital manufacturing and robotics systems. Some examples show how productive this connection can be. In Asunción, Paraguay, the Parabrick device was created by the university laboratory FabLab CID. The brick is one of the most used raw materials in Paraguayan architecture due to its accessibility when it comes to self-construction. With this in mind, the laboratory created a device that provides support for guidelines that guide different geometric masonry compositions. Made digitally with fitted wooden pieces, it can be assembled on the construction site to facilitate manual work. A process similar to the CeramicINformation Pavilion exhibited in 2018 at the Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism in Shenzhen, China. In Mendoza, Argentina, the research laboratory in digital manufacturing Nodo 39 FabLab created a frame structure made of digitally cut wood with screens and points to facilitate the weaving and iconographic composition process of the indigenous people of the central region of the country.

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In addition to these examples, it is worth mentioning that within architectural practice, there is an increasingly frequent blend of vernacular techniques and contemporary technological systems in the same project. An interesting gesture that also paves the way for innovative explorations of ancestral techniques. In the award-winning project of the Children Village in Canuanã, Brazil, pre-fabricated wooden pieces were combined with earth bricks made on-site by selected artisans. The natural variation in the tone of the earth, along with the marks of its manual manufacture, creates a cozy atmosphere, and the technique ensures mild temperatures in indoor spaces, eliminating the need for cooling devices.

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However, regardless of how techniques are applied, Henry Glassie, one of the great scholars of vernacular architecture, affirms that the key to vernacular technology, above all, is human involvement in the manipulation of materials and active participation in the design, construction, and use process (even understanding that architectural creation includes high levels of specialization). As technologies evolve to the use of indirect techniques of material manipulation, to isolate segments of the creative process, the greatest loss is the experience that engagement produces and the awareness of connectivity between people.

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Thus, it is understood that vernacular knowledge encompasses different instances, encompassing not only material and functional sustainability, but also social sustainability. In this intricate web of advantages, understanding the role of vernacular techniques and technologies in contemporary architecture as integrated elements, but operating at different levels of complexity and scope, is essential to generate sustainable and culturally relevant projects.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topics: Passive Architecture. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and architecture projects. We invite you to learn more about our ArchDaily Topics. And, as always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

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