Discussing a Possible Rebirth of Architecture Focusing on the Essential Values of Humankind as Reflected in Veracular Architecture

Discussing a Possible Rebirth of Architecture Focusing on the Essential Values of Humankind as Reflected in Veracular Architecture

My fascination for the vernacular starts with the serenity of this architecture and the focus on a single human being building its own needed space to live for the rest of his days while not attempting to ‘conquer nature’ but become one with it. The constant negotiation and dialogue between the peasant and surroundings determined the shapes and traditions transmitted through hundreds of generations that still seem eternally valid nowadays. As a vast inspiration source from the intuitive adaptation to the environment to the fine balance between functionality and aesthetics the vernacular contains a certain quality which contemporary architecture lacks more and more. For this reason I consider extremely important the deep study of the origins as an open and comprehensive concept rather than just historical facts.

Unfortunately the essence of the vernacular, the idea of building with one’s own hands, is marginal in our society nowadays. Bernard Rudofsky in his book ‘Architecture without architects’ makes very important remarks which influenced my essay research and represents the basic of the main question: ‘There is much to learn from architecture before it became an expert’s art. The untutored builders in space and time – the protagonists of this show – demonstrate an admirable talent for fitting their buildings into the natural surroundings. Instead of trying to <> nature, as we do, they welcome the vagaries of climate and the challenge of topography. […] Part of our troubles results from the tendency to ascribe to architects – or, for that matter, to all specialists – exceptional insight into problems of business and prestige. Besides, the art of living is neither taught nor encouraged. […] We look at it as a form of debauch, little aware that its tenets are frugality, cleanliness and a general respect for creation.’

Why is the art of living losing ground in front of other aspects in the design process of today’s architecture? How did the academic architecture reach such a level that it can ignore the essential base for which it was created? To relate to Rudofsky’s idea I will begin to exemplify some extremely fascinating aspects of the Romanian vernacular one of which is a hypostasis which Constantin Noica defines as the ‘house: the logos’ territory, an intimate conscience of one’s own thought’. Man retreats in his own intimate space of the home to regain the clean thought. The further the room is from the courtyards gate, the more intimate and fragile it is.

Vernacular architecture as a second nature for the human being, it protects from cold, heat, wind, rain. The prime nature becomes hostile and the role of the vernacular architecture is to use nature in favor of the human, to find the right topographical implantation in order to adapt and change easily as a response to context and the surroundings’ constrains. It is a continuous process of transformation.
The Romanian vernacular architecture has been for many centuries a successful combination between esthetical values and practical, functional values. The image of a traditional village amazes even today through its remarkable simplicity and elegance from the special organization down to the very small details never forgotten by the Romanian peasants. They were extremely creative people, the materials they used and the techniques behind them have been developed from generation to generation with beautiful traditions and a genetic culture transmitted mostly through living language. The transmitted traditions seem eternally valid mainly because of the adaptability to the surroundings of the typical Romanian house.

Vernacular architecture invites and even constrains the human being to a critical analysis of his true needs by giving balanced answers in harmony with the experience, tradition, real possibilities. The logic of the traditional Romanian house is based on a perfectly rationalized experience and simplicity, proof of a vast historical knowledge of working with wood. A rectangular in plan of maximum dimensions varying between 7 and 15 m, the houses follow a formal pattern consisting of 3 main volumes, the stone base (30 cm, 1m or 1,5 m), a wooden or clay middle part and the volume of the roof from shingles or straws. Usually most of the houses keep the 3:1 proportion between the roof height and the wall part which gives a very steep slope for the roof.

I consider that the complexity of the technical elements remains invisible in vernacular architecture, the simplest technique has the most extreme and powerful refinement thus offering the building spiritual effort and esthetical value transcending to an interior symbolism. The beauty of the corner binds in the Romanian house contributes to the breathtaking sculptural simplicity of the traditional house. Moreover the qualities of the human being imprinted in the interior space gives a sense of tranquility and safety, the traditional rooms radiate of spiritual acknowledge and modesty. The well proportioned interior radiates a love for warm materials and intimate spaces.

Considering the exterior proportions The balance between the vertical and horizontal base lines of the buildings varies from region to region, the traditional houses from the west side of the country are more focused on verticality while the north and central mountain type of houses have a underlined horizontality closely related to the courtyard and agricultural land.

Determined only by material and moral values, vernacular architecture does not have the vanity of the demiurgic gesture or the dilution in politics, economy or religion. It is a free, rich, open and completely devoted to user type of architecture. It reminds us that architecture is not an object but a living environment and the humaneness of this type of buildings should become the main source of inspiration for today’s architecture. Also we should keep in mind that an image is not necessarily reality although the architect is nowadays trying to control an unborn reality into its very core through visual means.

Our current condition is an ecstasy of communication completely overwhelmed with visual means, a culture Xeroxed in an infinite number of copies and a virtual world floating over the real world in its own protective foil. Taking this into consideration in the architectural context, as a consequence of techniques during university ateliers, the architects distance themselves from the living experience. The image culture in architecture transforms the human interactive nature in an abstracted world.

The disturbing question is not ‘What is vernacular architecture?’ but ‘Where does this really exist and how can it survive properly?’. Its main quality is that it contains the history of the society’s memory and thus the seed of the human experience.
Although 90% of the world’s total building stock is vernacular architecture, there are visible signs that it is struggling to survive in an environment dominated by modern architecture.

‘Vernacular architecture is the repository of our wishes, dreams, memories, illusions!’
Maybe it is possible to develop a contemporary vision which would generate a new architecture in the spirit of the tradition but using contemporary eco-friendly principles and ‘tailored to human dimensions and human needs, without frills and design hysterics’.