Vernacular Mimetics

The origins

The International Style that appeared in the ‘20 of the XX centuries and widespread throughout the century all over the world look to unify and standardize architecture regardless of environmental and cultural context. The style wanted to expand Ford’s idea of mass manufacturing to architectural design. It rejected local material, building techniques and traditions, emphasizing concrete, steel and glass as a basic construction material. In the course of developing technology and growth of multinational corporations, a building has received facilitators escalators, a mechanical ventilation system, air conditioning and more. A contemporary building is composed of two parts: primitive (columns, slabs, doors etc.) and auxiliary (mechanical, electrical, plumbing etc.) The contemporary architecture derives from schemes based on the reckless use of natural resources and only a human-centred approach.

The last thirty years bring major discoveries in the field of computer science, electronics, medicine, biology and many more. Our Common Future report brought the definition of sustainability as a key factor in future development. We understood the processes that are reshaping our living environment. The construction industry has looked for more accurate solutions to decrease the negative impact on the planet. Many of the solutions are looking for new auxiliary methods instead of taking a step back and considering rethinking the basics such as bioclimatic design.

Design via evolution

Biological evolution refers to a change in the heritable characteristics over successive generations. The architectural evolution manifests itself in the adjustment to the local climate condition, with the use of local materials and other resources. Vernacular schemes are the finest and the most accurate solutions for their context, developed throughout the years they use resources and the knowledge of the zone. The widespread abandonment of such methodology is closely connected with extensive migration, dense urbanisation, accessibility of popular building materials (such as concrete, metal plates, wood boards).


The typical vernacular housing schemes developed for small communities in rural areas living a traditional lifestyle. The life was connected with farming, artisanal works or local trading. The spatial schemes are not responding to the new urban life or there was not enough time for the next evolution. Most of the achievements got abandoned. On the other hand, the reluctance of the modernism movement kept away architects and scholars from traditional solutions.

As late as in 1997 Paul Oliver published the Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World summarizing the approaches to architecture in rural areas all over the globe. Before Bernard Rudofsky in his breakthrough book Architecture without architects honoured the accomplishments and the intelligence of so-called “self-construction”.

Hacking the vernacular

Local knowledge might me not enough though. It is limited to the genius of the community, its enemies and allies. Today’s global approach allows comparing building schemes developed in different, often remote, locations that share the same climate, soil or flora, and to cross-pollinate the ideas. Additionally, the emergence of computer simulation tools enables architects and engineers to assess the existing building schemes and look for more optimal and accurate solutions. The analysis takes into consideration not only the building process and materials, which today’s should be a natural practice, but primarily building life cycle. The cost of the building are not materials and labour, but the environment and social implication of a new construction. The approach that enforces and reshapes the vernacular methods with computer simulation (based on scientific studies) could bring building better than ever before. The social, environmental, spatial and material performance are the basic qualities of the digital vernacularity.

From the construction point of view, this approach looks to employ mass-customized large scale fabrication to enhance the construction pace, reduce carbon footprint through automation of the construction. More question than answers arise: Shall the form be finished or open so the dweller could finish it according to his needs? How would building systems from remote culture accommodate in a new location? What is the role of local craftsmanship? 

Test application

A test application has been conceived on a project in Cambodia. The location is classified as topical (Aw) according to the Köppen-Geiger climate map. Khmer people have developed a unique architectural style that response to the social system, climate, habits or flora.

Multifamiliar Housing Scheme

1.Openings enhance the ventilation process, in the projected solution, the pitch is located according to simulation and optimization so that the shade benefits are the largest with the smallest resources possible 2. Traditional timber structure is maintained to enable the use of local materials, also easy to replace or fix if needed, and manpower 3. Eaves are protecting the main building from the overheating and heavy rain 4. Pilotis are protecting the building from the flooding 5. Exterior covered terraces. 6. Traditional stairs have been replaced with a handicapped accessible ramp that will improve accessibility for the elderly 7. Exterior balconies are protected by an array of mullion‐like elements to protect from the sun and the guarantee privacy 8. Interior ramp is protected by an array of mullion‐like elements to protect from the sun that changes into balusters

The reinterpretation of the Khmer architectonic system mimics the space arrangement, environmental solutions (large eaves of the roof, cross ventilation, windows size and position, roof shape), spatial distribution (large shaded porch), relation to the plot (use of the poles to prevent from flooding), material (timber and weaving for the facade) but in a new form for more dense urban development and modern, working society. The house is built on a great ramp that enhances the internal circulation, allows disabled, old or kids to unassisted access and creates by vivid communities. The lush green landscapes form rural Cambodia, they are an essential element of the culture and upbringing. The master plan situates the housing units in a lush garden that brings the memories and protects from the extreme temperatures or floods. Pedestrian and bicycle friendly design promotes an alternative way of transport. 


Units distribution

1.Elevated paths connect the housing units with the main road protecting from floods 2.Paved surface of public square creates spaces of the interaction of inhabitants of the surrounding units 3.Periferic gardens 4. Market square 5. Typical Housing Unit 6. Large Housing Unit 7. Local Amenities (shops, pharmacy, etc)

>> Please read my previous text on African Cities to understand my approach.

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