logo.jpg (12379 bytes)



Advisory Board

2008 Conference
Past Conferences

Working Paper Series
Outreach Videos

Ordering Information

Links To Related Organizations


[Out of Stock]

Volume 1.2

Henry Glassie
All architecture is the embodiment of cultural norms that preexist individual buildings.  Vernacular traditions are characterized by a tight correlation between the understanding of these norms by designers, builders and users.  Modern Western design results from the exaggeration of certain aspects within the Western vernacular tradition: namely, the wish for free will from environmental conditions and an aesthetic of artificiality.  True vernacular tradition is based on participation, engagement, and an egalitarian political ethic.  But much of the connection to these things has been lost in modern society, and this has led to ignorance, weakening of culture, and a decline in personal empowerment.  By way of contrast, the plain form of the vernacular building represents the external image of an enduring social idea.  Though the vernacular building may not be a perfect environmental solution, and though its use of detail may be inconsistent, it shows the vernacular designer to be a subtle engineer in the organization of human relations based on an established social order.  Loss of vernacular tradition is usually associated with the creation of barriers to direct social interaction, compartmentalization of functions within a building, and the imposition of an external mask of symmetricalness.  These changes usually correspond to changes in the nature of a society, from one that is based on trust to one that is based on exploitative socioeconomic relations.  The study of vernacular traditions allows the architect to be more self-aware, and to be critical of his own culture’s arbitrary conventions.  It also makes him a preservationist and a social activist.  For the architect who understands vernacular traditions, patient field research can help heal the dislocations of modern society, and reconstitute some of the shared basis for design that marked vernacular traditions.

Manuel C. Teixeira
The Portuguese built a maritime empire during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that incorporated settlements along the coasts of Brazil, Africa, India, and the Far East.  The architecture and urban spaces of these settlements reflected the dual influence and interbreeding of Portuguese and local cultures.  Overseas Portuguese towns shared the same models of reference.  These were the medieval towns of Portugal, particularly Lisbon and Oporto, which contained features that can be traced back to Muslim city and to European planned frontier towns of the Middle Ages.  Local cultural influences were felt at the level of architecture, both in the adaptation of Portuguese models to local materials and climatic conditions, and in the adoption by Portuguese builders of local typologies, forms, and models of reference.  The Portuguese left their mark in many parts of the world, most particularly in architectural tradition.  Knowledge and experience gained by local builders from the Portuguese five centuries ago has in many places been passed down from generation to generation, and has resulted in the preservation of building prototypes that embody today’s traditional architecture.  For Europeans, the Portuguese voyages of the period were an important component of the Renaissance and the emergence of a new vision of man.

This paper aims at giving tangible meaning to the concept of traditional Chinese urban form, to begin to dispel the vagueness that has hampered efforts by Chinese (and other) architects and urban designers to draw lessons from Chinese urban tradition.  The paper describes the formal structures of the pre-industrial cities of Southeast China, including Nanjing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai as examples.  It formulates seven characteristics of Chinese traditional cities: the influence of an orthogonal model, the absence of the “square,” the prevalence of the walled residential street, the definition of two city centers, the establishment of the canal system, the dominance of low buildings and evenly distributed small open spaces, and the use of tower and topography to generate town identity.  Since the cities of Southeast China represented the final stage in the development of urban areas in pre-industrial China, the paper can claim to be a more general study of traditional Chinese urban form.  The determination of seven characteristics was not based on any property of the number seven; the author imagines that other formal characteristics (with similar value and significance) may be discovered by other authors.  The characteristics have been defined in contrast to features of the European medieval and Renaissance city because most architects and urban designers are acquainted with this system.  After presenting each characteristic, the paper explores its social, economic and cultural implications.  The paper concludes by noting five traditional Chinese values embodied in the formal characteristics.

Rajmohan Shetty
A matrilineal descent system practiced in and around the city of Calicut in southern India has had far-reaching implications for the structure of the local built environment.  The tarawad system, practiced by the Moplah Muslim, Hindu Nayar and Nambudri Brahmin communities, has created a residential pattern of clan houses, also called tarawads, that sometimes contain as many as one hundred residents.  Although the traditional tarawad system is currently being eroded by the institution of the nuclear family as an independent economic unit, the persistence of the tarawad as a social institution has been facilitated for centuries by rules prescribing the transfer of property within descent groups.  The maintenance of a pool of family property and the ability to fairly distribute living space within the tarawad house on occasions of marriage by female members of the tarawad were keys to the survival of the family structure.  Corporate ownership of property in that structure provided physical evidence of the social bond between members of the kin-group.  The tarawad system, as traditionally practiced, had a number of specific implications for the structuring of residential space.  Key among these, for reasons of separation between individual household domains, was a distinction between public, semi-public and private space.  Because rituals traditionally contained a communal component, each tarawad house also contained a ritual core.  The paper proceeds from an analysis of features of the tarawad system which have implications for the structuring of the residential unit to an examination of four specific tarawad houses.  These are presented as representative pretties based on field research.  Three of the four houses are from the Muslim Moplah community in central Calicut.  The fourth belongs to a Hindu Nayar tarawad on the outskirts of the city, and is presented as a comparison to show how the tarawad house structure evolved differently in a different cultural group that subscribed to the same kinship system.

Gül Asatekin and Aydan Balamir
This paper addresses the problem of interpreting the concepts of tradition and traditionalism with specific reference to the tradition of the Anatolian house and the recent erosion of place quality in Turkish towns.  The Anatolian house provides a remarkable example of cultural diffusion and transformation.  During the reign of the late Ottoman, a variety of cultures impinged on one another, giving rise to autochthonous traditions that were shared by different religious and ethnic groups.  But during the Republican Period the process of Westernization interrupted the continuity of historic traditions, resulting in the emergence of a peculiar contemporary tradition.  The majority of Turkish housing today displays characteristics of a “vernacular modernism” conditioned by the moral and technical orders of a market economy.  The worldwide spread of such cultural mediocrity has often been attributed to the corrosive influence of a single world civilization.  A number of recent attempts have been made to search for a national idiom in Turkey.  But these attempts, often promoting a “vernacular historicism,” have yet to account for any distinct revision of urban house-form.  Argument today revolves around an old rhetorical opposition between universal civilization and national culture.  Should a post-traditional society sustain its cultural tradition to attain universal values, or vice-versa?  The conservative in this debate is more involved in the revival than in the preservation of tradition.  The progressive, though an ardent defender of preservation, resists revivalism because of its chauvinistic connotations and pastiche effects.  This paper attempts to resolve this argument by suggesting a simultaneous unfolding of the historical problems of the Anatolian house tradition and the theoretical problems of presumed dichotomies such as “traditional vs. modern.”  Finally, the paper advocates the development of research strategies to facilitate correct readings of cultural tradition and design strategies to improve the quality of residential environments.

Dell Upton
The historiography of American domestic architecture has focused on the middle-class house as the characteristic American residence.  The paper examines nineteenth-century architectural advice literature in the context of the development of a national folk architecture and the rise of middle-class domesticity, and shows that the preeminence of the bourgeois popular house is attributable in part to the efforts of architectural writers to engender a consumerist ethos in housing that would help to secure a niche for professional architects in the building industry of a commercializing nation.