Vernacular Architecture and Building Materials

The Encyclopaedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World defines vernacular architecture as comprising buildings related to their environmental contexts and available resources, utilizing traditional technologies. All forms of vernacular architecture are built to meet specific needs, accommodating the values, economies and ways of life of the cultures that produce them. However, vernacular architecture is often mistaken as an architectural style which it is not, says Benazir J. Kachchhi, Creative Head, Archeng Designers.

Vernacular Architecture means the core architecture of that particular place which evolves over a period of time and reflects the environmental, cultural, technological and historical context in which it exists. The construction of dwellings/structures in a particular place with locally available materials and cost effective construction technique are vernacular style buildings. Commonly seen in rural areas, the structures reflect informal yet functional architecture. They are designed specifically to meet the needs of the occupants as per the local climate with locally available building materials portraying the intricate variations in local social customs and craftsmanship. It has been estimated that 90% of the construction across the world is vernacular type meaning that it is for daily use for ordinary local people and built by local craftsmen and not by architects or engineers.

Classification of Vernacular Architecture

Indian vernacular architecture can be classified into three broad categories despite its rich diversity.

  • Kachcha
  • Pukka
  • Semi-pukka

The classification is based on the building materials used for construction and the stability of the structure.

In Kachcha houses, the natural materials such as mud, grass, bamboo, thatch or sticks are used for construction. As the name suggests, Kachcha means non-permanent. Because of the use of these natural materials, it requires constant maintenance and replacement. The only advantage of Kachcha houses is that the construction materials are cheap and available in abundance as well as it does not require skilled labour.

Frank Lloyd Wright described vernacular architecture as folk building, growing in response to actual needs, fitted into environment by people who knew no better than to fit it with native feeling, suggesting that it is a primitive form of design lacking intelligent thought, but he also stated that it was “better worth study than all the highly self-conscious academic attempts at the beautiful, throughout Europe”.

Pukka houses are constructed from materials that are resistant to wear and tear because of the natural conditions of the environment. The materials used for construction are stone or brick, clay tiles, metal or other durable materials. Mortar is used as the binding material. A pukka may be elaborated in contrast to a kachcha. These structures are expensive to construct and also require skilled labour.

The third category of the classification is the semi-pukka house which is the combination of the kachcha and pukka style. It evolved when the villagers started acquiring the resources to add elements constructed of the durable materials giving it a characteristic feature of a pukka house. In short, addition of pukka materials elements to a kachcha house can be termed as semi-pukka house.

Vernacular Building materials

Vernacular style differs from place to place and depends on the locally available materials and low cost intensive construction techniques. The architecture entirely depends upon the location and the type of building material available for construction.

Hilly Areas: Rocky rubble, ashlar and pieces of stones are available in hilly country. These materials are used along with mud mortar to form walls and finer stonework veneer is used to cover the external facade of the structure adding more stability to the structure. Wood beams and rafters are subject to availability. They are used along with slate tiles for roofing purposes. A typical house in hilly areas consists of two stories with livestock on the ground floor with a verandah running along the side of the house. Pitched roof is used for construction in order to deal with the bad monsoons and care is taken to cope with floods by raising the house with the help of raised plinths and bamboo poles.

Flat Lands: On flat lands, the houses are generally made of mud or sun-baked bricks and then plastered inside out. Sometimes, the mud is mixed with hay or cow dung and whitewashed with lime. In north and north eastern states of India, bamboo is readily available. Bamboo is used for the construction of all parts of the home as it is flexible and resilient. Another material which is widely used is thatch from plants such as elephant grass, paddy and coconut. In the southern states of India, the use of clay tiles is used for pukka roofing while coconut palm is commonly used in kachcha houses.

A village in Andhra Pradesh, Pochampally

Pochampally is a village situated in Nalgonda district in Andhra Pradesh in the southern India. It is popular for handicrafts and silk sarees and 70% of the population in Pochampalli are weavers. Their occupation and lifestyles dictates the designing of the houses in the village. There is segregation in the planning for accommodating the looms and the living area. There is a certain depth in the floor where the loom is kept to accommodate the pedals of the loom. The windows are very small and the skylight serves as major source of light and ventilation. “Sloping roofs” is a chief characteristic of the houses in Pochampally. For roof construction, a framework of wooden members is built followed by thick layer of mud mortar and roofing tiles. Roofing tiles are terracotta tiles or Penkulu or Kummarlu (locally made and hence widelyavailable).

Many modern architects have studied vernacular buildings and claimed to draw inspiration from them. As yet there is no clearly defined and specialized discipline for the study of dwellings or the larger compass of vernacular architecture. If such a discipline were to emerge, it would probably be one that combines some of the elements of both architecture and anthropology with aspects of history and geography.


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