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The Indian Vernacular : A Rich Tradition
|by Ashish Nangia|
What is the vernacular? Does it mean the architecture of villages and remote settlements, or is it simply defined by its opposition to the ‘modern’ or ‘designed’? These questions, especially in the context of India, are not easy ones to answer. The vernacular can be simply defined as
Though this definition is better applied to Western culture, more so in the context of North America, where the ‘vernacular’ often denotes pioneer construction and architecture, or the shingle style, or even the forest construction of New England and the Rockies. The ‘vernacular’, in India, denotes low cost, traditional village and small town settlements, where construction is carried out without the help of architects and professionals, where building activity is regulated by a long tradition that stretches back for many centuries, in many cases.
The list could go on, but in each case we see that vernacular architecture in India’s diverse regions has evolved a unique way of responding to the climate and the environment that is sustainable, shows an intelligent approach to the problems of climate, and is a delicate balance of social and cultural factors through spatial vocabulary such as walls, courtyards, floors and semi-private and private spaces.
The third factor is the availability of material and the types of material available. In Goa and Karnataka, an abundance of red laterite stone makes this the medium of choice for vernacular construction, and in north India a clayey soil makes sunburnt bricks and mud mortar a commonly used medium. Bamboo construction can be found in the northeast, and roofs tiled with the so-called ‘mangalore’ tiles in the south. Similarly, a plethora of sandstone made medieval Jaipur into the famous ‘Pink City’, and a similar stone was used to face Mughal buildings in the 17th century.
Amongst Indian architects, Laurie Baker (1917-2007) has been instrumental in giving new voice to a Kerala vernacular in brick, tiles and mortar. Similarly, Gerard da Cunha in Goa has been very innovative in his use of red laterite stone and re-interpreting Goa’s Portuguese and hybrid traditions and architectural vocabulary. A number of new and upcoming firms in north of the country promise to take this experiment further and prevent India’s built traditions from completely disappearing.
The vernacular in India, then, is a rich and complex tradition that deserves far more attention in education, in practice and from conservation experts than it gets at present. For the vernacular is a true representation of a people and their culture, and India’s diverse heritage makes this a fascinating study.
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08/26/2012 09:25 AM
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