Accepted Paper:

(Escape from) the conundrum of vernacular architecture: progressing an anthropology by way of architecture  


Rachel Harkness (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

What might characterize the vernacular as the riddle-some conundrum? Conundrums are traps that keep questioning going round and round. To escape, a line of flight is taken to the creative works of architects who cite vernacular architectures as inspiration for their socially-minded, anthropological, practice.

Paper long abstract:

Conundrums… What is it that characterizes the vernacular as riddlesome? In what sense - if any - is vernacular architecture endlessly puzzling? Is it the boundaries of the category which are tricky? Where does it blur with the Traditional, for instance? Furthermore, if the vernacular is all that people build for themselves and their communities, an 'architecture by, of and for the people', do we leave ourselves only a caricature to stand outwith (and in opposition to) this: Modern Architecture as soulless monuments to global capital, exploitation and megalomaniac architects? Or, does the riddle lie in the way the vernacular is supposed to include both building that is heralded, conserved and deemed authentic embodiment of culture and building that is desperate, born of necessity and ingenuity, which, if at all acknowledged by the State, is most often derided as unsanitary and inconvenient?

Conundrums, I venture, are a trap! To escape from the conundrum of vernacular architecture, I propose a line of flight (Deleuze and Guattari, 2004[1980]), by way of reference to the work of architects who seem anthropological in their mode of practice. These architects have studied with builders and dwellers of vernacular or informal architectures and who have attempted to incorporate what they have learnt about dwelling, materials, the environment and social life, into what they design and build. Through reference to their works - sometimes deemed alternative due to their scale and unconformity - this paper turns finally to the argument that anthropology can learn much from this sort of anthropological architecture.

Panel P092
Towards an architectural anthropology