Accepted paper:

Symbols of status in the vernacular houses of the Isle of Lewis

Author:

Catriona Mackie (University College Isle of Man)

Paper short abstract:

Through a study of the vernacular houses of the Isle of Lewis, this paper examines the role of social status in vernacular architecture, and the way in which status may be symbolised and expressed in construction techniques, architectural features, and furnishings.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the role of social status in vernacular architecture, and the way in which status can be symbolised and expressed in construction techniques, architectural features, and furnishings. By exploring the different ways in which status can be displayed in domestic environments, it also asks how we might determine the extent to which particular architectural features have symbolic, as well as functional, value. The research focuses on the vernacular houses of the Isle of Lewis, the most northerly of the Scottish Hebridean islands, during the 19th and 20th centuries. In the early 19th century, houses in rural Lewis were built by the tenants themselves, using locally available materials such as stone, turf, and thatch. The houses were byre-dwellings, comprising housing for both humans and cattle under the same roof. Ancillary units, such as barns and porches, were often appended to the house and were accessible from within it. Developments during the course of the 19th and 20th centuries saw increased segregation of space within the Lewis house, the introduction of new housing features such as chimneys and windows, and more extensive use of furnishings and interior decoration. This paper explores the increasing significance of social status within 19th and 20th century Lewis tenant society, and the impact this had on vernacular housing on the island. Ultimately, status is shown to have had a significant effect on the development of the Lewis house, both in its construction and in the way in which interior space was partitioned and used.

panel P009
Symbolism in vernacular architecture, vernacular architecture as symbol: new examples and perspectives