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Media Contact: Dr Glen Peters, email telephone 01239 841 387

A change of perception

When we think of wooden buildings we may think of garden sheds and Swiss ski chalets, or revisit history and the Great Fire of London when wooden houses burnt to the ground.

There is, undoubtedly, a cultural bias against wooden buildings, even as underlies the tale of the wolf and the three little pigs, where only the brick house was able to withstand the huffing and puffing of the ferocious wolf.

Yet houses built of wood have a long and illustrious pedigree: from the slat houses of the fashionable Cape Cod to the elegance and grandeur of the Turkish Ottoman Yalis, which are still prized and admired today on the banks of the Bosphorus.

There are many cultures around the world which have developed vernacular solutions for the need for shelter. These all include appropriate responses to climate and customs of their inhabitants, including practicalities of simple construction such as huts, and if necessary, transport such as tents.

The local environment and the construction materials it can provide govern many aspect of vernacular architecture. Areas rich in trees will develop a wooden vernacular, while areas without much wood may use mud or stone. For example: In early California redwood water towers supporting redwood tanks and enclosed by redwood siding (tankhouses) were part of a self-contained wind-powered domestic water system. In the Far East it is common to use bamboo, as it is both plentiful and versatile.

Vernacular, almost by definition, is sustainable, and will not exhaust the local resources. If it is not sustainable, it is not suitable for its local context, and cannot be vernacular.

In the ‘Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World,’ of the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development, Paul Oliver argues that vernacular architecture, given its environmental adaptation, will be necessary in the future to “ensure sustainability in both cultural and economic terms beyond the short term.” Christopher Alexander, in his book, ‘A Pattern Language,’ attempted to identify adaptive features of traditional architecture that apply across cultures.

1. Adapted to regional climate
2. Sustainable
3. Materials locally sourced