In an academic sense, the notion of a vernacular architecture has commonly been derived from an idiomatic, regionally specific reading of building practices and habitation. Broadening this reading of the vernacular, the performative characteristics of local species and ecosystems also provide a compelling indigenous ‘language’, a Natural Vernacular, which can be deployed to challenge the existing, sometimes staid design pedagogies around sustainable design.
Vernacular design seeks to continue a conversation about local building practices in a given site. Natural Vernacular design takes that notion a step further, the local built environment is studied as well as the survival mechanisms of the local flora and fauna. Observations of biological evolutions can give a designer more insight into creating a truly sustainable design in situ.
We have looked at this way of designing previously in research studios we have taught centered around biomimicry. In biomimicry nature is mined for patterns of survival, performative characteristics. The idea of a Natural Vernacular looks at both the strategies of the local built environment, or built vernacular while cross referencing natural evolutionary performances.
By researching both the biological responses to a problem and indigenous vernacular solutions, inspiration can be found to make a project more sustainable and potentially much more elegant as well.
Ed Richardson contributed an article to the Nov / December 2011 issue of Texas Architect discussing the design and sustainable systems featured at the Waco Mammoth Site. Some excepts below from the section on the envelope design:
Cotera + Reed used the integrated design of the structure and conditioned enclosure to both keep out harmful agents of deterioration and temper the environmental forces acting upon the dig site. They took advantage of the 8’ thickness required by the long span roof structure by simultaneously using that volume as a something akin to a ventilated attic. The firm likens the strategy to “a trailer home where the owner has installed a metal roof to keep the sun off of it.” In addition to the metal roofing at the top of the trusses, they proposed a secondary ceiling complete with insulation and a vapor barrier also be installed below the roof trusses. This strategy, coupled with the use of perforated panels at the eaves, allows for air movement through the double skins of the roof, thereby reducing the direct heating and cooling load on the building perimeter.
The online magazine “Reporting Texas” interviewed us for an article this month called “Austin Turns to Green Building as Energy Costs Rise”. The article focuses on a shifting paradigm in the public realm. Just five years ago the general population might have just assumed that “Green Building” meant that you have bamboo floors or Low VOC paints, now the public is coming to design professionals asking for more energy efficient appliances, spray foam insulation, radiant barriers, reflective roof materials, properly oriented windows etc. This is great – it shows that these “green building practices” are becoming the norm, they are becoming the minimal standards consumers expect when looking for quality in their home design and construction. The more educated people become the greater the traction of the sustainable movement. It is encouraging.