Vernacular Design – how to create comfortable homes like they used to

Vernacular Design – how to create comfortable homes like they used to

Vernacular Design- what does it mean? In “A dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture” James Stevens Curl explains it like this:

“Unpretentious, simple, indigenous, traditional structures made of local materials and following well-tried forms and types.”

Frank Lloyd Wright described vernacular architecture as “Folk building growing in response to actual needs, fitted into environment by people who knew no better than to fit them with native feeling” suggesting that it is a primitive form of design, lacking intelligent thought, but he also stated that it was “for us better worth study than all the highly self-conscious academic attempts at the beautiful throughout Europe”


A typical vernacular home would be for example the Igloo in Greenland; ice blocks becomes a wonderful strong shelter that keeps the inhabitants warm and protected against winter storms. Or the bamboo hut in Thailand with the thatched roof and open sides that protects against the blaring sun as well as the monsoon rains. The large openings in the walls allow for air flow in a humid climate. A wonderful display of vernacular building today would be rammed earth construction where the building material is taken straight out of the ground on site, minimising the transport cost and CO2 emissions.

Why Vernacular design then?

Over long periods of time, before the dawn of mechanical air-conditioning and by trial and error, vernacular building solutions have evolved, containing specific elements of sustainability depending on which climate zone they were built in. Cheap accessible fossil energy sources and the proliferation of technology and new materials have encouraged us to solve building problems differently in recent times and unfortunately some of these methods may compromise ours as well as the planets health. We tend to close up a home or office that is air-conditioned. Without natural air-flow VOCs emanating from carpets, furniture, paints, and building materials can’t escape through the window and we breathe those toxins into our lungs.

It comes down to appropriate design and use of materials in the chosen area, considering climate and tradition.

Wouldn’t it make sense to build a home that acts as a tent in a humid climate such as the Kimberley’s? A home that can be opened up to allow air flow travel through the home cooling the inhabitants?

A home below ground in hot and arid Coober Pedy where the ground temperature is consistent through the 24 hours of the day?

A highly insulated timber framed home in alpine climates such as Snowy River, protecting the inhabitants from the cold by holding the warmth well?

So to answer the original question, what is Vernacular Design? At Custom Green we define it as “elegant simplicity”.