Thoughts on the Potential of Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet

Photo: Fabian von Poser/imageBROKER/Superstock

What is next?

Can design tackle the big problems facing the world? Or is design helping to cause these problems? These questions will be addressed in a series of talks covering climate change, refugees, terrorism, pollution and politics.

Sandra Piesik
Christian Kieckens

Dutch Design Week theme this year is "Good Design for a Bad World".

I do not like the word "bad".


Because it does not inspire the younger generation, the world is not "bad" but full of problems, so "problematic" might sound better.

HABITAT is about searching for happiness, individual happiness and collective happiness.
I see the book as the first step towards something new, for which we do not know the answer yet. Formal ways of expression are no longer sufficient and for that reason we need to find something new, amazing and inspiring.

Dutch Design Week 2017 themes are complex and interconnected: climate change, refugees (which also relates to homelessness), terrorism connected to religion which itself is not a new phenomenon, and finally politics. We have a 19th century politics in the 21st century world.

Would you say that in the changing world we have a 19th century approach to architecture?

Yes, this is exactly what I mean.

It means change of architectural paradigm into new realities.

In the recent past, the introduction of iron and concrete changed architecture. We now have a new paradigm based on resource efficiency, therefore, what we have at hand near the site counts. Vernacular architecture re-positions concept of space that is related to having a home and being happy. Reflecting on nature and climate as the new DNA of architecture.

What is the architect’s role in it?

Architects create and reflect on spaces. These spaces affect the well-being of people and if we do not create the right spaces with the right materials, the well-being is gone.  Changing paradigms for education of architects is also important as their current training and culture is focused too much on the individual, and less on communities as a whole. This way, intellectualism does not mean intelligence.

The refuge crises and migrations touch very much on the social context of communities. There is an issue of displaced communities and integration of people coming from different cultures and social structures with their new environment. How do we address these challenges on cities infrastructure and people?

We need to re-learn how to design positive communities, how to re-integrate social landscapes and fragmentation again. We have forgotten about happiness of a person and aspirational thinking. We are seeing in our cities consequences of designing facades instead of positive communities or neighborhoods.  We need to create good and meaningful spaces to all people.

Materiality of a city and architecture is also important.  HABITAT presents a palette of different materials used in various climate zones. There is a concept of adaptation and technology transfer. What would you say about them in your forthcoming "Letters to a Young Architect?"

Vernacular spaces are happy spaces designed with natural materials. I think that today we need to work on pushing these to the limits and seeing what else we can do with it. Some of these materials have unexplored capacities. We lost meaning of craftsmanship in the name of technology and machine and we must not forget that craftsmanship is also about creating jobs, so there is an aspirational context. We see social transition from simplicity, natural materials and happy spaces to machine, money, unhappiness and social unrest.

Would you say that we may need to re-define what is HABITAT today?

Yes. We are living in a time that represents a transition. Historically, HABITAT was a home, a dwelling. Today, many young people occupy immaterial virtual space and for them it is a new HABITAT. We need to find a way to re-define it and create something new, it is a change of paradigm that must embrace challenges we have discussed.

25th October 2017, Brussels

A once-in-a-generation, large format publication, HABITAT gathers together, from fifty countries, an international team of more than one hundred and forty leading experts, from a diverse range of disciplines, to examine what the traditions of vernacular architecture, and its regional craftspeople around the world, can teach us about creating a more sustainable future.

Christian Kieckens – is an architect, winner of the Godecharle-Prize for Architecture (1981), selected for the Venice Architecture Biennales (1985 and 1991) and awarded the Flemish Culture Prize for Architecture (1999).

Dr Sandra Piesik is an architect, founder of 3 ideas Ltd and a researcher specialising in technology development and transfer. She actively engaged in the global climate change action initiated by the UNFCCC Technology Mechanism and is due to present HABITAT during COP23 Climate Change Conference in Bonn. Find more information on "HABITAT" here

Photo: Photograph courtesy Professor Don Choi

Photo: Yongsky | Dreamstime.com

Photo: KeystoneUSA-ZUM/REX/Shutterstock

Photo: Fabian von Poser/imageBROKER/Superstock

Photo: Laura Rival

Photo: KPA/Zuma/REX/Shutterstock

Photo: fotofeeling/Westend 61/ superstock

Photo: via ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Photo: Anna Heringer

Photo: Leonid Andronov/iStock

Photo: Darren Carter, Morgan Sindall

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