International Seminar on Vernacular Settlements



Vernacular Built Environments: Towards a Sustainable Future

As we all know, the planet earth is under severe strain from the ever- increasing human populations, urbanized settlements and the excessive and concentrated consumption of earth’s resources. Needless to say, the vernacular settlements have been surrounded by these rapid developments and fast-paced modernizations, and are undergoing unprecedented transformations. In this context, it has become imperative to work towards helping the vernacular communities to maintain and sustain them and their processes that have produced both culturally rich and environmentally sensitive habitations in the past, and will continue to do so, if so facilitated.

The aim of this seminar is to encourage the academics to examine the nuances of the processes and practices of the vernacular settlements in terms of how they have kept the earth alive, nourished and wholesome enabling sustainability of its resources and processes, until today. The seminar offers opportunities for the researchers dealing with the vernacular settlements to share their research findings and insights derived by listening to the voices of the dwellers and the discussions among the researchers. It thus intends to promote the ideas, means and solutions, of sustaining vernacularity in the midst of modernity. There is no doubt that both can go hand in hand towards a more prosperous future of the human habitat.

The idea of vernacularity and modernity working together calls for a future that is geared towards sustainability derived through research-based developments, thoughtful conservation, collaborative management, and most significantly the recognition of robustness of human culture. In other words, the promotion of a holistic advancement of civilization through the amalgamation of modern cities and vernacular built environments must engage the salient aspects of the cultural practices that have sustained them thus far. There is no doubt that the contributions of the academics, researchers, and practitioners will be a decisive factor in enabling a more sustainable human habitat infused with the vernacular ideas.

Six sub themes are proposed to orientate the research papers. However, papers outside these themes are also accepted.


1. Ecologies of the Built Environments in Vernacular Settlements

Vernacular settlements are immersed in and also nurture unique ecological systems that have arisen from the geographies of land, the climates as well as the fauna and flora of the landscapes. Vernacular communities have a sense of reverence to land and its material and non-material aspects, conceptualize them in unique ways and perform rituals and everyday acts that recognize them and engage them for dwelling in tune with such ecologies. Sustainability of the vernacular settlements had arisen from these understandings couched in the traditions that value, celebrate and nurture the unique ecologies with reverence. Papers dealing with the nuances of such ecological processes of the settlements as well as the interrelationships between Nature, built spaces, and the social and cultural practices of the local communities fall within this sub theme.

Keywords: ecology, rituals, everyday living, production of spaces and social and cultural practices.


2. Geographical Landscapes and Riverscapes

Vernacular settlements have naturally anchored themselves to unique geographical terrains such as mountains, rivers, plateaus. plains, valleys, canyons, karsts and cirques. Their occupations by vernacular communities have amassed a wealth of knowledge on managing erosion of land, environmental degradation, creation of meaningful and non-polluting landforms and the production of unique built-scapes and landscapes.

Indeed, the vernacular settlements are unique cultural landscapes, which have always been intertwined through the geography of Nature. Papers dealing with the roles of land-use practices, landscapes and riverscapes in settlement patterns and their influence on architecture and design of the structures as well as their conservation and preservation fall within this theme.

Keywords: environmental degradation & threats, settlement patterns, land-use practices.


3: Materials and Resources and their Future in the Vernacular Settlements

Vernacular settlements have always taken a revered approach to dealing with the materials and resources of individual localities on earth. Often based on the notion of consuming the bare necessities as opposed to exploitation that typifies the modern world, the vernacular methods and techniques in resourcing local and natural materials have enabled sustainable and environmentally friendly building practices, that have existed to date. With the modern ideas of amassing wealth and over-consumption creeping into the vernacular communities, the future of the vernacular settlements may lose their essence of being in harmony with the materiality of Nature. Papers examining the values, attitudes and practices of dealing with the materials and resources of vernacular settlements in unravelling, understanding and fostering knowledge of the materials and resources in the vernacular settlements fall within this theme. It encourages investigations into obtaining knowledge and wisdom in vernacular architecture, innovative approaches in local and environmentally friendly materials and building practices, concepts of local/natural materials, innovative materials, renewable resources, and reducing, reusing and recycling approaches inherent in the vernacular settlements.

Keywords: local/natural materials, innovative materials, folk wisdom and techniques, environmentally friendly building practices.


4: Vernacular Settlements and Urbanism

Needless to say, vernacular settlements have always been seen as local, traditional, rural and at a smaller scale, while urbanism has been associated with development, modernity, industrialization, and larger scales. While this rural urban dichotomy continues to exist, it is now crucial to realize and understand the progressive and complex link between vernacularity and urbanism. Indeed, vernacularity exists in cities as informal settlements while urbanism has come to penetrate into the vernacular settlements. Papers dealing with vernacularity and urbanism in the management and development of both the vernacular settlements and cities fall within this theme. Complex ideas such as urbanization, development, preservation of cultural identity, heritage, sense of place, quality of life, locality and community could be explored together with conservation, preservation, and adaptation of vernacular built environments in the urban fabric, and urbanization of the vernacular settlements as related to the fields of urban planning and design which will immensely contribute to this theme.

Keywords: co-existence, vernacularity, urbanism, urban preservation and management, vernacular adaptation. urbanization, development, preservation of cultural identity, heritage, sense of place, quality of life, locality and community


5. Sustainability of the Human Habitat

It is undeniable that vernacular settlements have been inherently sustainable by the very nature of their existence in relation to the geographies, climates as well as the ecologies of Nature surrounding those settlements. The modern settlements in comparison have gone astray from the very beginning and are now seeking to find ways and means of infusing sustainable ways of living and practices in all forms of their existence. Three facets have been identified: the social, environmental and economic. This theme encourages the scholars to explore any, or all of these facets as related to either the vernacular settlements, modern settlements or the in-between: the peri-urban settlements. Papers related to what lessons can be delineated from the vernacular settlements and how they may be adapted and reciprocated in the contemporary modern settlements fall within this theme and may greatly enlighten the opportunities for cross-fertilization available as well as the need for the preservation and sustenance of the vernacular settlements.

Keywords: vernacular settlements, modern settlements, peri-urban settlements, social sustainability, environmental sustainability and economic sustainability


6: Methods and Technologies of Studying the Vernacular Settlements

While vernacular settlements have always been studied employing the conventional tools and methodologies of social research, often involving person to person contacts and people to place contacts, it is unwise today to ignore the availability of contemporary modern technologies to facilitate such explorations. Undeniably, data collection through modern technologies immensely help in terms of efficiency and accuracy as well as data analysis. Papers dealing with ways and means of employing modern research methods and data gathering and analyzing techniques fall within this sub theme. Research may examine modern technologies such as:

1. Remote sensing through aerial photography, light detection and ranging (LiDAR), and satellite imagery;

2. Digital documentation and 3D-modeling through techniques such as 3D scanning, photogrammetry, and 3D printing;

3. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and databases; and

4. Mapping and layering involving the locals and communities,

because these technologies have changed the ways of collecting, documenting, analyzing, and archiving data.

This theme welcomes ideas, interventions, and techniques in the use of technologies, as well as conventional methods in surveying vernacular settlements and the built environments. Further, it is also open to discussions and information on the concepts of historic urban landscapes (HUL) and heritage impact assessment (HIA) studies involving vernacularity in heritage settings. 

Keywords: technology in survey and data collection, remote sensing, geographic information systems, historic urban landscape, heritage impact assessment.