Situating the Modern: Modern Architecture and Vernacular Traditions

From National Romanticism in the late 19th century to Critical Regionalism debates in the 1980s, architecture’s ability to evoke a sense of place, locality or cultural (and national) identity has been valued as a form of resistance to the hegemony of supra-national discourses such as imperial Neoclassicism and International Style modernism respectively. Many 20th century architects and theorists have turned to the phenomenological, lyrical, aesthetic and/or humanistic potentials of vernacular architecture as an antidote to the sterility and mechanical world-view of rationalism and functionalism. Recent studies and revisionist histories of modern architecture show that, whether in the form of a romantic search for identity, or a rationalist search for primitive origins, vernacular traditions have always been an integral part of modern architecture. This lecture/seminar course offers a historical overview of modern architecture’s relationship with vernacular traditions over the last century into the present. Adopting a cross-cultural framework that transcends the western/non-western binary, it focuses on particular geographies (especially, but not limited to the Mediterranean basin) that have been historically catalytic in the development of vernacular modernisms and regionalist theories. Challenging reductionist and formalist definitions of vernacular as a category limited to primitive, historically-fixed, non-industrial (and often non-western) building types, it instead seeks to highlight the non-stylistic, communal, democratic, urban and ecological lessons of the vernacular (including modern and industrial vernaculars) and open up a discussion regarding the viability of small-scale, vernacular-inspired local practices in a globally connected world today. Lectures will be complemented by in depth class discussion of key figures, texts and projects. Course requirements are participation in discussions, short reading response papers and a 3000-word final term paper.