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Traditional and Vernacular Building

The traditional and vernacular buildings constitute a major section of built heritage in India. They are the ones which highlight the empirical knowledge of the materials and construction techniques. Moreover, these buildings form a physical compendium of the rituals and culture of a civilization and its people. Vernacular buildings consist of all the buildings which use locally available materials to address the local needs and surroundings. These materials range from stone to bamboo, earth and wood; helping create a region responsive architecture. These buildings are constructed by local craftspeople, using indigenous technologies which have evolved over the years. The principles of indigenous building knowledge gradually evolved into more refined systems which, over time, have resulted into the development of various traditional building typologies. The traditional buildings show enhanced use of the locally available materials and are an embodiment of the social systems. While the vernacular buildings show a simplistic construction system with minimal expressions of the society, the traditional buildings show a developed style of construction and expression. Both the building typologies represent the prevailing social and cultural systems.

The traditional and vernacular buildings are built in response to the macro-climate and the surroundings. These buildings are in harmony with the local surrounds, and blend with the natural and physical environs. The buildings showcase an optimum use of local materials, giving them natural colour and texture; making them congruous to the natural topography. The traditional and vernacular buildings also respond to the neighbouring houses, both visually and spatially. The local craftspeople play an important role in the making of these buildings. The craftspeople, over the years, have responded to the individual needs of the buildings and developed indigenous construction techniques and innovative material usage. The empirical knowledge systems, developed through frugal innovations, make the buildings inherently responsive to the natural calamities and climatic hazards. These buildings are also a manifestation of the society which constructs it. They highlight the behaviour and beliefs of the residents occupying it, which comes out through spatial planning and expressions. Apart from these, the built environment also imbibes the religious and socio-cultural belief of the community.
 
India, with its geographical diversities, showcases a wide array of traditional and vernacular built forms. In today’s time, our country is constantly undergoing a change in the built environment and the related building technologies. These changes are brought upon by the rapid globalisation, gentrification, mass urban housing, technological advancements and the global environmental crisis. In this scenario, the tangible heritage of the country is diminishing gradually and the intangible culture associated with it is also losing its value in today’s lives. Because of these reasons our settlements have lost their distinctiveness. The buildings within these new settlements end up looking similar everywhere and without any contextual response. Moreover, as the newer building technologies used in every part of the country are largely same, they overlook the specific climatic and geographical needs of the place. This makes the buildings more prone to the various climatic hazards. Thus, the need of the time is to develop sustainable building systems by combining valuable lessons from our built heritage with the modern systems. In such a scenario, it becomes imperative to understand and imbibe the virtues of knowledge systems found in the traditional and vernacular buildings. The traditional and vernacular buildings are responsive, coherent and indigenous which make them distinct and sustainable. Hence, there is an inherent need to develop a database of these buildings and its different aspects, and to understand and revive our traditional knowledge systems.

Design Innovation and Craft Resource Centre (DICRC) recognizes the need for studying, recording and utilising local understanding of building crafts incorporated in the traditional and vernacular buildings. DICRC’s main objective is to identify, research and re-engage traditional building crafts and integrate them in the current Interior- Architecture education as well as practice through various initiatives. The underlying intention is to combine crafts related to built heritage to explore their possibilities in current milieu.

With this intention at the forefront, researchers at DICRC has initiated various activities to identify, document, analyse and disseminate the data pertaining to the traditional and vernacular buildings. One of the ways towards a holistic identification method involves the project of mapping these buildings, along with the elements. The process of mapping the numerous buildings, interior architecture and furniture elements also includes the associated Space Making Crafts (SMC) and Surface Narrative Crafts (SNC). This process of identification happens through the process of Building Mapping. This process is real time in nature and the recorded data is then displayed through an interactive online Building Catalogue and Building Map. DICRC also records and investigates the traditional and vernacular buildings and comprehend the building practices. This is achieved through the on-field measure drawing of every detail of a selected building including the architectural form to the smallest interior details. The data generated through the on-field documentation is converted to detailed and precise vector-based drawings, which form a part of Traditional Building Portfolio (TBP). These portfolios help understand the material usage and the construction systems, along with the most elaborate information of interior-architecture and furniture elements. This is done to understand the local craft applications and how the empirical knowledge systems have been used and innovated through the ages.
 
At DICRC, answering the need of the lack of substantial educational material about the traditional and vernacular buildings is a vital criteria. Thus, all the documented data is analysed and disseminated using print and online mediums. The data which forms part of the TBP is further used for analysing and interpreting the elements and associated SMCs and SNCs. This final step of analysis then gets disseminated through Building Interactive Kit and Building Element Manual. The Building Interactive Kit is an online educational application aimed at generating awareness regarding the traditional and vernacular buildings. The kit provides a holistic virtual experience of the buildings with respect to their context, architecture, elements and the traditional knowledge systems incorporated in them. The complete outcome is intended to reach design professionals, conservationists, academicians, and students as well as crafts people. The Building Element Manual is a set of data generated through the process of analysis of the interior architecture and furniture elements within the traditional and vernacular buildings. The elements, created by skilled craftspeople, are analysed in order to understand the embedded knowledge systems. A particular element is understood not only through its form and articulation but also through aesthetics, usage and process of making. The research work is also disseminated through various forms of publications, namely books, exhibition panels and fieldwork reports. These endeavours have their relevance as educational materials in architecture and design schools along with developing a manual on vocabulary of building crafts for both – craftspeople and designers. 

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