What is Modern Vernacular Architecture?

Posted on January 29, 2020 by Karin • Filed under: ,

Merriam-Webster defines the word “vernacular” as “using a language or dialect native to a region or country rather than a literary, cultured, or foreign language.” 

Applying that term to our profession, the Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World (Paul Oliver, 1997) defines “vernacular architecture” as: “…comprising the dwellings and all other buildings of the people. Related to their environmental contexts and available resources they are customarily owner- or community-built, utilizing traditional technologies. All forms of vernacular architecture are built to meet specific needs, accommodating the values, economies and ways of life of the cultures that produce them.”

The last sentence of that definition is key. We might sum it up by saying that vernacular architecture is design that is familiar and useful to the people in a particular geographic area, and consequently, valued by them.

Modern Vernacular Architecture: A New Twist on Old Favorites

Modern architecture developed in the late 1800s and capitalized on advances in technology, new building materials, and a desire to break away from more traditional designs. At Patriquin Architects, many of our projects exhibit what you would call modern vernacular architecture. We design structures that look and feel “right” for their location, but that have an updated aesthetic and, in many cases, more functional spaces. Our designs also prioritize energy-efficiency and healthy, low-carbon materials.

As architects in the Northeastern U.S., we have a deep understanding of the vernacular here. However, we’ve also found many ways to build on traditional forms with new materials and systems, producing structures that are reassuringly familiar, yet intriguing and fresh enough to catch public attention. 

Examples of Modern Vernacular Architecture from Patriquin Architects

The General’s Residences is one recent project that demonstrates modern vernacular architecture. In that study, a local builder and developer approached us to create a conceptual design for a multi-family housing project, centered around an existing historic home known as the “General’s Residence.” Our design for new residential buildings reflects the aesthetic of the original house, as well as the traditional style of local farm structures. Gable roofs, wood siding, and shed-like additions seen on barns and homes throughout the area serve as a foundation for new residences. However, we combine these traditional forms with simpler, modern detailing and gracious interior spaces.

In Friends Center for Children, we celebrated the local practice of heavy timber construction through exposed wood structure and detailing. Visible wood beams and columns speak to this traditional building method, but combine with with playful roof lines and large, contemporary windows to give the Center a refreshingly modern feel.

Our Pre-Connecting Building for Greenwich Academy is an even more explicit marriage of traditional and modern building aesthetics. Its street-oriented façade reflects the classic symmetry, stepped volumes, windows, and detailing of buildings in Greenwich. This connects to two classrooms, oriented towards back fields, that adopt less-traditional angles, natural cedar siding, low-slope metal roofs, and large expanses of high-performance glass.

For Slate School, we recommended working with traditional wood materials and sloped roofs, but in new ways. Butterfly roofs bring more daylight into classrooms, glue-laminated beams achieve longer structural spans, updated rain chains combine contemporary art with traditional technique, and a simple wood pergola, reminiscent of a traditional porch, extends classroom spaces into an exterior courtyard.

Our Unique Approach

Our firm has certain “guiding principles” that we follow in every design undertaking. Key among them is staying up-to-date on advances in building science so that we can leverage them in our projects. This includes using products that have low energy demands, and designing structures with a low carbon footprint. 

We also use local resources whenever possible to minimize the need for materials to be shipped in from other areas. And finally, we make sure we understand and respect the local architectural vernacular, while producing designs that respond to modern needs. 

If you have questions about our firm, other projects we’ve worked on, or our portfolio of architectural design services, please don’t hesitate to contact us.