While I fall short of believing Classical architecture is always the answer, I believe it is a very potent one for the reason that it arises from the aesthetic and cultural tradition of Western society. While some may bore of tradition of whatever sort, its enduring quality speaks to a well-reasoned conception derived from experience. Vernacular architecture is as tradition born of a usually pre-Industrial people group responding to their climatic and geographical situation. Crafting with locally sourced materials births a unique architectural vocabulary whose forms directly react to climate conditions.
Vernacular architecture calls to mind such forms as the igloo, wigwam, or stilt huts. But more elaborate, dare I say, developed styles of vernacular architecture also include British, French, and Spanish colonial architecture, log cabins, half-timbered houses of Great Britain, the shotgun houses of New Orleans, and so many others.
I won’t go so far as to categorize Classical architecture as vernacular, that is not my point. Rather, it has origins very much part of the vernacular; its later formalization and universal adoption throughout ancient Greece and Rome transformed it into the powerful manner of design it has continued to be for millennia.
Those styles born of a vernacular, Classicism included, inherently possess those aforementioned qualities: efficiency, endurance, and beauty. The ancient Vitruvius called these virtues utilitas, firmitas, and venustas, commodity, strength, and delight. The past decade saw the heightened preeminence of “sustainable” architecture. Its motivation – to build using methods and materials that promote good stewardship of natural resources – closely relates to the qualities of vernacular architecture.
These issues we will eventually solve or circumvent. But we can lessen the burden now by considering vernacular building techniques which already account for climate conditions, good ventilation, natural daylighting, and healthy living in passive, energy conserving manners. Throughout construction and occupation, buildings are the single greatest source of greenhouse gas production.
A December 2012 New York Times article reported that recent analysis of New York’s buildings found that older buildings routinely outperformed modern, even sustainably celebrated buildings in energy efficiency and consumption. The article highlights the many qualities inherent in traditional, historic, vernacular architecture that make it such a reasonable solution in an increasingly concerned global society.
Architects possess great responsibility to protect and respect the environment. Fostering the ancient relationship between designer, the designed, and nature lends to the creation of beautiful, enduring architecture.