John May Lecture

John May author of ‘Handmade Houses & Other Buildings: The World of Vernacular Architecture’ came to give a talk on his book yesterday as part of Article 25’s Vernacular Architecture Series.

John defined vernacular architecture as the architecture of the people, buildings that have been designed and built by communities, families and self-builders using traditional tools. Whilst pointing out that these are largely unrecognized architecturally he stated that the majority of the world live and work in such buildings compared to the small minority that inhabit buildings designed by architects.

The book comprises a fully illustrated guide to a selection of vernacular buildings from around the globe, looking in depth at everyday structures from each continent that have been constructed from whatever wood, grass, earth or stone that was to hand at the time of construction. Based on traditional principles, but highly relevant to modern environmental concerns, these buildings show the simple and satisfying ways in which humans have worked out how to live and live well, in harmony with their surroundings.

Using examples from his book he introduced the wealth of local structures worldwide, explored cultural approaches and highlighted the diversity of construction materials. He pointed out that these structures are highly practical, energy-efficient, and integrated with the landscape and concluded that they also carry many of the attributes that we are now seeking in green architecture as we struggle to adapt our built environment to the demands and concerns of the climate-change era.

Like in his book John ended with a comparison to modern vernacular architecture and the current revival of traditional skills. Highlighting the squatter cities of the world, where a vast number of incoming country people fabricate dwellings from scrap and waste materials which then go on to evolve overtime and become more substantial, he asserted this is the new vernacular architecture of our time.

John May is the author of sixteen other books, and he currently blogs at The Generalist.

We would like to thank him for the talk and Scott Brownrigg for hosting.