Untutored builders of the vernacular had an admirable talent for suiting buildings to their environment.
The Taita a small ethnic group in the coastal part of Kenya have overtime developed architecture suitable for the tropics and slightly cooler temperatures of the Taita Highlands.
The circular floor plans with conical thatched roof are exemplary in their adaptation to the environment and extensive use of the local materials with low embodied energy. Mud walls with high thermal mass and the thatched roofs ensured that the temperatures inside the building remained fairly constant throughout the day.
The houses had deep overhangs with some of the time a colonnade around them with the space thus provided used for storage of firewood. The deep overhangs of the thatched roof ensured that the high thermal mass walls are not exposed to the direct sun rays. Furthermore the houses were clustered in areas with huge trees enhancing community life and also using the environment as thermal barrier. The individual houses had very small operable windows and allowing minimum light get into the house thus the house had no partitions on the inside but had clearly defined space use with every space allocated a specific function oriented from a fire place that was in the middle.
In summary,vernacular architecture has been developed over many centuries therefore particularly fine-tuned to our climatic needs.
It appears forgotten knowledge is fortunately being re-learnt.
Technology is here, it can work to enhance the vernacular and the combination should be embraced to achieve the optimum. This can be and has to be done by not copying/faking the old designs but drawing lessons recognizing the values and reinterpreting them in the present context.
In general one of the most important things that we can learn by looking at vernacular architecture is the seemingly simple (almost low-tech) methods of which we can create a building that is perfectly adapted to the building’s users and the building’s locale. At face value these methods seem trivial yet are in fact quite complex and extremely effective because they have been tested over time and have evolved to fit a society’s needs. We can learn from this and it can help prevent some of the devastating things architects do, namely sacrificing a building’s function, comfort, or ecological friendliness in the pursuit of some aesthetic quality or even worse, an architect’s egotistical pursuits.
There is something about an architect accepting a simple design as the solution to the problem at hand. The Svetlana Barrack House By Heritage Associates in Nairobi gives you just that, the age old elusive touch to simple well thought out design. At face value it is a three bedroomed resident...
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