Vernacular Architecture - a trip to the past


A recent trip to visit the town Leh of Ladakh reminded me of the importance of vernacular architecture - and how far away we've come from designing with the environment in mind. Many houses and places there stand as charming reminders that good architecture is timeless and functions with the environment.

People today are however forgetting the importance of Vernacular Architecture and adapting the modern techniques of construction, which is not blending with the local architecture of Ladakh in terms of aesthetics and climate. It is important to recognize how local folks have been able to counter the inclemency of weather through architecture. Making the houses out of mud, building the walls from sun dried bricks, use of mud or wood for flooring, large interior spaces with low ceilings, all these were measures taken to trap the heat and make the houses conducive for living. Windows and roofs were designed from Poplar wood, one of the most common coniferous trees found in this region signifying the usage of local materials.


Any structure that is aesthetic is invariably talked about however understanding the efficiency of the structure in terms of energy consumption, materials used, and the carbon footprints registered is of equal importance. Vernacular architecture was executed by amateurs where in usage of local materials and participation of local people considering the local climate was given utmost importance.

Traditional houses had large verandahs acting as a shield from harsh weather conditions. Interior courtyard helped in bringing natural light and ventilation while also addressing functional requirements. Coastal areas often have sloped and tiled roofs ensuring easy run-off of rain water.

Houses in Rajasthan were made of twigs, mud, clay and stone considering low water level and sparse vegetation.


In the villages of Assam, houses are built with bamboo. These houses are detailed out to combat the heavy monsoons. The floor of the house is a bamboo weave that allows the water of a flood to flow in, rather than keep it out. This is an important principle of sustainable development.



A typical Odia house in a village has stone wall and gable roof on a wood or bamboo frame thatched with straw. The Kadi (timber beam) and Baraga (timber rafter) are applied for flat roof construction.

High salt contents in atmosphere can corrode building materials. Houses in Kerala were built of laterite and timber. Commonality with Southeast Asian culture is more obvious owing to the maritime trade links.


Globalization has changed the pattern of living and dwellings too. New buildings are being constructed and older buildings are replaced or modified. Houses today are glazed spaces with no provision for ventilation and protection from the sun. This increases the dependency on air-conditioning further adding to carbon footprint.

To find out a solution for overcoming this adverse situation for the built environment, a proper study of vernacular architecture and indigenous technology is needed. Architects and designers need to revisit traditional modes of construction and design and fuse the same with modern architecture. This shall enable the buildings to breath naturally thus addressing green sentiments that are the need of the hour.


2 thoughts on “Vernacular Architecture - a trip to the past”

  • Sumana A

    Really a very nice article on vernacular architecture Mamatha, even I was very much fascinated by the architectural styles of Uttarakhand and Kerala . While traveling in those states I observed how they built their houses to with stand the climatic conditions so beautifully. Uttarakhand has its own style of architecture based on locally available materials like wood , stone and clay of Ganga valley, they were build to with stand the extreme climatic conditions, uneven terrain and earthquakes. In Kerala also the housing architecture of long steep slipping roof built to protect the walls of the house and to with stand the heavy monsoons.

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