Folklore Symposium Wellington

Wolong Valley
There was a time when almost all building was vernacular, just as all flora was specific to climate zones, and all fauna was specific to habitat.
Vernacular buildings mediated between people and place, and place was specific.




ImageThe Modern Movement in architecture and the industrial age introduced the new idea that architecture had nothing to do with place. "In" but not "of". The alienation was complete when the purpose of architecture was seen as sheltering people from place. The consumer society went even further and introduced the idea that a building was a placeless consumer object. This spawned the dictatorship of the building industry, with developers driven by profit taking control. They were assisted by local government, land agents and even architects. Building became a commodity to be brought and sold. The verb became a noun. Architecture was no longer concerned with telling the stories of people and cultures.

ImageThere has been a theoretical counter-attack. Agenda 21 stressed the importance of local materials, local crafts, local culture, and local knowledge. Habitat II identified placelessness as the greatest problem facing cities. Jaime Lerner, UIA President, said the greatest problem facing architects today was to globalise the local. The RMA set an agenda for vernacular architecture.

Image Awareness of climate change and a desire for green architecture then led to a call for timeless architecture which was sourced in place. Architects realised, probably too late, that the traditional New Zealand bach was the quintessential sustainable building.
Sustainability questioned the presumptions of the traditional urban rural divide. A sustainable city does not draw its resources from the countryside and then use the countryside as a place to deposit its waste. Vernacular urban design is founded on egalitarian democratic architecture.

Image Vernacular is the authentic architecture of our time.

Tony Watkins Folklore Symposium Abstract.

The Stout Centre 1 December 2007

Brief biography

After graduating from Auckland University College and working for three years as an architect in London and Canada Tony travelled by bicycle and foot from London to Japan. The year long journey changed his life. He discovered a wonderful world of vernacular architecture which had been completely ignored in his elitist education. He went on to introduce a course on Vernacular Architecture into the School of Architecture and taught that course at the University of Auckland for many years. He was instrumental in seeing vernacular introduced into both the Resource Management Act and Agenda 21, and co-authored with his students the book "Vernacular, an Architecture for RMA and Agenda 21". As Co-Director of the International Union of Architects Sustainability Work Programme, representing more than 27 million architects globally, he advocated vernacular architecture which sustains the life of the planet and does no harm to stories, traditions, culture and place.