Vitra Design Museum: Learning from Vernacular

Until September 29th the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein is presenting the exhibition Learning from Vernacular.

Curated by Prof. Dr. Pierre Frey from the School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Learning from Vernacular presents forty architectural models in 1:20 scale: forty architectural models which either present examples of local, traditional construction materials and principles or, and this is for us the most interesting aspect, present examples of contemporary buildings that have made use of these traditional materials and principles.

Vitra Design Museum Learning from Vernacular Taberma Tata Togo photo Deidi van Schaewe

Vitra Design Museum, Learning from Vernacular: Taberma Tata, Togo (Photo: Deidi van Schaewe)

As we believe we’ve said before, the future is analogue.

Which in the context of architecture means, primarily, greater use of local materials and local construction principles.

And that not just in the so-called “south”.

The forty models in Learning from Vernacular have been selected from a collection of over 700 models held by the EPFL, a collection that can be viewed online, and a collection which underlines the variety of possibilities one has for utilising a relatively small selection of natural materials.

The differing uses of course have arisen from the local conditions, but in many, if not most, cases can be applied, or at least adapted and applied, for use in other locations.

Resource scarcity will become an increasing source of global economic, social and environmental problems, when not conflict, and the challenge for architects and designers is to develop better ways of using the best materials. And the best material isn’t always some modern, hi-tech product. Often it is some locally harvestable natural, replenishable material. Learning what that is and how to use it sometimes involves looking beyond your conventional horizons and investigating other cultures. For architects Learning from Vernacular sounds like a good starting point.


We’ve not seen Learning from Vernacular in situ and so, as ever, cannot comment on how competently it presents the subject matter or what, if any, conclusions visitors can take away with them. That said, knowing what we know about the Vitra Design Museum coupled to what we have read in conjunction with the exhibition at other locations and the images of the models in the online project catalogue we have little doubt that Learning from Vernacular is well worth the visit.

Not least because it is being presented in the cavernous beauty of Buckminster Fuller and T.C. Howard’s Dome.

Learning from Vernacular can be viewed at the Vitra Design Museum until September 29th 2013.

Vitra Design Museum Learning from Vernacular Cartagena Cathedral Colombia 1999 Architekt Simón Vélez Colombia

Vitra Design Museum, Learning from Vernacular: Cartagena Cathedral, Colombia 1999. (Architecht: Simón Vélez Colombia)

Vitra Design Museum Learning from Vernacular Batak Dwelling Sumatra Indonesia photo Deidi van Schaewen

Vitra Design Museum, Learning from Vernacular: Batak Dwelling, Sumatra Indonesia (Photo: Deidi van Schaewen)

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