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Tradition, Newness and Novelty


Cardarell Farms, Hillsborough County, Florida
Proposal for a New Neighbourhood
by Dover & Kohl, Architects and Urbanists

The Modernity of Tradition 


A Street in New Gourna, Egypt
by Hassan Fathy
(Photo by Avedessian Chant)
Aga Khan Trust For Culture and The American University of Cairo

A study of vernacular architecture through history, starting at the very first examples of sedentarized settlements (about 7000 years ago) shows that there has been a general evolution of basic and primitive types, and  particular developments of these types in regional and local cultural, climatic and geographical contexts.Traces of early huts and tent structures dating from 28.000 B.C. already reveal similar features to the archetypical patterns of traditional vernacular structures!
 Very early in mankind's settlement history a series of complex and mature types are fixed - like for example the courtyard house, the rowhouse, the 'megaron' (developing both into the classical temple, the gable house and into a variety of rectangular house types with a porched entrance), etc. - and they develop both into private and public typologies from the same original type pattern or by combination of basic types into new type patterns and arrangements.  


Farm House in Tell Hassuna (4750 B.C.)
(Picture from "Atlas zur Baukunst" by W. Müller and G. Vogel)
Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, München (1974)

Since antique times, traditional vernacular architecture has changed very little, both typologically and stylistically......The progressive and appropriate adjustments to technological devices and functional requirements were operated easily, and typological changes and innovations happened within the proper logics of typological language patterns.
 Traditional vernacular architecture demonstrates such a resistance to change, not because of backwardness or nostalgy, but because of a fundamental pragmatical wisdom, a wisdom which is evidenced and continuously documented by tangible arguments and successful buildings and cities.
 Traditional vernacular architecture and urbanism have indeed been able to resolve perfectly symbolical, artistical and functional issues of dwelling through a history of the most extraordinary technological revolutions and innovations, not by pretending to change the fundamental conditions and ideals of of human existence and of well-being, but by embracing them and by preserving and enhancing the sense of place and of community in a perspective of permanence and continuity !


Ca Jordi in Formentera, Spain  (1993)
by Philippe Rotthier and L. Prevedello
(Fondation Philippe Rotthier)

The traditional vernacular architecture is both satisfying the eye and the mind, it is comfortable and practicable, easily to maintain and agreable to care for, and it allows for growth and adaptation to new situations, including the wildest technological innovations.
 It has been demonstratedly enlargened, transformed and remodelled according to the organic needs of its inhabitants without neither becoming an alienating housing machine, nor a permanently destabilizing building-site!
It is figural, wholesome, sensuous, harmonious, and it is literally drenched with memory of a timeless culture of human habitat and of the particular stratifications of local and family traditions, memories, myths.


Corner House in Viseu, Portugal
 Casa Museo Capitão Moreira
(Photo Archives Viseu)


Entrance Facade of Besse Residence, Sana'a, Yemen (1973)
by Marie Agnes Bertaud
(Photo by Reha Guna)
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture


Traditional Courtyard House, Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu (China)
(Photo by Christopher Little)
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture


New Town of Windsor, Florida
by Duany & Plater-Zyberk
(Photo by Lucien Steil)

Newness and Novelty 


Demir Holiday Village, Bodrum, Turkey (1987)
by Turgut Cansever &
Emine Ögün, Mehmet Ögün, Feyza Cansever
(Photo by Cemal Emden)
 The Aga Khan Award for Architecture 

The frustration of novelty has not been an issue in traditional vernacular architecture. Typological, constructional and technological adjustments and improvements were handled intelligently and comprehensively thus allowing newness and freshness to arise naturally and logically as an inherent propriety of the continuous process of vernacular evolution, rather than as applied and conflicting devices of forceful modernization!
Traditional vernacular architecture has been willing and capable to articulate, in a smart manner, both invention, innovation and modernity without spectacular dramatization, without the pathetic claim of permanent disruption and the ostentative celebration of impermanence, of obsolence, and of continuous, fragmentary incompleteness...
Most of the people are still very happy to live in these traditional structures or long for places which offer the material and moral comfort of traditional vernacular architecture. The idea to experiment with housing novelties, - bright and restless - or - boringly blunt, brutal and boring - house interpretations, it seems a perfectly illogical proposition in the philosophical framework of New Urbanism and its visions guided by traditional city-building precedents! 


Houses in Windsor, Florida
by Duany & Plater-Zyberk and Local Architects
(Photo by Lucien Steil)

"But the new has never been a mere novelty.
 The new has been always the result of a process of transmission of knowledge and merit.
 The various phases of history were additive, and the storing of new experience was the law of mankind."
Demetri Porphyrios
"Cities of Stone"
(Architectural Design Profile on Leon Krier, 1984)


New Village Extension in Clemency, Luxembourg
by Mulhern & Steil, Luxembourg

Zeitgeist and Permanence


Peristyle of House of Veti, Pompei
(Photo by Mary Ann Sullivan)

The question of adapting architectural language to he material and moral conditions of one's time, and to articulate the proper contemporary sensitivity of modernity in our built environment is a slightly frivolous attempt, particularly ill-suited for the particular purposes of architecture and urbanism.
Besides the obvious resistance of architecture to 'instant culture' by the very reality of its nature,  the evergrowing pace of fashion changes, momentary moods and life-styles, technological innovations and economical and political fluctuations of contemporary times,do make the challenges of 'Zeitgeist' appear  more absurd than ever! How can buildings be asked to reflect the contingent and the ephemeral, when they have by definition and by their sheer material and moral resistance to transitoriness the duty to establish the harmonious and durable setting of life?  


House in New Town of Windsor, Florida
(Photo by Lucien Steil)

The concerns of architecture are not to express signs of a contemporary modernity and  'sexy' novelty, but to express the enduring, the universal and to articulate the symbols of continuity and permanence by which architecture has always distinguished itself from  frivolous experimentalism, cultural adventurism and decadent spleens.  


Houses in Windsor, Florida
by Duany & Plater-Zyberk
(Photo by Lucien Steil)