True vernacular tradition is based on participation, engagement, and an egalitarian political ethic. But much of the connection to these forces has been lost in modern society, and this has lead to ignorance, weakening of culture, and a decline in personal empowerment. By way of contrast, the plain form of the vernacular building represents the external image of an enduring social idea. Though the vernacular building may not be a perfect environmental solution, and though its use of detail may be inconsistent, it shows the vernacular designer to be a subtle engineer in the organization of human relations based on an established social order. The houses of the hot, humid Deep South were originally a single room in depth so that breezes could flow from window to window. arrangements are read as designed primarily to defend people from the climate, then the vernacular builder is re-vealed as not too clever and as shifting whimsically from more to less effective responses to his conditions. Loss of vernacular tradition is usually associated with the creation of barriers to direct social interaction, compartmentalization of functions within a building, and the imposition of an external mask of symmetricality. Of all the changes I have found in my study of vernacular architecture, the most important are social. The old house is open. No barrier blocks the entrance. Outsiders pierce effortlessl y through one door to the very center of the home. The interior is composed of a few large, multifunctional spaces. Entertainment and cooking happen together and people sleep together. The plan of the house grows from human activities, and the nonsymmetrical facade grows from the plan, so that people approaching the house know where the people of the interior are. Vernacular architecture has played a pivotal role in shaping architecture and in defining perceptions of modernity.
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