The School of Architecture at the University of Utah has a longstanding commitment to place-based architecture and defining the contours of the illusive concept of the American West. Dialectic V invites contributions that explore the vernacular afresh: as a quantifiable phenomenon, as an analytical category, and as an ethical stance. The editors of the journal welcome new takes on questions including but not limited to the definition, the role, and the challenges of the study of the vernacular.
The contemporary emphasis on locality and the creative expression of time-tested know-how of "common folk" comes out of modern and postmodern valorization of cultural plurality. The turn to regionalism in architecture - whether critical or romantic, principled or a cynical tool to brand a place or pedagogy'is intimately wound up with the perception of capitalism and mass media as either suppressing or manipulating disparate cultural identities, local practices, or complex histories. Scholars like Thomas Hubka, Thomas Carter, and Dell Upton have shown connections between modernist and vernacular practices and how they anticipate each other. It should therefore not be surprising that schools like Utah attend to the lived environment of ordinary folk and look askance at the dazzling acrobatics of global starchitects as a naïve continuation of the modernist legacy. This stance produces and reinforces another ideal: a commitment to community engagement. It provides a framework for foregrounding humble but profound projects and modes of practice that give voice to those overlooked by spaces bleached of memory and rationally produced as commodity for glossy magazines and mass tourism.
However, the vernacular is not necessarily or inevitably a progressive concept. Tania Li and Jane M. Jacob have demonstrated the use of vernacular and indigenous as cognitive categories by colonial administrators to map territories and classify populations for a myriad of exploitative goals. Well meaning donor agencies like the World Bank in turn, perpetuating the same governmental strategies have deployed these same concepts as heuristic devices for denigrating certain people as bounded groups, fixed "forever in place." In Germany, a racial lens exalted the thatch roofs of its countryside as a proof of an immutable superior nature of German volk. Later all across the Middle East, the progressive ideal of cultural diversity has been leveraged to erect caricatures of walled cities aimed at self-orientalization and maintaining traditional gender and class inequities. The vernacular is an unstable concept - always vulnerable to reduction and capture as cultural commodity and/or uncritical ideology.
What then is the vernacular? Is it foremost an economic entity or a cultural one? Does it refer to a process, language, or an image? Does it signify an object or its background? Is it a heuristic term for "no logo" buildings, or is it a brand and a style in and of itself? Who are the actors involved in the making of the so-called vernacular? What are the different ways it has been instrumentalized in design practice and policy decisions - for example by framing insights into native landscape intelligence and responses to climate? Or does vernacular simply stand in for a life style - growing, building, and buying, local - whether as principle or fashion. Is it related to the beginning of commerce and consumption? Or is it a futile, perhaps reactionary resistance to the elision of place and place-based practices by globalized circulation of goods, ideas, people, and materials? These questions highlight the vernacular as an active and multifaceted term.
We would entertain papers or projects that ask: What is the value of marking the boundary between design produced according to disciplinary and extra-disciplinary criteria? What about architects like Hasan Fathi "reproducing" vernacular and his followers perpetuating the approach? We would welcome proposals to document the Disneyfied use of the vernacular works in current tourism economies? How has a strategic deployment of vernacular studies in the history and theory of architecture operated? How could it? What does it mean to activate the distinction between pedigree and non-pedigree architecture today? Do the tacit structures of software and computation imply a digital vernacular? What is the vernacular of 20th century? Is it constituted by the low cost trailers offered by HUD in the United States and other agencies in different parts of the world or does the stick-frame American suburb qualify, and what does this say about how the vernacular is classed? Are ubiquity and absence of a professional architect all that are required, or is a specific depth of history required? If so, what does this do to the association of vernacular with the voices from below?
The editors value critical statements and alternative practices. We hope to include instructive case studies and exciting models for professional practice. Possible contributions may also include mapping of ongoing debates across the world, book, journal, exhibition and new media reviews. Please send abstracts of "50 words and short CVs to Shundana Yusaf (shundana at arch.utah.edu) and Ole Fischer (fischer at arch.utah.edu) by June 1, 2016.
Accepted authors will be notified by June 15th. Photo essays with 6-8 images, creative comment, art-work, and full papers of "500-"500 words must be submitted by August 15, 2016, (including visual material, endnotes, and permissions for illustrations) to undergo an external peer-review process. This issue of Dialectic is expected to be out in print by September 2017.