A Future for the Past of Desert Vernacular Architecture

University dissertation from Lund University (Media-Tryck)

Abstract: Popular Abstract in English Vernacular (local) architecture is in danger and about to disappear in several parts of the world. What we call native, traditional and handmade will disappear gradually and then the true meaning of vernacular vanishes. The present thesis shows that the disappearance of vernacular traditional skills creates an increasing threat to the existence of desert vernacular architecture in Egypt. Global ambitions and socio-economic development are some of the factors behind inhabitants deserting their vernacular houses, leaving them to deteriorate or demolishing them to build new houses using industrialized materials. Such new houses unfortunately lack environmental adaptability and cultural identity. People are seeking a modern look for their homes and better living facilities which their desert vernacular houses sometimes no longer satisfy. It was clear from the research investigations that unspoken knowledge and skills with a lifetime tradition have been developed, perfected and handed down for generations by craftsmen, builders and locals in desert vernacular settlements. These vernacular skills can be found alive today, but may not be around tomorrow. What makes this thesis different from previous research is first that it deals with the desert vernacular problems in an active and practical manner with locals’ contributions in all essential research steps. Second it looks at the future of desert vernacular architecture as a means to protect the existing desert vernacular values and its past heritage. Third, which is the most significant contribution, it uses a flexible methodology. This methodology provides an opportunity for wider application possibilities, which can be useful for many different vernacular communities suffering from similar or related problems. The thesis novel outcome is a conservation model for thinking re-vernacular. It was designed, experimented and applied in the town of Balat in the Western Desert of Egypt. Its aim was encouraging locals to maintain a developing and sustainable loop of a vernacular building tradition as it used to be for centuries. The future application of this methodology will hopefully contribute to the necessary improvement in the conservation of vernacular architectural heritage. If desert vernacular know-how can be kept alive, it will not only preserve the old but can also contribute to keep desert vernacular alive in the future. Finally the research proved that it is still possible to develop vernacular building techniques to cope with contemporary housing demands. The research opens a channel to look at desert vernacular as a mine in which we can still excavate to learn a great deal for future housing solutions. Such solutions can connect the environment with its natural building materials to be used by the local community. It can also give guidance and solutions to politicians and policy makers who are struggling to find effective alternatives for desert communities’ housing problems. The outcome can lead to cheap modern housing in traditional terms. It can improve the future houses by making them more environmentally friendly and also look modern while conserving desert vernacular architecture.