Vernacular Mind Buenos Aries 3

Be Gentle With Yourself: Recovering the Vernacular Mind

The vernacular is not a style; it is a way of thinking and doing. We must recover the Vernacular Mind.” —Douglas Duany, Associate Professor, The University of Notre Dame School of Architecture

“We should be discussing plain old good architecture.” —Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Director, Master of Urban Design Program, The University of Miami School of Architecture

The following observations are listed in the absence of a discernible taxonomic discipline. This is the conversational structure that underlies the Vernacular Mind (VM).

The VM does not have the slightest problem with having fun. 

The VM is heedless of the line between culture and kitsch.

 For the VM, repetition is unavoidable, but repetition with precision is tedious and unwarranted.

The VM judges appearance, not style. 

The VM is on notice of what works best in the long run.

The VM does not need reminders of how people actually live.

The VM is straightforward, off-the-shelf, forgiving.

The VM is more practical than cunning. It observes as well as knows. It is easily understood.

The VM evolves from memories and is open to influence.

The VM is creative, but skeptical of the new.

The VM derives ornament from the ghost of structure.

The VM is economical, but resents imposed austerity.

The VM delights in ornament, however imperfectly executed.

The VM retains a vague, pleasant memory of classicism.

For the VM, proportions and modules are elastic.

For the VM, climatic demand does not always trump culture.

The VM does not avoid technology. Labor-saving tools are in constant development.

The VM is collective, rather than authorial.

The VM does not dilute innate genius. 

The VM does not design coherently; it contemplates options sequentially.

The VM will model a detail rather than draw it.

For the VM, the eye is an adequate measuring device.

The VM seeks the good opinion of its cohort.

The VM recycles. A discard is a defeat.

For the VM, the horizontal is the functional plane; aesthetics are developed on the vertical plane.

The VM avoids resizing or reshaping to exact fit. Cutting is considered hard work, and it makes waste.

The VM is not compelled to “resolve” juxtapositions.

The VM works for personal satisfaction as well as for pay.

The VM is certainly of its place, but rarely of its time. 

For the VM, lines are not more straight than necessary, and alignments approximate enough.

For the VM, mutability has equal standing with durability.

For the VM, the human pace is the largest increment of measure.

The VM settles a building on its site from visual vantage points, not by measured triangulation.

To the VM, an existing structure has distinct rights over a proposed one.

In the VM, a building’s function is always mixed-use.

Gunnar Asplund. The Stockholm Exhibition, 1930.

A dosage to help alleviate an academic education: In the 1920s, a cohort of educated Scandinavian architects were able to recover their Vernacular Minds. Among the salient examples are Eric Gunnar Asplund’s Villa Snellman, Lister Courthouse and Skandia Cinema; Carl Petersen’s Faaborg Museum; Ragnar Ostberg’s City Hall, and Eldhs Atelier; Ivar Tengbom’s Concert Hall; and Sigard Lewerentz’ Helsingborg Crematorium. Lewerentz was able to apply the Vernacular Mind to the high modernism of two late churches: St Mark’s and St Peter’s. 

And then there is the entire oeuvre of Jože Plečnik, the greatest Vernacular Mind of the 20th century. 

Craig Ellwood, the meticulous Miesian, eventually recovered the Vernacular Mind. This is one of his last drawings.
The Ellwood tombstone for himself amd his dog. “Be gentle with yourself.”


Featured image: A building in Buenos Aries. The author, who took the photograph, doesn’t know who designed it or when it was built, and doesn’t think it matters.


Get smart and engaging news and commentary from architecture and design’s leading minds.

Donate to, a Not-For-Profit website dedicated to reconnecting architecture and design to the public.