Статья 'Contemporary vernacular architecture design for a Future design solutions of dwellings in hot-arid areas' - журнал 'Urban Studies' - NotaBene.ru
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Urban Studies

Contemporary vernacular architecture design for a Future design solutions of dwellings in hot-arid areas

Benyoucef Mohammed Yassine

Postgraduate student, the department of Architecture, People’s University of Friendship of Russia

117198, Russia, g. Moscow, ul. Miklukho Maklaya, 6

Razin Andrey Dionisovich

PhD in Architecture

Ph.D. in Architecture, Docent, People’s University of Friendship of Russia

117198, Russia, g. Moscow, ul. Miklukho-Maklaya, 6








Abstract: The article discusses the practice of contemporary vernacular architectural design, also the use of the different passive techniques in the contemporary architectural design of buildings. A brief description of the creativity of modern architects using vernacular architecture as sustainable solutions design for the construction of dwellings. The article notes that contemporary vernacular architecture is a solution for environmental design and the use of natural materials in the design and construction of dwellings, which gives sustainability to architectural designs and increasing in parallel with developments in technology for the new architectural and constructive solutions. The article is based on the analysis of traditional and modern architecture of dwellings, their characteristics and advantages of various methods of passive construction in hot-dry areas. The new contemporary vernacular architecture design is considered as sustainable architecture, which characterises par the adaptation, efficiency, and durability in these hot-arid conditions and can be a great source of architectural inspiration for new projects. The vernacular architecture is bioclimatic, ecological and sustainable and could be the key to the success of contemporary vernacular building envelope.


Contemporary dwellings, design, vernacular architecture, hot-arid areas, Sahara, natural materials, sustainability, passive techniques, energy consumption, durability


Traditional architecture establishes a harmonious relationship and designed in accordance with society, culture, climatic and geographical conditions. Today, the common goal of any sustainable architectural design is to produce environmentally and friendly constructions [1]. Recently, due to rising energy costs, architects are embracing traditional and vernacular building traditions, given that this architecture has proven to be energy efficient and sustainability. In this time, with the rapid technological development and urbanization, there is still much to be learned from the traditional architecture, with her various passive techniques and strategies of construction, the vernacular houses were perfectly adapted to the harsh climatic conditions [2]. Vernacular architecture adheres to the fundamental green architectural principles of sustainability, energy efficiency and the use of natural local materials. This architecture takes advantage of local traditional knowledge of how to effectively design buildings as well as how to use local materials and natural resources.

This paper will describe a series of case studies of modern vernacular dwellings in different hot-dry regions, which can serve as models of environmental architecture. Modern architectural perspectives on these vernacular values include a new approach for professionals and communities, this aims at understanding and integrating the experiences and values of vernacular architecture in today’s contemporary projects, with a responsibility to preserve the architectural heritage and reuse of traditional techniques and modern technologies and skills for contemporary architectural design. Vernacular dwellings typology is varies depending on different factors as climate, geography, topography, society and culture [3]. Today, hot-arid areas are very challenging in terms of buildings energy consumption due to the intensive demand for cooling and energy, because of the high air-temperature which can reach over 50 °C. In addition, buildings are responsible for more than 40% of global energy consumption [4], thus, the climate had a strong influence on the formation of desert habitations, at the present, the problems of housing design and adaptation to climate are strongly imposed especially in the hot-arid regions [5].

1. Overview of vernacular architecture of houses

Vernacular dwellings in hot-dry cities can be divided into two different typologies, an introvert and extrovert architecture [6]. In the Sahara Desert, the compact urban form, narrow and enclosed passages, buildings orientation, natural materials, deep patios, use of fountain and plants, underground spaces, thick walls, all this are the main characteristic of vernacular architecture which gives the Saharan houses the adaptation, energy efficiency in this extremely hot and arid conditions of the desert [5]. The majority of Saharan dwelling contains a central courtyard, reliably protected from unfavourable factors of harsh climate, such a construction typology is dictated by a natural biological need and a socio-cultural historical development [7].

The use of natural local materials and passive techniques is one of the most relevant features of vernacular architecture and being an identity factor of regional differentiation [8], furthermore, Stone and clay are the two main materials which strongly used in the hot arid areas (Fig.1), Due to the hot weather and strong solar radiation, the lighting design was carried out in a way to have shades and indirect natural light for interior spaces for traditional houses the patio is considering as main element for daylighting and the natural ventilation. The first step to achieve passive cooling (Table.1) in a building is to reduce unnecessary thermal loads that might enter it [9].

screen_shot_20191009_at_01.53.45 a) b)

Fig. 1. a) Kasbah Mousani in Tindouf, Algeria, (from clay material). b) Stone architecture in Mauritania, Source: a) Zedam Nabil, b) https://clck.ru/GKaZ8

screen_shot_20191009_at_01.53.50Table 1. Basic cooling strategies, Credit: Anupama Sharma (2003)

2. Factors affecting architecture design.

Architectural typology and styles are so varied in the Sahara Desert, each traditional city in pre-colonial period had its unique architectural morphology, style, traditions and construction methodology, and each city was influenced by its own socio-cultural specificity [10]. The Saharan climate is characterized by low precipitations, strong evaporation, an intense luminosity, high temperatures that can up to 50° Celsius [11]. After the climatic conditions, cultural, and social factor are among the main factors affecting on the formation of traditional Saharan architecture, we can mention the main factors as:

1. Social-Cultural factor

2. Climatic factor

3. Religion factor

4. Economic factor

5. Topographical and geographical factor

Traditional architecture represents a harmonious relationship between the built environment and the natural environment [12]. Architecture of hot arid areas has inspired by many factors as mentioned earlier, and during history, some changes occurred that affected the architectural typology, styles and constructive system.

3. Towards a contemporary vernacular architecture of houses.

For architects and innovators, vernacular architecture could become an extremely useful model of inspiration, due to its aesthetics, environmental friendliness, and ease of processing and is one such area where architects have been sourcing climate responsive methods to apply to modern constructions. Thanks to architects and designers, such as Hassan Fathy, Rasem Badran, Arjen Reas, Peter Vetsch, Tatiana Bilbao, and many others architects, also other architecture design companies like REC Architecture, DIALOG, EarthLAB Studio, DIALOG, vernacular architecture has confirmed its technical and aesthetic advantages. The positive research results and their practical implementation in modern architecture have shown the economic benefits and the constructive advantages of this material. The experience of our centuries-old ancestors allows us to use natural materials in different parts of the world by applying its various characteristics to the present. This cultural heritage is transmitted through national traditions to new generations. Hassan Fathy asserts that nature should take precedence when designing new buildings [13]. As he wrote once;

“…Architectural form should consider the forces in nature of wind, rain, even how an earthquake shaking it would make it fall in a pattern that follows the geological formation of a mountain…”.

At the disposal of architects and engineers’ various types of natural materials, such as stone, clay, and timber, recently these natural material is undergoing a revival in that they offer sustainability, contrary to industrial materials such a concrete, glass and steel which they consume more energy and very costly materials compared with natural materials.

3.1 Natural materials.

Clay is a natural and sustainable material composed primarily of fine grained minerals and can use it in different ways, achieving many architectural, structural, and environmental outcomes [14]. In order to implement the traditional architecture lessons from the past into the present context, it is necessary that the vernacular tradition remains recognizable, sustainable and relevant in terms of socio-cultural and technological aspects [15]. The modern experience of the use of clay as natural building materials over the past 30 years has confirmed its enormous potential and revealed more prospects for the development of mud building. In order to open a wider circle of specialists for clay buildings and other natural materials, efforts needed in a theoretical study of the fundamentals of clay design as a primary material. with the use of the technological innovation as a new implementation of physical skills and technological knowledge with the aim of introducing changes in the physical aspects of clay materials in order to increase its effectiveness. When inheriting lessons learned from vernacular architecture, today the main challenge is in finding methods and strategies necessary to integrate traditional knowledge and skills into the contemporary design and practice. [16]. Currently, as a result of the different researches carried out in many countries of the world, clay houses have proved to be effective, reliable and environmentally materials for construction especially in hot-dry climates. Due to their high structural qualities, energy Efficiency, and environmental friendliness, they become 21st century material, which can replace structures made of steel, concrete and wood for the different housing projects. Many architects and designers look at the potential of the cost, efficiency, availability of clay materials and to find new solutions for use in construction and design of various project. At present, the production of adobe or rammed earth does not require much energy compared to other building materials such as cement, concrete, fired brick (table 2), thus the cost of production is low. clay is definitely an appropriate and cost and energy efficient technology, by using appropriate structural techniques and stabilization methods.

Table. 2. Energy required to produce different building materials (Sruthi G. S, 2013)

Building materials


Unite energy [KWh]


Cubic meter



Cubic meter


fired brick

Cubic meter


To date, the world built many houses and buildings from mud. These unique homes are located in several countries like Mexico, Australia, USA (New Mexico), and Chile. There’s too many housing project which they presented contemporary vernacular architecture, this new design takes into consideration the different passive techniques, one of these dwellings is a summer houses designed by Tatiana Bilbao (Fig.2), an adaptable, integrated, vernacular and low maintenance for summer house in the Chapala Lake in Jalisco (Mexico). The second is Munita González house (Fig.3) is located in a suburb area, in Batuco, Chile. The goal of the different vernacular housing project is to minimize the impact on nature with the use of passive energies.


a) b)

Fig. 2. a) Exterior view of summerhouse in Jalisco, (Mexico), b) interior view. Source: Iwan Baan.

screen_shot_20191009_at_01.54.09 a) b)

Fig. 3 a) Exterior View of Munita Gonzalez House in Batuco, Chile. b) Interior design of the House. Souce: Luis García.

In Munita Gonzalez House, is built with a metallic structure and earth panel for thermal efficiency, which is constituted of panels of welded wire mesh of steel, filled of earth. For the evacuation of waters is used (Tohá, Lombrifiltro) system in which the waters are re-used [17].

Munita Gonzalez House is contemporary in design, and a concrete example of the validity of the earth as a contemporary building material. Earth is considered as natural, sustainable materials for constructions, earth is almost for free and environmentally also it is well known that earth regulates the temperature of an environment, healthy spaces and improves the air quality [18].

EarthLAB Studio has designed an earthen house in Mérida city, Mexico (fig.4), the intention of house building with earth is to create vernacular and modern architecture in the same time, a dialog between tradition and technology, past and present. EarthLAB started as an exploration towards discovering the benefits and the potential of using earth as a building material and for developing the earthen construction and housing (fig.5). EarthLAB as a group of architects, engineers and designers with the aim of developing earth construction technologies, organizes events and workshops in different countries where participants and users are introduced into the basics of different techniques and material of earthen construction and shown the benefits of using earth as sustainable material.


a) b) c)

Fig. 4. a) General view of the Earth House “Earth LAB Studio”, b) View of the walls, C) interior design of the house. Source: Leo Espinosa.


a) b)

Fig. 5. a) Diagram earth structure, b) Walls from earth (construction technique), Source: Leo Espinosa.

3.2 Earth-sheltering technique.

Earth-sheltering technique is one of the ways to reach thermal comfort passively, through enlarging the thermal capacity of the building envelope and maximizing the thermal lag of heat transfer of the walls [19]. The new modern vernacular houses are using the concept of sustainability as a way to build environmental houses, with the use of this passive technique and the use of earth as thermal and acoustic insulation, the different typologies of underground houses are as the following (fig.6).


Fig. 6. Earth sheltered cross sections’ typologies in relation with the zero level. Source: Heba Hassan.

The houses are larger than they seem and that is mostly because they are almost entirely covered with earth. All the homes use the earth as an insulating blanket that provides protection from heat and cold. The organic shapes of these structures allow them to naturally integrate into the surroundings and to become a part of the landscape. We can mention also the Earthship house which is a type of passive solar home, made of natural and recycled materials. They are built to minimize environmental impact with the use of local resources and materials. Solar panels are used to generate electricity, and glass windows to trap warmth. The first Earthship homes were designed in the 1970s by Mike Reynolds, founder of Earthship Biotecture. In an arid region known for its traditional adobe architecture, American studio Mollhaus has created a home in New Mexico which takes cues from adobe architecture and desert terrain, in an arid region known for its traditional adobe architecture, this new dwelling respects the area’s traditional architecture while embodying a contemporary aesthetic.


Vernacular architecture can be a great model for contemporary houses, the understanding and integration of vernacular experiences in today’s housing projects are important in order to enable architects to be an active part in plural-disciplinary teams, to promote their responsibility to valorise built and innovate the vernacular architecture to a contemporary vernacular architecture, which respect environment and social-cultural values.

Many experts in the field of architecture increasingly recommend the return to the characteristics of the vernacular architectural model of dwellings adapted to climatic and social criteria. The return to these architectural characteristics allows a saving of energy, durability, as well as environment protection while preserving the social-cultural values, and taking into consideration the followings aims of sustainability:

- The relationship between the dwellers and the environment.

- Socio-cultural identity.

- Protection and preservation of natural resources.

- Using eco-friendly materials also recycled materials.

- Using the new technologies for preserving energy.

- The use of passive techniques as earth-sheltering technique.

The benefits of traditional-vernacular architecture and the passive techniques have been realized throughout the large part of architectural history, although interest has dwindled during modern times, architects and engineers are now returning between green architecture with different green projects. Contemporary vernacular housing project mentioned earlier confirmed the value of the vernacular design and traditional passive techniques, and that vernacular architecture is a great model of inspiration for the new contemporary houses projects.

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