Principles of Design in vernacular architecture

The vernacular architecture of our past was based on certain principles of design.
Vernacular architecture is wise thought
of generations moulded by culture and
region in which it flourishes. It is region
specific and culture specific. Vernacular
design is seen as a limitation imposed
by the guiding lines of region and
culture….or is learning to live with
these limitations by utilization of its
potentials to the maximum. Therefore,
vernacular design is a result of factors
that frame it.
In design evolution, Architecture cannot
fulfill its function and generate
its message unless it has some underlying
principles of design…AXIS, SYMMETRY,
TRANSFORMATION; it also includes
This paper aims to find underlying
principles of design in vernacular settlements
termed as ….orderly geometric
chaos. That Means, there lies an order in geometry of design and chaos
in the same design because of its
organic evolution with time. The guiding
lines of culture specific meansfor
any given situation living style,
activity pattern, customs and traditions.
The region specific means-site,
landform, topography and climate.
Both factors act as generators that
frame the design. The methodology
adopted, is to study, the existing settlements
with the help of documented
drawings. An analysis is carried out with
the sketches of built mass as existed
in past.

Source - Ancient Indian Architecture.

Source (Base Drawing) - Ancient Indian Architecture.


Period: 2800BC-2600BC.
Design: The underlying geometry was
Grid Iron Pattern. The design of houses in close proximity to one another. Houses
built around a central courtyard. Facades
solid, all windows openings to the courtyard
and passages. The conclusion - the
design is intovert. The design planned
around the main depression “the tank”,
that acts as a community space. Mud
bricks used for construction. Series of
enclosures for security reasons. The gates
at strategic locations.

Principles: Axis: is a line established by
two points in space. Series of lines cross
each other to form grid iron pattern.

Hierarchy: Articulation by variations of
form and size of space. This principle is
achieved by variation in size of spaces
from street- to passage -to court.

Transformation: Alteration by various
forms manipulated in design can be seen.


Design: The organising principle is a
central courtyard. The Dogon village is
a hierarchy of spaces, the social and
spatial fabric generated out of few simple
design principles. Design is either
along the main axis or diagonal axis.
Building walls seen at an angle along
the diagonal as perspective with vanishing
points shifting along axis…
ever-changing perspective view. The
low ceiling supported by carved pillers.
Spatial character evolved to defend
against warriors. They built their houses
in clusters, act like fortress. Geometry of
design is seen in pure geometric shapes
like square, rectangle and circle used in
dwelling design.


Axis is to be terminated at both of its ends by a sisnificant
form /space.notion of edges dfined by well defined edges.

Vertical planes facades enclose a open space.
well defined spaces centralised/regular in form

Design: Street as a space for community,
Street can be narrow, wide opening
to the main court and spaces. It can be
with or without variety. The geometry
can be curves, zig-zag to meet the multiple
needs of culture. Radial pattern, in
terms that the design generates from
one central focal point the welcome
court. Street system of design Bannis
clustered around the axial street. The
lower cast kept away from the main
settlement area. The main court is near
the Head's House.

Line datum can organise the elements in the form of line. Line can
cut through and form a common edge for the pattern.

In the village layout-the main open space falls on the line. A regular geometry

Source (base drawing) - Architecture of the Indian desert.
The ‘banni house’ is single cell of body
of settlement. The circular unit is subdivided
in to various zones according to the
functions to be carried out in the house-a
division of space without walls.


Design: Jaisalmer fort is a traditional
settlement, not exactly a vernacular
settlement. The city is network of
streets, high buildings, narrow
streets the area of fort is taken up for
study. The design layout shows a network
of space in which.
Hierarchy of size: When the space dominates in architectural design by being significantly
different in size from all other
elements, dominance by size of elements
such as -"C-Royal Square"
Hierarchy of Shape: Visually dominant
by the shape from other elements in
composition. A discreet contrast in shape
is critical.
Rhythm: Patterened reoccurrence of elements
in design such as Granary areas in
the design. Repetation as a dense organization
of repetitive pillars.

Exceptional size -dominance seen by the size of
the space .form in design.

A unique shape-visually dominant and imporatnt
shape of the space /form in design.

Space and form are visual elements.visual continuity is result of opening up of enclosures in space.generation of form in space is affect of
opening these horizontal and vertical elements in depends on size,number and location of openings.
Main Chowk has full enclosure with two streets opening the visual link.
Neighbourhood Space activity linked to houses opens to the residential streets.
Angan near the house.transition space in house and street.
Main Village Square is village community space,
at intersection of main streets.

Source - Architecture Kutch.


Design: In the Kutch region, the architecture
is a result of hot and dry climate.
Village is situated near a river.
The house has geometric circular form.
The layout of village is based on caste
herirachy-Brahmins, Harijans, Darbari
and Muslims. The network of streets
is organic, resembles the branches
of trees. The underlying geometry
is ring with branches. The streets have ever-changing views. Chowks,
Y shaped junctions make the intersections
of streets.


Various research steategies are:
1 Theory in relation to method.
2 Design in relation to research.
3 Interpretive historical research
4 Correlational research.
5 Casestudies and Combined Strategies.
In Design we mean figural schemes
that lead to built form. By design
we mean what architects do
everyday- responding to clients,
requirements, standards, etc. Research
is philosophical principles-scholarly
enquiry. The hypothesis is based
on interpretation of documented
drawings. In the above mentioned
studies, activity as a generator of
function in design has been adopted.
The logic is based on various factors
within the situation.
In design research diagnosis, planning,
evaluation and finding are the
steps taken. The first study was design
and history research - an account of
past event (Mohanjodaro). Design as
qualitative research - in depth
account of social context. Design of
house in the sequence of formal area
(public), central court (public & private)
then backyard (private). Design
and Simulation Research-evaluates
rule of thumb design criteria, mitigating
heat by use of mud, small windows
and shaded court. Design and
logical argumentation: logical argumentation
is embedded in modes of
systematic inquiry which leads to systematic
The case study is an investigation of
design in real life context. Focus was on
the multiple cases, studied in real life context
with analysis for casual links.


The Present is to be seen as a continuity
of the past. The relation of spaces is to
be seen as a functional need. Street
and court as community spaces, an
extension of house/adjoining area. The
study highlighted the axial relations,
articulation of spaces, transformation
in space and hierarchy of space and
size. The various design typologies
such as street, courtyard, hybrid
of street and court are to be seen
a lessons from the past. The contemporary
design as a continuity of the
past vernacular design is the bottom line
of the study.

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