Miscellaneous Questions about Vernacular Architecture

Paulina Wojciechowska was born in Poland and spent her formative years in Afghanistan and India. She became fascinated by age-old architecture created by artisan builders. After studying architecture in Great Britain, she traveled to the United States and Mexico to study natural, alternative and indigenous building methods. She apprenticed with Nader Khalili at Cal-Earth, as well as with strawbale building pioneers Athena and Bill Steen at the Canelo Project. Out of this experience, she has written Building with Earth: A Guide to Flexible-Form Earthbag Construction (Chelsea Green, 2002) which is the first book published on the emerging methods of earthbag building. Paulina has established a nonprofit trust, "Earth, Hands & Houses," which supports building projects that empower indigenous people around the world to build their own shelter from natural materials that are available locally. She would be happy to consult on any project that would employ her broad range of training and skills.

Questions and Answers

Q: I am committing an argument that postmodern architecture is copied. In particular I am researching into the structure of domes. If you could give me any advise or references to back my argument it would be much appreciated.

A: Postmodern architecture, well there is a huge amount of this literature in any architectural section of a library, and one architect that springs to mind is John Outram (Iliona's father) who was known for this, also Jim Sterling (that's in the UK.) I am also sure that the internet will have a lot of stuff.

Q: I was wondering if igloos and golf balls have any relation to the structure of domes, if so which were made first? and when were they supposedly invented?

A: Yes there is a relationship, golf balls are spherical and Igloos are part spheres, (half spheres) so yes half a golf ball would have similar forces acting on it as an igloo, apart from the differences in material. A good source of info to look up for this is Frei Otto's books on structure. Good luck!

Q: I am an amateur historian and I'm writing a book about vintage travel souvenirs (which I also collect). I just acquired one that has me baffled. In the course of trying to research it on the Internet, I came across your website, and I thought maybe you could help. This item is a small jewelry box, probably made of silver, that is in the shape of a home on pyramidal "stilts," for lack of a better term. It has some age to it--if I had to guess I'd say it was made in the 1930s or 1940s. It looks to me like it is an Asian home. It seems to have a thatched-type or bamboo roof, a balcony going around the perimeter, and stone steps that would take one from ground (water) level up to the residence. I wonder if you recognize it as being native to a particular country. If you have any thoughts that might help, I'd certainly appreciate hearing them. Thank you!!

A (Kelly): I am certainly no expert on the vernacular architecture from around the world. From what I can see from the images that you sent, the roof is neither thatch nor bamboo; I would say that it is ceramic tile, which is common in many parts of the world, especially Spain, France, Mexico, etc. but not necessarily Asia. The little emblem on the box looks European to me, so that would be my first guess.

Q: I am a home schooled 12-year-old boy who lives in Madison, MS. I am doing a research paper on Australian architecture because I would like to be an architect when I grow up, and I am going to Australia on June 16 with the People to People Student Ambassadors program. My hypothesis on the paper is that Australian architecture should be much the same as American architecture because they both came from British influence and were founded at about the same time. I was hoping you could give me some insight on that and tell me if I should change my hypothesis.

A: (Kelly)I think you are absolutely right about the similarities between US and Australian architectural roots. What would be interesting to know is how the two have diverged over the years because of other influences.

Q: I am working on a Msc in Sustainable Development and my profession is in Restoration Ecology. Your book on Earthbag Construction was my first exposure to Vernacular Architecture and while I saw many advantages to the earthbag method some of the points you made connected with a design idea I'm working on. The modularity, being able to build in phases, the fact that the method is so versatile in the landscape, and most important (to me), how the structure can 'belong' to the land, rather than sit like 'warts' in the ecology, as is too common with conventional construction. I am working on a design for a small Permaculture community so the above aspects are key to construction methods. You offer details in your book regarding hybrid construction for walls. I am wondering if there are any sources for this relating to 'hybridizing' the roof structure of an earthbag dome with the roof or wall of other construction methods. Being able to connect a main living area on the second story with the loft of an earthbag dome increases the livability/utility of space especially for cohabitation residences. Finally, I'd like to thank you for writing the book! It opened a door for me that I was needing in order to move forward with this project. I can imagine that you've done the same for many others.

A: Thank you for your kind words. I don't know of any sources that talk of earthbag hybrids... but have a look at our website; our latest earthbag building has a secondary roof over the earthbags for a rainy climate. www.earthhandsandhouses.org click on 'projects', then 'sandbag dome'.


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