From Artefact to Process
: A New Framework for the Integration of the Vernacular in Contemporary Architectural Practice

  • Ibrahim Elhadidi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Change is a central issue in the domain of vernacular architecture studies today and is a highly relevant matter in the fields of cultural heritage and conservation, sustainability, and development. Classic definitions and conceptualizations surrounding vernacular architecture are arguably restricted by product or object-driven approaches that articulate formal and material qualities while overlooking the underlying systems and processes. As a result, change in vernacular architecture is often understood and addressed through static models which create a conceptual divide between past and present forms of vernacularity. The research argues for a dynamic model that considers both product and process characteristics in approaching vernacular architecture as it continues to change and transform today. By utilizing first-hand data from fieldwork studies, as well as previous literature and documentary sources, the research aims to develop a systematic approach to studying vernacular architecture. This is to identify the underlying processes and principles governing the production, adaptation, and transformation of characteristic formal and spatial vernacular patterns through time and space. A phenomenological approach was employed in the exploration of the case studies of Esna in Upper-Egypt, and the Siwa Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt using a variety of methods including observations, interviews, sketching, photographic documentation, historical literature, and documentary sources. The interpretive analysis of the findings shows that the historical development of Siwa and Esna’s vernacular setting and dwelling patterns through the previous two centuries was influenced by historical, environmental, and socio-economic factors, with the primacy of the socio-cultural in shaping and sustaining characteristic vernacular patterns and guiding their future adaptations. The comparative analysis of vernacular dwellings in the selected cases, highlights the symbiotic relationship between dwelling and settlement patterns, the continuities between past and present spatial patterns of dwelling, but more importantly the ongoing nature of change which may be instigated by internal or external factors, but always mitigated through contextual conditions and pre-established systems. The conventional approaches to change within these contexts are argued to articulate the gap between past and present forms of vernacular heritage, by widening the divide between the goals of conservation and development, and the actual local needs and pressures for the provision of shelter. Alternatively, by capitalizing on local natural and socio-cultural resources, some of the alternative approaches which adopt a community or process-led approach to cultural preservation and socio-economic development, incentivize local participation and attribute a continued significance to characteristic vernacular architecture and building traditions. Finally, a dynamic model for the study of vernacular architecture is proposed after reviewing previous literature and relevant studies and following a critique of the adopted research methodology and findings. The model proposes a systematic approach for researchers and practitioners engaging with vernacular contexts to study and detect underlying systems and key values in vernacular buildings and landscapes with the aim of their reintegration into contemporary practice.
Date of Award14 Sept 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorKemi Adeyeye (Supervisor) & Robert Proctor (Supervisor)


  • vernacular architecture
  • change
  • preservation
  • heritage
  • Architectural history
  • Architecture

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