Design Education and Sustainability

| October 3, 2011

Ideas to Think With: Marcel Vellinga and the Anthropology of Sustainable Architecture

For design educators interested in the increasingly intersecting areas of sustainability, cultural politics, and the built environment, Marcel Verllinga’s article “Anthropology and the Challenges of sustainable architecture” provides a number of critical insights for challenging popular assumptions about architecture. In this article Vellinga reflects on several contemporary publications on vernacular architecture to highlight the problems that emerge when such practices are defined around narrow notions of tradition, culture, and/or modernism.  As he explains, “Bamboo, adobe mud-bricks and wooden shingles are common vernacular materials, but so are concrete, plywood, and the much lamented (not least by anthropologists) yet not necessarily ineffective corrugated iron” (2005: 3). In other words, if we assume that vernacular architecture is only about “thatched roof” dwellings then we shun whole bodies of knowledge from which we might gain critical insights for developing a more sustainable and equitable future.  In summary, this article provides a productive tool for provoking students to rethink the cultural dynamics that are shaping current debates in the fields of sustainable design and development.

Vellinga, Marcel (2005) Anthropology and the challenges of sustainable architecture. Anthropology Today. 21(3): 3-17