Rapoport, Amos. House Form and Culture, Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969, Chapter 1: The Nature and Definition
of the Field, pp.1-3. Out of print.
work of the designer, let alone of the designer of genius,
has represented a small, often insignificant, portion
of the building activity at any given period."
Architectural theory and history have traditionally been concerned
with the study of monuments. They have emphasized the work of
men of genius, the unusual, the rare. Although this is only
right, it has meant that we have tended to forget that the work
of the designer, let alone of the designer of genius, has represented
a small, often insignificant, portion of the building activity
at any given period. The physical environment of man, especially
the built environment, had not been, and still is not, controlled
by the designer. This environment is the result of vernacular
(or folk, or popular) architecture, and it has been largely
ignored in architectural history and theory. Yet it has been
the environment of the Athens of the Acropolis, of the Maya
cities and the towns next to Egyptian temples and tombs or around
Gothic cathedrals — as it has been of remote villages
and islands, whether of Greece or the South Seas. In addition,
the high style buildings usually must be seen in reaction to,
and in the context of, the vernacular matrix, and are in fact
incomprehensible outside that context, especially as it existed
at the time they were designed and built.
This neglect of the bulk of the built environment, the tendency
to see mud hovels or insignificant grass shacks where there
are, in fact, buildings of great quality with much to teach
us, has given rise to two standards — one for "important"
buildings, especially those of the past, and another for "unimportant"
buildings and the environment, which they compose. This approach
suggests that architecture is to be found only in the monuments
and that there is a difference in the way one judges a masterpiece,
whether of the past or of today, as compared to the house in
which one lives, or in which peasants lived; the Royal plaza
and the street which led to it, or of one's own street. Yet
we must look at the whole environment in order to understand
it, and it is in this sense that we must study history of built
form. If we look at only the smallest part of the work, that
part tends to assume undue importance; if we look at in in isolation,
we cannot grasp its complex and subtle relation to the vernacular
matrix with which it forms a total spatial and hierarchic system.
Neglect of the vernacular buildings which form the environment
has had the effect of making the latter seem unimportant; it
is consequently neglected physically and constantly deteriorates.
What then do we mean by folk architecture and by the terms
primitive and vernacular as they apply to building
It is possible, first of all, to distinguish between buildings
belonging to the grand design tradition and those of the folk
folk tradition, on the other hand, is the direct and unselfconscious
translation into physical form of a culture, its needs
and values — as well as the desires, dreams, and
passions of a people."
We may say that monuments — buildings of the grand tradition
— are built to impress either the populace with the power
of the patron, or the peer group of designers and cognoscenti
with the cleverness of the designer and good taste of the patron.
The folk tradition, on the other hand, is the direct and unselfconscious
translation into physical form of a culture, its needs and values
— as well as the desires, dreams, and passions of a people.
It is the world view writ small, the "ideal" environment of
a people expressed in buildings and settlements, with no designer,
artist, or architect, with an axe to grind (although to what
extent the designer is really is a form giver is a moot
point). The folk tradition is much more closely related to the
culture of the majority and life as it is really lived than
is the grand design tradition, which represents the culture
of the elite.The folk tradition also represents the bulk of
the built environment . 
Within this folk tradition, we may distinguish between primitive
and vernacular buildings, with the latter comprising preindustrial
vernacular and modern vernacular. Present- day design, while
part if the grand design tradition, is characterized by a greater
degree of institutionalization and specialization.
Primitive is much easier to define than vernacular.
Neither vernacular nor anonymous is a very satisfactory
term for identifying this form of architecture. The French architecture
populaire may be the most satisfactory. 
building... refers largely to certain technological as
well as economic levels of development, but also includes
aspects of social organization."
Primitive building, most simply, refers to that produced by
societies defined as primitive by anthropologists. It refers
largely to certain technological as well as economic levels
of development, but also includes aspects of social organization.
 While the dwellings produced
in such a culture may, at first glance and by our technological
standards, appear elementary, they are, in fact, built by people
using their intelligence, ability no different from ours
and resources to their fullest extent. The term primitive,
therefore, does not refer to the builders' intentions or abilities,
but rather to the society in which they build. It is of course
a relative term; to future societies we will undoubtedly appear
Redfield points out that in primitive societies there is a
diffuse knowledge of everything by all, and every aspect of
tribal life is everybody's business. 
There is no technical vocabulary, because there is little specialization
beyond age and sex although some specialization in religious
knowledge is occasionally found. This is, of course, linked
to Redfield's definition of primitive as preliterate ,
and in terms of building this implies that everyone is capable
of building his own dwelling and usually does. Trades
are hardly differentiated, and the average family has all the
available technical knowledge. Any member of the group can build
the buildings which the group needs, although in many cases,
for social as well as technical reasons, this is done cooperatively
by a larger group. 
Since the average member of the group builds his own house,
he understands his needs and requirements perfectly; any problems
that arise will affect him personally and be dealt with. There
are, of course, prescribed ways of doing and not doing things.
Certain forms are taken for granted and strongly resist change,
since societies like these tend do be very tradition oriented.
This explains the close relation between the forms and the culture
in which they are embedded, and also the fact that some of these
forms persist for very long periods of time. With this persistence
the model is finally adjusted until it satisfies most of the
cultural, physical, and maintenance requirements. This model
is fully uniform, and in a primitive society all the dwellings
are basically identical.
the moment, the most successful way of describing it [vernacular]
seems to be in terms of process how it is "designed"
As I have suggested, a satisfactory definition of vernacular
is more difficult. At the moment, the most successful way of
describing it seems to be in terms of process how it
is "designed" and built.
When building tradesmen are used for construction of most dwellings,
we may arbitrarily say that primitive building gives way to
preindustrial vernacular. 
Even in this case, however, everyone in the society knows the
building types and even how to build them, the expertise of
the tradesmen be in a matter of degree. The peasant owner is
still very much a participant in the design process,
not merely a consumer; this applies to the townsman of
a preindustrial culture to a greater extent than it does to
the townsman of today, since participation tends to decrease
with urbanization and greater specialization. This change to
the use of tradesmen marks the beginning of the process of increasing
specialization of trades, although at the outset of this process
the tradesman is such only part-time, and is still also a peasant.
The two methods of building may, in fact, coexist as they do
in the primitive context. In preindustrial vernacular the accepted
form still exists, thus offering a way of arriving at a
definition of vernacular by looking at the "design process."
The vernacular design process is one of models and adjustments
or variations, and there is more individual variability and
differentiation than in primitive buildings; it is the individual
specimens that are modified, not the type. When a tradesman
builds a farmhouse for a peasant, they both know the type in
question, the form or model, and even the materials. What remains
to be determined are the specifics — family requirements
(although this is also less variable than is true today), size
(depending on wealth), and relation to the site and micro-climate.
Since both tradesman and
peasant agree on what is wanted, there is, in effect, a model
which is adjusted and adapted as one proceeds; this is as true
of the Danish Farmer as of the French or Yugoslav peasant .
1. This basic distinction relates to a number of studies.
For example, see Dwight Macdonald, "Masscult and Midcult,"
in Against the American Grain (New York: Random House,
Inc., 1962); Robert Redfield, The Primitive World and its
Transformations (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press,
1953) and Peasant Society and Culture (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1965). In the latter, pp.70ff., the distinction
is made between the great tradition (high culture and low
culture; classic culture and folk culture; the learned and
popular traditions; hierarchic and lay culture). This applies
to many fields -- music, religion, medicine, literature, and
others -- but has not been applied to architecture to any
other extent. [back to text]
2. Even today the figure for architecture-designed buildings
worldwide is reliably estimated at five per cent. See Constantinos
A. Doxiadis, Architecture in Transition (London: Hutchinson,
Ltd., 1964), pp. 71-75. The maximum, he estimates, is reached
in England where architects may be responsible for 40 per
cent of the buildings. In most of the world their influence
is "precisely nil" (p. 71), five per cent of all buildings
being designed by architects. Most buildings are built by
the people or by tradesmen. [back
3. The dictionary defines popular as being of, pertaining
to, or originating from the common people as distinguished
from a select portion. Vernacular is defined as indigenous,
used by the people; anonymous as of unknown authorship;
folk as masses of the people in the lower culture,
and originated or widely used among common people. In the
latter case the use of folk culture in a different
sense by Gideon Sjoberg (The Preindustrial City -- Past
and Present, Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1960) and
Redfield (The Primitive World and Its Transformations)
is a problem. The division into primitive, vernacular, and
grand design tradition may, indeed, correspond to Redfield's
and Sjoberg's division into three types of societies -- folk,
peasant or traditional, and civilized. There may also be a
possible relation to David Riesman's tradition oriented, inner
directed, and outer directed societies (The Lonely Crowd,
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950). [back
4. For a summary of the definition of primitive, see
J. Gould and W.L. Kolb, eds., A Dictionary of the Social
Sciences (UNESCO) (New York: The Free Press, 1964).
[back to text]
5. Robert Redfield, Peasant Society and Culture, pp.
72-73. [back to text]
6. Redfield, The Primitive World and its Transformations,
p. xi. [back to text]
7. In some primitive societies, such as those of Polynesia
, the ordinary dwelling is built by its inhabitants, and the
chief's house or communal house by professional carpenters.
In Melanesia, houses are built individually while the chiefs'
houses and sacred canoe houses are built by the village as
a whole and are the concern of the village. In general, however,
it has been suggested that primitive societies despise specialized
labor and that this, rather than lack of economic initiative,
explains the absence of specialization. See Lewis Mumford,
The City in History (Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.,
1961), p. 102. [back to text]
8. An alternative way of drawing a distinction between primitive
and vernacular is suggested by an analogy with Redfield's
Peasant Society and Culture, pp. 68-69, 71, where primitive
is defined as isolated and self-contained -- if not in terms
of other primitive cultures then in terms of some high
culture -- while peasant cultures (i.e., vernacular) must
be seen in the context of the coexisting high cultures. They
are replenished and influenced by the high culture because
they are aware of it, and the high and low cultures are interdependent
and affect each other. An example would be the influence of
the Baroque on the wooden farmhouses of Switzerland and Austria.
There is a connection between vernacular and high-style building
(although causal connections are difficult to establish),
while this connection does not exist in primitive cultures
which have no knowledge of an outside high culture.
[back to text]
9. See J.A. Bundgaard, Mnesicles (Copenhagen: Gyldendal,
1957), in which he suggests that Greek temples are vernacular
forms in this sense. [back to text]