This June, ERA’s Victoria Angel and Michael McClelland attended the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s annual conference “The Ebb and Flow of Religion and Economy in Gaspé Cultural Landscapes.” Victoria and Michael were part of a keynote panel discussing approaches to heritage conservation in smaller communities and rural settings.
Gaspé, Québec is located on the northern tip of the Appalachians just at the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The bilingual conference explored two major themes: religious expressions (beyond organized churches), and economic evolution in Gaspé’s cultural landscapes.
Beyond the conference theme itself, ERA was struck by the rigour with which members of the VAF take on the discourse of the vernacular, including the extensive the field research that often forms its basis.
We were also impressed by the organization’s deliberately open and changing definition of what constitutes “vernacular architecture.” It was once defined in fairly nostalgic sense, as somehow the more honest product of the people, whoever the people may be. More recent conceptions, however, define vernacular architecture more broadly, as a shifting landscape of ordinary built culture. One day it may mean the dry stone wall or the improvised totem, another it may mean the ‘90s condominium or the school gymnasium.
Whatever their object of study, students of the vernacular are interested in observing, documenting, describing, analyzing, and, of course, building. Vernacular architecture, then, can be thought of not only in terms of material form, but also as an ongoing, interdisciplinary, empirical practice, one that can anyone can do, at any time, simply by paying attention.
To learn more, see the website of the Vernacular Architecture Forum.