Spring 2021: ARCH 498/598 – Vernacular Architecture Seminar

Architecture 498/598
Kathryn R. Merlino, Associate Professor of Architecture
(Synchronous Online) Tuesdays/Thursdays 8:30-9:50 (time subject to change)
Department of Architecture, College of Built Environments, University of Washington

This course explores the theoretical, methodological, and practical implications of researching, understanding, mapping and interpreting our every-day environments.  This will be done by examining an array of American vernacular buildings and landscapes and considering what they can tell us about the past, our present, and potentially the future.  By vernacular, we refer to ordinary, everyday spaces and places that people encounter daily but rarely consider critically in architectural discourse.  Because these environments often were (and are) utilitarian and ordinary, traditional art historical frameworks that focus on stylistic categories or maker’s biographies prove rather ineffective in interpreting them. Thus, this course will look at recent work by scholars from the fields of anthropology, history, American studies, cultural geography, landscape architecture and history, folklore, and material culture to construct frameworks that help us understand the significance that vernacular environments have had for their makers and users. By understanding these precedents, we will apply them to assess ‘everyday’ features of the landscape – such as commercial blocks and buildings, parks and gardens, warehouses and sheds, hedgerows and allees, wharves and piers, and rural/small town buildings – understanding their implications for design, preservation, and intervention.

Since fieldwork is at the heart of good scholarship in the study of early American vernacular architecture and landscape, this course is intended to introduce students to the methods of fieldwork—from learning to recognize building and landscape features, diagnostic characteristics, and reading the chronological development of a structure to the recording of a building and/or landscape through measured drawings,  photography, and written descriptions. Students will master the skills of visual literacy, research, analysis, and writing about the vernacular built environment. Through a series of readings, we will discuss & evaluate the usefulness of various approaches to understanding the American built environment in all of its diversity.

All majors and levels welcome.