New landmark book by Sandra Piesik about vernacular architecture explores human ingenuity

Created by an international, multidisciplinary team of more than 140 specialists and edited by Sandra Piesik, Habitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet is an upcoming book that celebrates humanity’s ability to create cities and buildings that, for millennia, have responded to cultural and environmental conditions.

An old royal hut in Rwanda

Providing real-world insights into the techniques and wisdom that have enabled traditional cultures to live in harmony with their environments, the book is a culmination of decades of research. It not only reveals the commonalities between geographically disparate areas, but also comes complete with time-tested designs and constructions.

“My initial research on date palm leaf architecture in the UAE gave me the foundation to understand the relationship between climate, resources and human ingenuity,” said Piesik. “I wanted to tell a story of architecture and people in other climate zones of the world, and question a model of architecture without regional identity and character.”

The tulou in coastal southern China

Organised by climate zones, from tropical to dry and temperate, and continental to polar, Habitat examines the use of indigenous materials and construction techniques, and stresses the importance of preserving the disappearing craftsmanship and know-how. Within each section, urban developments and buildings are presented regionally, showing how local climatic conditions and vegetation have affected the evolution of sustainable technologies.

Its core is bookended by a range of essays exploring economic and anthropological aspects, while the reference section offers information on materials science, development of technologies and engineering, including how buildings have been adapted to contend with natural disasters.

“Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing our planet,” said Piesik. “We must engage not only with climate action as defined by the international community, but also return to practicing the basic principles of sustainable living and construction. A good place to start is understanding what we did in the past.”

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