VERNADOC Malaysia aims to make vernacular architecture appealing to non-architects and architects alike, and keep the heritage alive.
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The concept of vernacular architecture is quite an abstract discussion for people with no interest in the field of built environments. But in short, it is a structure built using immediately available materials by people who are not formally trained architects.
To make the topic approachable, the VERNADOC movement produces beautiful hand-drawn measured drawings of vernacular buildings in a way that is easy to appreciate on any level.
The process is simple; participants commit to a two-week camp, where they engage with a selected community that lives in vernacular buildings and produce measured drawings of the architecture and its materials.
These drawings are then presented first to the community itself, and then to the general public.
And earlier this year, for the first time, local coordinators Soong Khang Wei and Nicholas Ng ran the first VERNADOC Malaysia camp to capture the vernacular heritage of the former leprosy settlement site Valley of Hope in Sungai Buloh.
Learning from the past through vernacular architecture documentation
Being surrounded by modern architecture in urban settings, it’s easy to forget that living spaces elsewhere rely on their local materials to build structures.
Vernacular architecture is the product of a community’s understanding of their local surroundings, climate, existing traditions and material availability, and how all that informs how best to put a roof over their heads.
“Through the process of documenting vernacular architecture, you get to understand what was built before in the past. And, learn from it,” says Nicholas.
“Perhaps, in the future, we can use these studies to build better buildings that respect the local context and the local environment.”
From Finland to Thailand to VERNADOC Malaysia
The VERNADOC (vernacular documentation) movement is the brainchild of Finnish architect Markku Mattila, who in 2004 got the partnership of Thai architect Sudjit S.Sananwai to take the VERNADOC concept around the world.
By 2007, the first Thai VERNADOC was organised. And by 2009, a global VERNADOC network began to develop beyond Finland and Thailand.
At this point in time, there have been VERNADOC camps in countries all over the world including Sweden, Romania, The United Arab Emirates, Portugal, Indonesia, and Italy, to name a few.
And now, with the collaboration of Nicholas and Soong, there is also VERNADOC Malaysia.
Soong sees the initiative as a great way to connect people from all walks of life. The drawings are universally appreciated by everyone, while the emphasis on vernacular architecture can stimulate discussion among architects.
“Vernacular architecture, regentrification and heritage conservation are discussions that need to be ongoing. Maybe we can increase some awareness here. I hope that we can also contribute to the conversation,” he says.
First VERNADOC Malaysia camp: Valley of Hope, Sg Buloh
In February 2018, VERNADOC Malaysia held its first camp in partnership with their Thai partners at Valley of Hope, Sungai Buloh, a former leprosarium built in the 1930s, where they documented a house of a former leprosy patient.
The camp is officially titled ASA X SRW VERNADOC 2018, named after the organisations that coordinated the camp, The Association of Siamese Architects under Royal Patronage (ASA) and Malaysian architectural building material company Suriwong (SRW).
At Valley of Hope, the survivors have since built a long-lasting community around themselves and through this experience; there is a learning process between the participants and local community about the history and understanding of what the place was built around.
The camp resulted in a total of 13 drawings, with the local council now planning to nominate the settlement as a UNESCO heritage site with the support of the drawings.
VERNADOC Malaysia, as Nicholas puts it, is to inspire building owners and the community itself of the value of their homes.
“Sometimes these vernacular buildings can be really simple houses, but there is a certain beauty to it that people don’t necessarily realise,” he says.
“We hope that the owner and the community appreciate the beauty of the buildings through these drawings. And in turn, hopefully, we will all learn the need to take care of it.”