Vernacular and Transnational Urbanism

Homes in the colorful neighborhood of La Boca.
Homes in the colorful neighborhood of La Boca.

Vernacular urbanism is an urbanism that is native to the surroundings it is created in, whether through cultural influences, materials used, or ideas. Culture plays an important role in shaping the urbanism of an environment through the customs, education, and experiences of people creating urbanism. Henry Glassie in Vernacular Architecture emphasized material use as what has been used to define the vernacular by many professionals and laymen. Glassie says urbanism is molded from every sight one observes and consumes shapes their thoughts and perceptions of proper techniques. He believes a vernacular urbanism is realized through the process of studying and understanding it and the vernacular urbanism is a reflection of the ideals of a society. A vernacular urbanism is responsive to its environment. It is a product of the people and natural environment as well as the efforts to tame and control the natural environment.

Torre BankBoston near Puerto Madero
Torre BankBoston near Puerto Madero

Transnational urbanism is a very different form of urbanism than vernacular urbanism. It lacks the considerations for people and places and becomes almost a stain on the surrounding environment. Eric Darton, in “The Janus Face of Terrorism: Minoru Yamasaki, Mohammed Atta, and Our World Trade Center”, says transnational urbanism is an urbanism that disregards the human to such an extent that it becomes difficult to image people inhabit places of transnational urbanism. The design of these places is lost in its desires to shape a designed form and create an artificial art form. Darton says these places lose their connection to the place they have consumed, paying no respect to the customs and history of the people around it. He emphatically states that transnational urbanism is so far disconnected from the natural environment and considerations for the human being’s desire for nature that it is at once a failure for humans.

A major difference between these two forms of urbanism is the principles that guide their creation. The vernacular urbanism is focused more on customs, beliefs, and patterns that have already shaped the environment. It is a response to the people that inhabit the place it is found. On the other hand, transnational urbanism has lost its connection to a specific place or people. It has lost accountability to any people, culture, or customs, a feature that can be found in vernacular urbanism. Even though these two urbanisms are vastly different, transnational urbanism still carries remnants of considerations for history, people, and culture found in vernacular urbanism. Since transnational urbanism is shaped by architects, planners, decision-makers, and others, the experiences of those people are reflected in their design choices and decisions.

 

Imported European architecture has become the vernacular in Buenos Aires
Imported European architecture has become the vernacular in Buenos Aires

In the city of Buenos Aires, the vernacular and transnational urbanism clash against one another like in many other global cities. Buenos Aires has a unique battle between the vernacular and transnational urbanisms as a former colonial city. The city was a colonial outpost of the Spanish until 1816 when formal independence was gained. During the colonial period and throughout the early part of the 20th century, an amalgamation of architectural styles were imported from Europe and transplanted in the city. These imported architectural styles would have been the equivalent of the current transnational architecture that is invading Buenos Aires. However, this European architecture has become so heavily embedded in image of Buenos Aires that it can now be considered vernacular. In fact, in the city has been called the Paris of South America, a moniker that drives home deep ties the city has to its colonial and post-colonial roots. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find any remnant of a truly vernacular architecture in Buenos Aires, architecture from before the colonization of the city.