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By : Paul Oliver

‘Traditional environments’ is a term by which we embrace vernacular dwellings, functional, religious and other architectural expressions and settlements of cultures in their natural, adapted and modified contexts throughout the world. Customarily, it does not include the design concepts and built structures of professional architects and engineers, and hence seldom enters their education or bears upon their practice. Consequently, they are often poorly informed on cultures and their traditional environments, and unprepared to relate to them. In the next few decades world population growth will reach crisis proportions, resulting in greater pressure on land, on cities and on material resources. Though some planners speak of a world which will be fifty percent urban, little attention is given to the corollary that half the world population will therefore be non-urban or rural. Responses to this challenge are frequently misguided. In spite of their failure in many past instances, high-rise developments are still seen by many professionals as being the solution to urban population growth, while others propose “mass housing”. Huge profits in an age of globalisation will doubtless attract inappropriate design interventions by alien professionals and by multinationals, among whom engineers and architects may soon be numbered. Where then, lies the future of traditional environments? As the “old heart” of expanded cities? As idyllic accommodation for tourists and city dwellers “getting away from it all”? In so-called ‘Open-air museums’ nostalgically presenting images of the pre-industrial past? As symbols of national identity or (as often perceived by their inhabitants), as indications of repression and poverty? In many western countries, including Britain, these may be their fate, but in much of the world, including Asia, Africa, Oceania and Latin America, vernacular traditions continue and, in some regions, thrive. The economies of many cultures and nations are not in a position to engage in mass housing, but with informed participation in servicing and planning they could support development by embracing the principles of design, the tested technologies and embodied values of existing vernacular traditions. Appropriate servicing, utilisation of renewable resources, encouragement in the transmission and training of skills, and respect for indigenous environmental knowledge could contribute to the continuity and development trends in traditional environments. But all these factors have implications for governments and for education, in which professional ethics, inter-and cross-cultural studies, the economic recognition of aided self-help in building, and many other principles and practices all play their parts. Who, in the new millennium, will take up the challenge?
Keywords:Continuity and development, traditional architecture, role of professionals.

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