GR 105 (3) The Role of Decorative Features in the Endurance of Vernacular Architecture: Interview with Melissa Malouf Belz

THE ROLE OF DECORATIVE FEATURES

IN THE ENDURANCE OF VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE

IN KINNAUR, HIMACHAL PRADESH, INDIA

Melissa Malouf Belz

Geographical Review 105 (3)

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American Geographical Society: What is the main purpose of your study?

Melissa Belz: To explain the vernacular architecture of Himachal Pradesh in the Indian Himalaya and highlight that small scale landscape features play a large role in cultural landscape endurance.

 

American Geographical Society: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?

Melissa Belz: We as scholars may think that small aspects of the landscape may quickly change or fall from use, but decorative landscape and architectural features can play a major role in cultural endurance.

 

American Geographical Society: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?

Melissa Belz: This exploration of vernacular landscapes is supported by the work of Daniel Arreola for his discussions of ensembles and housescapes, and J.B. Jackson and Edward Relph for their clear arguments for the importance of the vernacular house in scholarship and landscape studies. Importantly, this work relates to that of Marcell Vellinga and Kingston Heath in their arguments that vernacular architecture must evolve to remain relevant for those who live in it.

 

American Geographical Society: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?

Melissa Belz: A select ensemble of features, repeated across the landscape, creates a stronger sense of place and a more evident vernacular style. Small-scale decorative features are easily adaptable and therefore more likely to endure in the face of changing construction methods, materials, and designs. Societies with a high number of decorative landscape features may, therefore, have an increased likelihood of continuing certain cultural landscape practices long into the future.

 

American Geographical Society: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?

Melissa Belz: The ability of select features to adapt to changing contexts is crucial for any modernizing vernacular landscape if it is to keep a distinctiveness. My initial visits to the region led me to anticipate that small-scale features would be the first thing to disappear in a changing landscape due to their apparent expandability and need for maintenance. The opposite scenario emerged through research. Small-scale and decorative features are in many cases the final distinguishing features remaining on the house and showing cultural significance. 

 

American Geographical Society: How does your research help us think about Geography?

Melissa Belz: This research helps us appreciate landscape geography in broadening our understanding that building materials, construction methods, and architectural design are all changing due to increases and decreases in access to building resources. For many types of vernacular design, this equals destruction of the cultural ties to vernacular design. With such great change that is apparent through recent global development, it is important for societies to appreciate the significance of small, almost overlooked, characteristics in the landscape. They could provide the means by which they can easily, and adaptively create new traditions.

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