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Shao-Yi Dodo Chiang

Copyright Shao-Yi Dodo Chiang 2014

Architecture of the Vernacular Common Thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Architecture in the Department of Architecture of the Rhode Island School of Design by Shao-Yi Dodo Chiang Rhode Island School of Design 2014

Lauren Crahan, Critic, Department of Architecture, Primary Advisor

Jonathan Knowles, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, Secondary Advisor

Hansy Barraza, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, Thesis Coordinator

For dad, mom and both of my sisters. They are the inspiration of my being. For Lauren, this book will no be possible without your support.




Architecture, authored and perpetuated by the common people exists with the dimension of time. I am interested in developing an architectural framework which takes in the heritage of different local forms of vernacular architecture, such as processes, human capacity and spatial relationships and reinfuse them into a more resilient model for the future. This framework will embody the revolution of decomposition and fertilization investigate the new spatial opportunity of vernacular construction techniques and defines, for myself, the relationship between architecture professionals and the common people.


I still remember that day, when I first got back to Providence from California. The weather was freezing. I peeked down the canal while I was walking to the studio. On top of the water, laid a brick. I was surprised, perplexed, and then enlightened. How can brick float on top of the water? How does one start to float a brick? Our ability to extract logic and concept without the burden and limitation of its materiality.

What is the fundamental ability as human to construct? To construct space for light, for air, and the life within?

Stack, Pile, and Gravity Stacking is one of the most fundamental and instinctual abilities human have in constructing space. It is a multidimensional process of making and contemplative ritual that simply connects our body, mind to the material world. Throughout my trip in rural China, I saw piles and piles of materials that were stacked, bundled, packed and stored in various methods of organization by the local peasants. It was a genuine and fundamental human connection to the materials around them which gradually disappears in the developed world.

Rock Pile, Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa. Denali Schmidt, 2013

Collective Consciousness 1995, on the 5th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release, he returned to Robben Island along with all the other formal political prisoners. They revisited the quarry where prisoners made to excavate limestone using hand picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. Mandela walked out of the crowd and picked up a stone then placed it in the middle of the quarry. Without a word, each of his fellow prisoners followed. Together, they constructed a small mound of stone, a modest yet powerful reminder of their hardship and enduring in the fight for freedom.

Perpetuation of Everyday Life Why doesn’t anyone notice that the paper towel is overflowing? Why does we neglect a small act of compressing it down? What have we changed into in this world that every task is specialized? What is the most fundamental principle that we still hold on to in sustaining, maintaining and cultivating life? Is it because we no longer produce but only consume?

Collage and translational drawings and three dimensional model.

Landscape Anchor - The architecture is created by the act of building from the ground. We maneuver through out the surface of earth, climbing over mountains, sailing over seas. But architecture anchored, it grows out of the ground. Between the infinite line of sky and hard solid ground, architecture emerge. We excavate materials and pile up. Lookout - We reside, all the surrounding become others, the unknown, the space outside. We look further, look up, look down, look beyond, to find direction, to return to where we stand, to look for others and each other. It is the mediation between the known and unknown, it is on the edge of becoming others. It is extended from our sense of origin. It is the fist attempt in reaching out. Wall - It suggests the space on the other side. It separates and rises from the ground. It supports and buffers. It holds. It provides shelter and privacy. It protects and fortify.

Collage and translational drawings and three dimensional model.

Building Entry - It sets the directions and the orientation of the building. It is like as if it is staring at you. It allows in and out. A space for insiders and outsiders. Extension - It mediates the exterior and the interior. It provides security when you gaze into the environment. It gives you an opportunity to be outside but actually still within the secure environment. Aperture - It is a chance for your to peek in and peek out. And for wind to come in for sun to shine in.

Collage and translational drawings and three dimensional model.

Interior Corner - It is where you hide and where you cuddle. Where you find yourself, only yourself, and maybe others that are close to you. Screen - There is a physical boundary but you are able to sense the space beyond. Courtyard - It captures the outside and bring it in. You are outside-in.


Section of the old dwellings, a network of void. The traditional private courtyard is an extremely private open space inside each households. It provides outlet for sufficient sunlight in a dense populated residence, and also connects the essential ground floor network within the community.

New Rural Village Policy The Chinese central government in realizing the emerging problems of rural areas executed the new rural village policy (新農村 建設). Adopting from the Korean New Community Movement in 1970, the major objections of this policy is to advance the rural infrastructure such as road network, irrigation facilities, drinking water, public health, education and land reform. At the same time, they intensify and industrialize the rural agriculture system in order to generate more empty land for development such as highway and rail development in alleviating land shortage problem in the urban area. Usually peasants in the rural area are accustomed to building/renovating their own dwellings. Most of them acquire the vernacular building knowledge by apprenticeship, but such skills are often overlooked in the realm of industrialized professionalism. For an agricultural based family, building houses is a way of production rather than product for consumption. Once they gain some economic advantage, building new houses will be the way they invest for the future and the next generation. However, when facing the unprecedented speed of urbanization and development now in China, this localized vernacular knowledge is slowly disappearing. What has been replacing the rural landscape are these new rural houses (bottom drawings) that are built by the same peasants and craftsmen. With misconception in the construction techniques and materials like brick reinforced concrete and mosaic tiles which are influenced by the top-to-bottom supply chain in the contemporary building industry and real estate development, these peasants not only abandoned the traditional construction, many sophisticated “old” spatial relations are also bulldozed while the supporting framework no longer exists. What are the different spatial relationships? How can the qualitative “old” spaces adept to the desires and the current/ future needs? How do one transform the vernacular architecture into a model of future?

Spatial relationships of the traditional and the modernized rural houses.

Spatial Relationship Old and New What kind of space has lost when modernized construction methods was introduced and standardized housing policy was implemented? Can a new way of constructing bring back the gathering of community, along with the vernacular attitude towards environment?

A New Vernacular What is the importance of sustaining the vernacular and in what way could it be sustained? What is the importance of community, and the relationship of community to their environment? Can a new kind of vernacular be developed that continually sustains the community, the space and the place and in which the tradition regenerates and evolves?


Stacking different truncated polygonal pyramids in alternative direction.

Process drawing of realizing how cones could pack into a dome.

Process drawing of how close pack cones can make sphere starting from a pentagonal dodecahedron.

Process drawing of how cones can be stack in different configurations.

Increase of surface contact

Connections through the rim of the cones

Connections through reciprocal surfaces in leverage

Increase of surface contact by changing the ring into triangle

Connection through interlocking with a forth unit

Connection through a new inversed form unit.

Connection for top-bottom axis aggregation to side axis aggregation

Flexibility in compacting and stretching

Connection through surface-surface friction, sleeving and intersecting

New compound unit for aggregating in opposite direction

Assembly of alternating cones

Aggregation in top-bottom axis

Test mock-up for proving the possible sphere Resulting deformation from the geometric error

Aggregation in two direction

Double-curve structure made by alternating two sizes of units.

Span from a shorter section of cones

Plaster mock-up of potential doublecurve structure

Study of the variations in stacking cone blocks and their four different configurations

Explorations of how cone blocks can make different architectural components.


From Cone to Surface The inherited geometrical parameter of the cone: the height and the angle are extracted and translated into a new logic, formed by sticks and surfaces. The connection and relationship between surfaces and sticks are further explored with different ways of notching, interlocking, and opening.

Series of module design in its ability to expand and contract.

Embedded Variations The woven bamboo panel comes from a series of exploration in models and drawings. Trying to find a way to articulate it’s flexibility in terms of creating different degree of aperture in an enclosure.

Exploration Model A, using notches to allow expansion and contraction.

Exploration Model B, using overlapping character to form rigid surface.

First generation of woven bamboo panel design

Second generation of woven bamboo panel design

An exploration of different woven bamboo module and their configurations

Three possible configurations of woven bamboo panel

An proposal using the woven bamboo panel in forming an enclosure over a public bathroom pavilion at the hill of the mountain.

Model of the woven bamboo roof, with different degree of opening at the bottom layer versus the top layer.






Study of how different angle will affect the span and form of the reciprocal structure, also different configurations.

Reciprocal Structure/ Lever beam With strong cultural relevance to my site as rural china, reciprocal structure slowly emerged from my previous woven panel module. The fact that each module is woven/rest upon each other, led me to the discovery of reciprocal structure. Reciprocal structure, or lever beam, works in a way that one is supporting and being supported by one another. Reciprocal structure has many opportunities. First, it is a structure that creates long span out of small elements, and also with a cultural/historical relevance to the site I am choosing.

Experimentation on the strength and flexibility of reciprocal structure construing with recycled paper tubes.

Exploration of different configurations of reciprocal structure using pencils and elastic rubber bands.

Cover The inherited nature of reciprocal structure, when one member is resting on top the other, it raises a challenge in trying to cover it with typical roof construction materials. Through many experiments, and with the intent of vernacular architecture, that is a constructing process which involves all the people of the community, I discovered a way of weaving across the two members, both grains, in creating a surface that can be later applied with a secondary roofing system.

Rendering of full-scale model on site.

Mock-up of a ‘jig‘ for mass produce construction with the paper tubes.

Actual ‘jig‘, a tool to set up the connecting holes and angle on the paper tubes..

Process of full-scale construction, structures only supported by pin joints.

Full-scale construction on site, elevated by chairs and concrete blocks.

Full-scale construction

Full-scale construction, interior space.



































Anderson, Stanford, and Eladio Dieste. Eladio Dieste: Innovation in Structural Art. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2004. Print. Asquith, Lindsay, and Marcel Vellinga. Vernacular Architecture in the Twenty-first Century: Theory, Education and Practice. London: Taylor & Francis, 2006. Print. China Architecture Design Research Group, ed. Zhejiang Vernacular Architecture. Beijing: China Architecture Building, 2007. Print. Klanten, Robert, and Lukas Feireiss. Beyond Architecture: Imaginative Buildings and Fictional Cities. Berlin: Gestalten, 2009. Print. Minke, Gernot, and Friedemann Mahlke. Building with Straw: Design and Technology of a Sustainable Architecture. Basel: BirkhaĚˆuser, 2005. Print. Minke, Gernot, and Gernot Minke. Building with Earth: Design and Technology of a Sustainable Architecture. Basel: Birkhauser-Publishers for Architecture, 2006. Print. Minke, Gernot. Building with Bamboo. Basel: BirkhaĚˆuser, 2012. Print. Oliver, Paul. Dwellings: The Vernacular House World Wide. London: Phaidon, 2003. Print. Oliver, Paul. Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print. Ruby, Ilka, Andreas Ruby, and Jessica Bridger. Re-inventing Construction. Berlin: Ruby, 2010. Print.

Architecture of the Vernacular Common  

This thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Architecture in the Department of Architectur...

Architecture of the Vernacular Common  

This thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Architecture in the Department of Architectur...