The Benefits of Applying Vernacular Indigenous Building Techniques in Human Settlements


Steenkamp, C & Whitfield, KP (2012), The Benefits of Applying Vernacular Indigenous Building Techniques in Human Settlements: The Case of uMasizakhe Township, Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape,. Human Settlements Review, Vol. 2. No 2



The South African government has embarked on providing housing for the country‟s poor and underprivileged populace through the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). While the task was being exercised by the Department of Human Settlements, it recognised the need for creating sustainable and vibrant communities within the mandate. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the potential of vernacular, indigenous building techniques in self-help construction for sustainable livelihoods and communities, with particular reference to the local community of uMasizakhe outside Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape.

The research methods used involved both data collection and reviewing relevant literature. Data was collected from selected respondents who live or had lived in vernacular houses and this concerned ownership, building materials and maintenance, and temperature control, among others. Literature reviewed concerned developmental and ecological approaches to supplying housing as well as vernacular building techniques and the benefits of the latter.

The research results show that although the homes are well insulated with natural materials, cheaper to build, are owner-built and maintained, are resourcefully heated and cooled, and with the majority of respondents living in their homes for over 25 years there do exist problems. Homes are small and often overcrowded, thus increasing the need for either more or larger RDP houses. This would continue to have serious financial implications within the South African Fiscus and could be considered unfeasible in the future.

It is proposed that owner-built homes using vernacular building techniques be used to facilitate the housing demand. Such a method of development should aid in the creation of independent and vibrant local communities while reinforcing pride and asset-worth in one‟s own vernacular culture. This would depend on at least three factors being met, although  these are not discussed in detail within this particular study, mention should be made. The first factor would be the provision of a grant to the value of an RDP dwelling the second; building instructors to aid with budgeting and the construction of structurally sound homes and finally; creating awareness through educational programs focussing on the various benefits of vernacular building techniques.


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