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"Ethnoarch Presents" features articles on the topic of traditional, vernacular and ethno architectures.
“Architecture Without Architects:” 40 Years Now…
Gabriel Arboleda
Image corresponding to this article
A vernacular type: Hopi house.
Today, the 9th of November 2004 marks 40 years since the opening of Bernard Rudofsky's MOMA exhibition "Architecture Without Architects." While clearly influential, that exhibition and the accompanying book would have had a different impact on architectural theory if attached, in the very first line of the book, had not appeared the significant statement "vernacular architecture... is nearly immutable."

Evidence exists that by 1964, in the Upper Amazon, the vernacular building expressions of the Sieco_pai (Secoya) indigenous people had changed already eight times throughout their history, and they would continue to change at least fifteen more during the forty years following the MOMA exhibition.

" Architecture Without Architects" was a groundbreaking event in that it promoted the discussion about local building in the context of international architecture, and we have to give Rudofsky credit for that. However, by centering attention on the aesthetic value of those apparently simple and innocent huts, rather than on the complex socio-environmental phenomena that shape this building, the exhibition unintentionally reaffirmed a secular stereotype, and officially coined the architectural version of the myth of the noble savage.


Fig. 1. Some post-Rudofsy vernacular expressions: Industrially manufactured materials.

Fig. 2. Post-Rudofsky vernacular #2: Motor-powered markets and dwelling.

Fig. 3. Post-Rudofsky #3: Satellite dishes and TV antennas.

Fig. 4. Post-Rudofsky #4: Recycling and reusing.

Although Rudofsky's patronizing view has been challenged since the exhibition, forty years later this architectural preconception is still strong in the mind of many. This anniversary could be a good opportunity to complete the task of contesting it. Vernacular architecture changes, and it changes because economy, environment and society change. It also changes because it is normal in human nature to change. Rather than ignoring this fact and focusing only on the sexiest stage of a historical development, we must look at change because in the understanding of what triggers it, we learn about the complex problems that affect the world today, and that also concern, or at least should concern, architecture.

Published: November 9, 2004 . Category: General Info
For academic purposes, please cite this page as:
Arboleda, Gabriel. “Architecture Without Architects:” 40 Years Now… [online]. Berkeley, CA:, 9 November 2004 [cited 16 January 2017]. Available from World Wide Web: <>.

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