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Emmet Elliott


"Vernacular" so called is the architecture of the everyday; architecture without the architect. That is, it is essentially unplanned and changing. This was apparent everywhere on my recent trip to Chiang Mai: sprawling housing compounds, impromptu salas, endless food carts… none designed by an architect. In contrast to the controlled lines of architecture proper, there was an outpouring of improvisation and ingenuity.

While in Thailand I had the opportunity to meet with Headman Kay of a Baan San Si Moo 1, just outside of Chiang Mai. While talking about the life in his village he noted that the village had no community sala, and nowhere to put one. Herein lies the downside to the flourishing of Thai vernacular: without a plan, it leaves little room for communal space. 

In this situation I found the answer to the “Vex Vernacular” brief: “How can architects work with always-changing vernacular architecture, with an architecture impervious to planning?” Not by working against it, but by leaning into change. I set out to design a building which learned from Thailand’s cultural past, while preparing for its unknown future. The structure itself takes cues from traditional “Lanna” detailing and proportions while striking a balance between the larger “sala thong”, and the rice paddy’s “tieng na.” The sala can be easily constructed and maintained by the community for years to come. Likewise, the roof and floor must be unrolled upon each use. These rituals of communal work harken back to the cleaning of irrigation ditches and rebuilding of century-old weirs, but solve a problem local to 21st century Thailand.  Instead of inventing an Architectural solution for a vernacular problem, this project finds space between the two. It is a shadeless sala, a floor with no footprint, and a permanent, temporary building.


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