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Vernacular design: moving towards a symbiotic relationship between local and global commoditization.

Elvert Durn Vivanco University of Bio-Bio , Chile. Post-Graduate Design Student, the School of Design Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building University of Technology Sydney AUSTRALIA eldurav@hotmail.com Co-Author George Verghese Director of Post-Graduate Design, the School of Design Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building University of Technology Sydney AUSTRALIA George.Verghese@uts.edu.au

Abstract
The idea of Vernacular Design is commonly associated with native or domestic features where local commodities can emerge as a spontaneous response to peoples daily life. However these expressions are not sitting solely in the domain of local design, but also exist in a symbiotic relationship with global commoditization.

This paper will show that it is important to understand these expressions not just as creative acts that reinforce local development, habits and beliefs, but that they also express culture as interpreted through the eyes of designers in a competitive global market.

This paper reflects on the current literature and through two case studies in Chile and Australia, demonstrates the relationship between the artifact produced and the identity of the locale. In doing so this paper argues that this holistic approach allows for a more a mature design ethos in the fine balance of the vernacular design identity, and that of being part of a global village. Key words: Vernacular, Global commoditization, Hybrid.

Introduction:
The term vernacular design is commonly associated with the native or domestic features of a local community in which the responses to daily life are articulated in the commodities produced by that community. This term literally means the ordinary and ubiquitous but it also refers to qualities of specific to particular region or culture (Ederson, Leslie, Millintong & Rantisi, 2010). It is a richness in cultural expression that builds on a spectrum of local ideas, materials, and techniques. However, vernacular design and this expression of the local and the everyday in design can also be conceptualized as a symbiotic 1 relationship with global commoditization. This paper will demonstrate how it is possible, in terms of design, to be a global and local citizen at the same time.

Globalisation and the design of cultural commodities


It has been well recognized that cultural expressions, such as language, customs, habits, and art manifestations among other pillars of cultural society playa critical role in design. These constitute a universal map where boundaries are not just determined by political or

Symbiosis is a biological term that considers the kind of association between different species. I use it here it to refer to cultural features from different regions taking advantage of different cultural associations and in doing so create a relationship of mutual benefit or dependence.

geographical divisions but also by features and peculiarities where people around the world can be identified and recognised according with their expressions, forming a rich, cultural landscape. The globalization phenomenon is the result of socio-economical and political changes that has molded a new version of a single global market mainly led by multinational and powerful companies. It is a model that encourages a free flow of private capital, in all its forms, across countries, despite the occasional protective stances by tariffs. This free flow of ideas is not something new, its origin was cemented at the beginning of the first inter-regional trade routes, where empires have subjugated surrounding and remote areas for periods of time. Today, those influences have been reinforced by technological advances such as ICT manufacturing and distribution, leading to easy customer access to a variety of important cultural commodities from around the world. Creative individuals, such as designers, architects, plastic artists, artisans, musicians and all who belong to the cultural spectrum, engage in this fundamental role of cultural diffusion. The consumer also has evolved and consumes goods in a different manner due to the development of globlaisation. Designers impart the same energy towards practical and functional concerns, as to the factors in which the globalisation is considered. The phenomenon of cultural diffusion in which the local cultural aspects are transformed into tangible and intangible outcomes catapults cultural products into a global market and diffuses local ideas but does not homogenize them. Some of the most relevant and significant forms of international exchanges are brought about through the economic and political treaties that lead to alliances between foreign countries. As a part of this process, countries often adapt their commodities in order to suit their global products in a local context. This has led to forms of hybridisation of cultures. Morris (2002) extrapolates the term glocalization from the marketing field. She describes a process which

is the result of a complex market and the expansion of international production chains, with the intention to increase and spread their economic power.

This enormous fountain of cultural richness has an origin that involves places and its people, and provides a source of inspiration. This powerful and complex tool for creative concern is underlying several layers, is intensively charged by cultural wisdom and reinforced by the idea of cultural identity. To clarify this concept etymologically, the word identity came from the word 2 identitas which indicates sameness or the idea of belonging. Thus, the idea of cultural identity is supported by local aspects that give an interesting accent of peculiarities in daily life . Another important aspect to take into consideration is the role that identity factors play in our everyday life as consumers within our globalised context. Through the power of media and technology consumers are constantly bombarded by foreign influences no mater where they live. This means that tangible commodities and information can be shared on a global platform, and this sharing of global ideas within the contexts of local and diverse communities presents opportunities for interesting and complex exchange of ideas.

Vernacular design as a product of cultural commodities in contemporary life.


In the constant battle to achieve a successful exchange between product and cultural identity, it is essential for products to be attractive Identity: 1560s, from M.Fr. identit (14c.), from L.L. (5c.) identitatem (nom. identitas) "sameness," from ident-, comb. form of L. idem (neut.) "the same" (see identical); abstracted from identidem "over and over," from phrase idem et idem. 1995.(source:http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=identity& searchmode=none)
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to customers. Those cultural goods able to overcome geographical barriers, making possible a suitable performance in functional, technological, economical, and semantic dimensions, are those which commonly used creativity as one of the most important elements to achieve this. Thus creative cultural commodities are key elements to appeal to consumers, this in a more appropriate relationship to the local characteristics an understanding and empathy for foreign cultures , helps in the process towards creating a more meaningful and successful cultural commodity. It is here that creative individuals such as product designers are able to synthesize solutions to address these complex demands. This shift has affected the product-scenario creating new sales strategies; recognising cultural and geographical differences, and leveraging these to produce new services and products. These are changes to some features in order to fulfill the need of the local market. This shift is reinforced by a popular phrase to think globally to act locally (Powel and Ghauri, 2008). This, in some sense, can describe and reinforce the idea of opportunities for openness in cultural commodity exchanges. This is also argued by Cottam (cited in Brown, T, 2009) who goes on to identify a reduced, small, but fundamental concern that locally created solutions can ultimately lead to national models for community-based social services. Even in remote and small places it is possible to create this kind of chain of values, where peculiarities and exotic features can be attractive and interesting to outsiders. (Ederson et al, 2010).

Educational paradigm.
This notion of vernacular design has significant implications for the teaching of design. In order to face a vertiginous global situation, it is important to recognise that the contexts in which design occurs have changed dramatically and radically. In terms of the educational paradigm, it seems that it is urgently necessary to upgrade to a more

integrated view of vernacular design. In other words, cultural goods in a local and global concern should not be solely restricted to being viewed through local conditions. New approaches should be based-on more holistic and innovative ideas. Indeed, creative individuals have responded to radical change in techniques, materials and markets throughout history by imparting different approaches, aims and inspirational sources. These aspects were no less a focus, but with different consumer requirements of coverage and technical achievement. Nowadays, these features are an integral part of the vision for cultural products. In this case, the designers role has changed rapidly over the last decades. Once a simple bridge between technological and aesthetic concerns in the past, the contemporary role of design is driven by new policies of production and distribution, new niche markets, technological challenges, aesthetic and emotional appeal, and even ethical issues. This kind of distinction could mark a difference. It seems that a considerable number of consumers are increasingly about more than the final product where it is manufactured and by who, environmental concern, and fair trade for example. These customer preferences are not just an impulsive and undelivered trend of consumption, but made with a profound sense of ethical consciousness. Peter Zec and Vito Orazen (2003), highlight the role of the message of these commodities and how designers are transmitting those key points through an emotional identity, in the way people can recognize and prefer them to a variety of products in a globalised scenario. Tahkokallio and Vilma argue there is a transcendence of semantic concern into the object in at least two ways: those codes belonging to the creative process of artifact and those codes interoperated by society (Tahkokallio and Vilma, 1994). Companies are largely interested in those approaches related with social and ethical inequities. These creative skills become essential in many stages of design and its contexts, especially when crisis,

uncertainties and sudden changes are drawing a complex panorama in vulnerable regions in socio-economic and humanitarian concerns. Papanek (1983) points out the importance or the type of consequence that every object created brings with it. More than 25 years ago, he claims that the main problem with the design discipline is not the marketing, nor manufacturing and the control quality, but the lack of relationship between design and people. Papanek emphasises the implication of design and its ability to encourage the decentralisation of production at the same time as the creation of opportunities for new areas of development intimately connected with some local capabilities and know-how. Thanks to the rising value of creative industries, the unique contribution and value of local techniques, style and material are increasingly being promoted in developing countries. Under this ethical perspective, vernacular design has a remarkably important contribution which extends our understanding of the distinct drivers of design. Tahkokallio and Vilma, (1994) have argued that there are three main types of designers: firstly, those who are driven by economic and social working condition; secondly, those designers who are highly influenced by technological and functional concerns; and, thirdly, those who are mainly concerned with building the connection between industrial design and cultural aspects. However it seems that a vernacular design approach brings together a combination of all of these features simultaneously bringing new opportunities for products in an interesting, balanced and holistic way. According to Ederson et al. (2010), vernacular creativity implies a range of mundane but intensely social forms and practice. In other words vernacular design emerges from a territory full of connotative charges and is denominated by origin - best known as protected destination of origin (PDO). In some ways countries have become more concerned about these particular products that belong to their culture. That is because countries have detected the importance of these traditional niche markets and their economical benefits. Food, clothes,

appliances, services associated with experiences, travel and so on, are just part of this profitable cultural business.

Table 1: Top 20 exporters of creative goods worldwide, 1996 2005. Source: International Institute for trade and development. Bangkok, Thailand. Viewed in http://www.itd.or.th/en/node/1010

Thus, we could interpretate the new role of products, not just as a mere tangible commodity, but also as a sort of envelope which contains a particular evoking message that should be delivered to the correct receptor in a suitable way, on time. The experience of a commodity underpinned by vernacular design motivates the consumer to purchase something by evoking thoughts such as I was there, This came from.

Vernacular design stages.


Considering the complexity of Vernacular Design, there is a desire to classify its features in different stages depending on the sense of projection of it original stage in more sophisticated manners. Ivar Holms (2006) analysis of Vernacular Design sets out four clearly defined new strategies:(1.) reinvigorating tradition i.e. evoking the vernacular, (2.) reinventing tradition i.e. the search for new paradigms, (3.) extending tradition i.e. using the vernacular in a modified manner and (4.) reinterpreting tradition i.e. the use of contemporary idioms. However, these 4 stages of vernacular design, to some extent, limit the

kind of design intervention possible. Holms framework does not fully take account of the range of different possibilities that emerge through combinations of these stages. A fifth condition is also possible, as a result of the relationships of these elements: the hybrid condition which relates more profoundly to peoples everyday life. Undoubtedly, this new stage in cultural commodities has reached a more complex and flexible state in order to suit a contemporary demand of cultural goods. This notion is central to arguments for the re-thinking of vernacular design. This rethinking is premised on the argument that a pure condition for these type of products cannot always be guaranteed. Consequently, the principles of vernacular design outlined by Holm, 2006) do not operate independently or without variation, this is probably due to the fact that times have changed, scenarios and customer habits have also altered. Under this new and complex scenario of hybridisation of cultures designers must now consider that the market have a reasonable level of hybridization in terms of background and patterns of consumption. As mentioned before, this is an interesting phenomenon that occurs frequently in this shared environment, especially in those countries that are using Glocalisation 3, adapting their commodities in order to suit their global products in a local context. In doing so it offers additional insights and approaches deemed to be essential in understanding vernacular design in the 21st century. We can look at the example of the way how people carry babies probably inspired by ancestral culture, the picturesque Tuk- Tuk in the crowded Bangkoks streets, or the iconic design of Vespa, which started as a result of the life style post world war in Italy. Using the technology available and considering the new need for the familys

Glocalisation: Global and local. Simultaneously. Glocal is phenomena register , device or information capable of reasoning with the local and transferring to global , capable of being a system and place at the same time; Glocal is able, to yield , for each concrete situation, a certain local map of the global scene. (Bru , E., et al. 2000).

transport, the Vespa has become popular around the world, in part because it evokes the past of this European country, at the same time extending its vernacular condition in a more holistic and sophisticated outcome as a motorcycle.

Figure 1: Example of vernacular design across the history: Carrying baby. Navajo Indian carrying baby. Sources :(http://aleasemichelle.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/11/nativeamerican-prints-from-the-pennington-photo-studio.html). Figure2:EvenFlo Snugli Carrier, (http://momsbabysling.com/reviews/babycarrier-reviews/evenflo/evenflo-snugli-carrier/).

Cases studies : Multicultural scenarios for vernacular design.


It seems that struggles and benefit are shaping the way that the entire world is facing a new era of commodities exchange. Just the idea of the adaptation of products with local features into other milieu, is something that demands new strategies, new ways of thinking laterally, focused on what type of commodity can work properly outside of its home market, adjusting some features in order to tailor them to work better, or even considering new strategies that involve co production with local firms . Tahkokallio & Vilma have emphasised the Multicultural aspects and how products are labelled in categories such as emotional, contextual, functional The authors mention the case study of socialist countries in

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Eastern Europe (specifically the case of the Chamber of Commerce in Estonia) where some products were imitated from the western model, resulting in a lack of coherent cultural aesthetic or even decontextualised. In others words, formal, semantic and social connotation are crucial factors when we are talking about a suitable interpretation of design and cultural identity (Tahkokallio and Vilma, 1994).

Vernacular design in Australia and Chile.


The idea to create a global network of co operation, a dynamic and coordinated use of technical skills and the awareness of socio-economic issues is not always an easy thing to achieve, considering all the factors involved in creative tasks. Oxfam Australia is a non-governmental organization mainly focused on improving the quality of life in remote areas and undeveloped counties. Its focus is on supporting long terms projects, emergency help support and campaigning for changes. Through its work, it is generating a suitable platform between developed and developing countries in order to materialize in products an interesting offer generating a deep sense of appeal for this attractive way to manage and lead creatively an organization. Oxfam shops sell unique, handcrafted goods and commodities, made by experts across the world, through 23 stores across the country and online . This organization is an interesting model of business through a chain of point of sales and e-shops, where consumers can appreciate a variety of products, with different backgrounds and cultural richness. The internet has provided an interesting window where useful and ornamental cultural commodities are available for the rest of the global community. It is remarkably interesting the role that Oxfam plays in order to provide a path where the know how, with a vernacular cultural expression, is reinforced under the umbrella of social and economic creative

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concern.(Oxfam Australia, Annual Report, 2009 ) . Cultural products can be perceived with a strong background, in terms of precedence and also a destiny, designers must be highly aware of these opportunities. Above all considering vernacular expressions as a useful and powerful tool to create synergy among local centers of development in a competitive form, especially in context such as third world countries where conditions or alternatives are limited for fair competition within the developed world.

Figure 3: Oxfam Australia products from different regions of South-east Asia and South America. Source http://www.oxfamshop.org.au/

In this regard, in another region of the South Pacific ,such as Chile, there is a valuable pioneer action called TPH Trabajo para un hermano (Work for a brother), which is non-governmental organization that has developed a network of micro-entrepreneurs, focused on the production of a variety of vernacular products, representing regional identity through different technical skills, materials and folklorist sources of inspiration. There is also an interesting point that embraces cultural and socio-economic aspects, the technological transfer or know-how that provides a strong bridge between local producers and vernacular products with cultural identity. In this regard, creative professionals such as designers are playing a more tangible role, as protagonists who channel talent and efforts for local entrepreneurship. Facing new and demanding challenges in our contemporary scenario, technology seems to be a important ally for contemporary vernacular design.

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A suitable and well balanced triad of elements - social, cultural, and technological - must be considered to manage a suitable, integrated and balanced vernacular design approach. This paper also considers two examples that illustrate vernacular product design: one situated in the South of Chile, with a group of design students from the University of Bio-Bio, working on projects related with leather and wicker in different places of the South American region.These cases mentioned are intimately connected by a sense of hybridity in their outcomes, which allows us to visualize a more profound and illustrative comprehension of contemporary vernacular design on opposite sides of the globe, but at the same timesharing the same hemisphere and economic interests.

Conclusions
Designers need to understand that their role is that of a catalyst capable of transforming intangible features into a tangible expression of culture a role that is remarkably important for them to comprehend and apply this understanding in the most convenient, sensitive and precise way. Sometimes this can be a challenge considering how delicate and rooted certain aspects of vernacular expression are embedded in the local pysche. Designers play a crucial role in interpreting these features correctly and applying them in a concrete and suitable solution. In doing so, ideas that are usually buried in the veil of vernacular design are expanded to reach a global market which frees the ideas of boundaries set up by vernacular design being on a local commodity and diffuses the idea to a global audience. This diffusion does not weaken an idea or homogenize it with other global brands. Rather, it shows richness and diversity and the evolution of an idea. In doing so Holms four criteria are comfortably expanded to include the important link to global factors in design. The sense of hybridity in products allows a more interesting ,comprehensible and

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moldable version in the creative and globalised scenario, this under the umbrella of vernacular design approach.

References:
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