VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE IN ITS SOCIAL CONTEXT: A CASE STUDY OF ERESSOS, GREECE
I hypothesized that the vernacular architecture of a particular time and place would express socially significant information for its inhabitants. Vernacular architecture has been referred to in the literature as timeless and unchanging, resulting from unselfconscious utilitarian concerns. This study examined the complexity and variation of visual form in the architecture of a Greek island village, as viewed by the inhabitants.
I conducted field research, assisted by Jana Hesser, an anthropologist, from November 1977 to August 1978 in Eressos, Greece. Three research phases were orientation, systematic visual data collection, and interviews. The visual data consisted of measured drawings and slides of thirty houses. The taped interviews were conducted using a standard set of eighty slides from the entire village and the slides taken at the interviewee's house as a device to elicit the inhabitants' point of view.
Three periods were found to be salient for the inhabitants: Period I, from the mid-19th century, when Eressos was part of the Ottoman Empire, to the earthquake of 1889; Period II, when Eressos was unified with Greece; and Period III, following World War II, a time of population exodus and integration into a cash economy. During these three periods the following changes took place in Eressos houses: (1) various features of both interior and exterior changed stylistically. In Period II neoclassical features expressed nationalistic aspirations; in Period III simplification and use of concrete signified modernization; (2) the interior domestic space which had been provided with a few moveable furnishings in Periods I and II was equipped with relatively immoveable furniture in Period III; (3) the organization of the interior space changed from being zoned according to the character of an activity into activity specific rooms; space utilization was altered to some extent but basically stayed the same. The main motivation for all construction or renovation was the need to maintain social standing through the provision of an "up to date" house for dowry by a woman's family.
In all three periods, changes in house form and decoration reflected changing perceptions of what architectural style and features signified high social status.