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The significance of the vernacular as a learning tool: an investigation into the role of the highland vernacular on the development and progression of rural Scotland.

Part 1 Dissertation 2008
Keith Mcgregor
University of Strathclyde Glasgow UK
The modest highland cottage is an icon of man’s dedication to the land he once served, and remains a significant ingredient of Scotland’s natural landscape and cultural identity. The cottages are symbolic of human nature and characterise a connection between their structure and the life they represent.

The typical rural house commonly began as a temporary structure shared by both humans and animals. The structure gradually developed into a more permanent dwelling built in stone during the 18th century. By the 19th century a modern longhouse model emerged; named ‘taighean dubh’ – black house; a model exclusive to serving small scale modern farms and crofts across the highland landscape. The black house was gathered and assembled upon straightforward and rational principles that responded and addressed local needs using local methods and materials specific to the place. The honesty of the dwellings was expressed in their simplicity allowing them to evolve with their surroundings.

By the turn of the 20th century, the simple croft house became outdated as it no longer met basic living standards. Links to important historical models evaporated as factory-built pre-fabricated housing units, identical in town and country, surged in popularity. The tasteless individualism of these house types lacked common connection to centuries’ old tradition evident in historical models such as the black house

As private developers continue to dominate the housing market in Scotland they continue to build to a standard formula. Meanwhile the significance of the vernacular as a learning tool in providing substance to preserve the unique identity of the Northern Highlands and Islands has rapidly diminished.

The primary values and principles of the traditional highland croft dwelling secure its status as an appropriate and suitable basis for developing both current and future rural housing. It reinstates the landscape and the dwelling as a single entity, a quality current designers and architects are gradually recognising and engaging with. 21st century interpretations of key design principles within quality traditional examples and growing confidence in a rich architectural heritage can provide a suitable basis for a positive progression and development of rural Scotland.

Keith Mcgregor

This dissertation is a sensitive, original piece of research into the history and continuing relevance of the vernacular in the Scottish Highlands. The critical and analytical progression in the chronological research and skilful selection and manipulation of images evokes in the reader a deep appreciation of the Highland landscape. This is balanced with an appreciation and intellectual demonstration of the need for progress using original illustrations to critique the work of contemporary architects. The student has ownership of the ideas and concepts shown and as such this work carries more weight than if it had been précised from existing sources.

Jacqueline Lister
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