Wootton is lucky in having several people who are the best in their field, but it is fair to say that Paul Oliver is unique in being a world authority on both the Blues and vernacular architecture. Having spoken last year on music from the Deep South, Paul gave a magisterial talk on May 7th about different styles of dwelling around the world.
In the course of a fascinating 80 minutes, Paul illustrated his theme with just some of the 30,000 slides that he himself has taken of dwellings - ranging from semi-detached houses in England to homes in Africa made from mud-bricks and shelters on stilts above lakes.
Of course, certain designs of dwellings in the Third World have been in existence far longer than in the West and it should be no surprise that their lay-out is just as carefully worked out as their equivalent in Europe. Sticks are laid on the ground to show the building's foot- print and the design is carefully conceived, for example, to reduce searing heat and keep out marauding wild animals.
Paul also explored the designs of dwellings made from dried animal faeces which - he pointed out - are perfectlly odour-free once the material has dried out. And such houses are not built in isolation, but often form extened villages covering a large area. sometimes on hill- sides.
Such is the range of style of dwellings around the world that it seemed entirely understandable that Paul's magnum opus - the Encyclopaedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World - took ten years to compile, editing the work of 80 researchers in 130 countries into three volumes, consisting of two million words. It was compiled whilst Paul was Associate Head of the School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University, as well as holding several professorships around the world.
As a work of reference, this encyclopaedia will never be surpassed and everybody must have been grateful to have been in the company of a master of his discipline for the evening. Proceeds totalled £333, giving a total raised after seventeen talks of £9,383.
About a year ago, we heard Paul, a world authority on the Blues, and now we have listened to him again - this time, as a world authority on vernacular architecture. In each case, he gave us the same enthusiasm and the same very interesting and informative detail. I was pleased to hear that what my parents disparagingly called “30’s semis”, originated earlier in the century. Mud, sand, home-made bricks are all useful for building a suitable home, and in most cases, due care is taken to provide as much space as possible for the family. In many countries, the whole family shares the work of building the home and, thankfully, we don’t do that here. Another great evening and lots of amazing facts to take away and think about - Ilivina King, Oxford
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