June 7, 2019

What does the word vernacular mean to you? That’s the question that Daves Rossell, an architectural history professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, asked as he opened his lecture. Among the answers given were: traditional, indigenous, of a specific time and a specific location, and local. Rossell confirmed that these were all correct, but the question that he set out to answer was: how do you apply the word vernacular to architecture in the Lowcountry? It begins with looking at vernacular qualities and analyzing why they have remained unchanged throughout history.

Vernacular qualities can be defined as common features that don’t catch our attention from a distance and are often overlooked due to their frequent usage. Think about that medallion around your chandelier mounting, or your neighbor’s raised house, or your parents’ cherished wraparound porch. All of these are common features of Lowcountry homes that are rare finds in the north. If you take a stroll around Charleston, you might notice that many of the homes have side porches that operate as both a place to “porch” as well as their entryway. Conversely, Savannah homes also have side porches, however they are used solely as a porch, with their front door located on the street-facing side of the home. These differences are derived from the cultures that have migrated over time. (Not exactly sure what you’re trying to say here…?) Savannah-style homes are also well-known for displaying Caribbean influences and are easy to spot if you know what to look for.

There is no debate about the tradition that lives within the Lowcountry, but it goes well beyond the biscuits and fried chicken. Next time you’re in Savannah, spend some time in the neighborhoods on the border of the city like Frogtown, Currytown, and Waynesville. These areas specialize in Lowcountry architectural vernaculars and will grow your appreciation of this wonderful place we get to call home.