The Role of the National Construction Authority in the Conservation of Vernacular Architectural Heritage
Vernacular architecture is a malleable concept that encompasses structures produced by empirical/ experiential builders. It is sometimes referred to as indigenous, primitive, ethnic or even architecture without architects. Vernacular architectural heritage often found in rural areas and historic urban areas and villages represent a cultural heritage that has been handed down from one generation to the next. This heritage is under threat from modernising forces which cause deterioration in cultural and historical continuity. It is important to conserve this architecture and associated technologies for posterity. Both tangible and intangible heritage of vernacular architecture is threatened through blatant negligence, emergent and more profitable modes of construction, and lack of funds for minimum maintenance. To a large extent, this heritage is quickly deteriorating and disappearing into the hands of vandals and illegal traders due to the lack of appropriate conservation, sensitisation and training for the public and heritage professionals in the conservation of materials and practices. The paper explores the vernacular heritage in Kenya, the state of its conservation and the risks associated with its conservation. It is argued that since NCA is mandated inter alia to undertake research into any matter relating to the construction industry, it should complement the efforts of the National Museums of Kenya in the conservation of cultural heritage in so far as materials and building technologies are concerned. There is no clear legal framework for the conservation of vernacular architecture in place and it is often lumped together with other popular forms of architecture which have well-defined and documented historical trends. Emphasis has been on urban architecture in Kenya. The paper established that vernacular heritage has only been haphazardly conserved, with no clear management, documentation and preservation policies. The paper found that no resources are specifically set aside for the conservation of these heritages. The theoretical analysis concludes that vernacular architecture in Kenya has been neglected and exposed to deterioration. It also points out that the level of public sensitisation on the heritage is low and its conservation and management needs have been ignored. The study, therefore, recommends public sensitisation, preventive and interventive conservation and appropriate policies to save the heritage from imminent loss. It further suggests that detailed documentation of vernacular building materials and technology should be undertaken as a matter of urgency.
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