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You are in: Ethnoarch Home » Articles Home » Traditional architecture in the era of the Web 2.0. An Internet database of traditional buildings.
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"Ethnoarch Presents" features articles on the topic of traditional, vernacular and ethno architectures.
Traditional architecture in the era of the Web 2.0. An Internet database of traditional buildings.
Gabriel Arboleda
Image corresponding to this article
Two contrasting (or complementary?)
structures near Bangkok's Chinatown.
This paper introduces and further discusses an initiative to use tools common to what is called "Web 2.0"—those known as weblogs, wikis, commenting, tagging and others—in order to compile, in a participatory way, information on traditional architecture that is either scattered online, published in hard-to-access printed sources, or remains unpublished. The database, available at, is designed to be expanded by the users and freely accessible by researchers, the general public and communities it compiles data about.

Using the power of the Internet and the current rise in online participatory tools, this proposal responds to both an increasing availability and a growing necessity of information on traditional architecture. The particular topic of traditional building types has indeed grown in such a way that, when published in the late 1960s, Amos Rapoport's work referenced monographs on approximately 150 indigenous building types. Thirty years later, Paul Oliver's edited encyclopedia showcased entries on around 1,280 types. This proposal aims to compile information on the building types of 7,300 currently identified linguistic groups.

The database organizes the material on a five-level hierarchy sequenced from general to particular: country, groups belonging to that country, building types related to each of the groups, models or examples of each of those types, and finally images of those models. Users can either add or edit information on the listed types or enter new ones. There is, concurrently, a knowledge-database which users can also assist in developing. This complementary database is dedicated to important concepts, book summaries and current news on the topic of traditional architecture.

It can be argued that an initiative like this is tainted by issues related to participation and representation. In fact, there is an irony to gathering, via Internet, information about the architecture of communities that in many cases have little or no access to computers. Because of that, some could say, participants in the database development would be merely re-interpreting, re-presenting a reality. This situation, however, is perhaps not exclusive of the Internet but inherent to any type of media. As we learn from Foucault, no building is exempt from the representations that are made of it before, during or after its construction.

The social and technological context in which the production of knowledge takes place usually evolves into becoming space in itself. The space in this case will not be uniquely that of the communities who produce the traditional buildings. It will be that of an online community which will develop its own set of values, boundaries, rules and traditions in an imaginary, re-presented setting of traditional buildings from all around the world assembled in one space, a hyper-real one.

Published: January 26, 2007 . Category: General Info
For academic purposes, please cite this page as:
Arboleda, Gabriel. Traditional architecture in the era of the Web 2.0. An Internet database of traditional buildings. [online]. Berkeley, CA:, 26 January 2007 [cited 22 January 2017]. Available from World Wide Web: <>.

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