Charter of the Built Vernacular Heritage


[PDF-84 Kb]


Ratified by the ICOMOS 12th General Assembly, in Mexico, October 1999


The built vernacular heritage occupies a central place in the affection and pride of all peoples. It has been accepted as a characteristic and attractive product of society. It appears informal, but nevertheless orderly. It is utilitarian and at the same time possesses interest and beauty. It is a focus of contemporary life and at the same time a record of the history of society. Although it is the work of man it is also the creation of time. It would be unworthy of the heritage of man if care were not taken to conserve these traditional harmonies which constitute the core of man's own existence. 

The built vernacular heritage is important; it is the fundamental expression of the culture of a community, of its relationship with its territory and, at the same time, the expression of the world's cultural diversity. 

Vernacular building is the traditional and natural way by which communities house themselves. It is a continuing process including necessary changes and continuous adaptation as a response to social and environmental constraints. The survival of this tradition is threatened world-wide by the forces of economic, cultural and architectural homogenisation. How these forces can be met is a fundamental problem that must be addressed by communities and also by governments, planners, architects, conservationists and by a multidisciplinary group of specialists. 

Due to the homogenisation of culture and of global socio-economic transformation, vernacular structures all around the world are extremely vulnerable, facing serious problems of obsolescence, internal equilibrium and integration. 

It is necessary, therefore, in addition to the Venice Charter, to establish principles for the care and protection of our built vernacular heritage. 


1. Examples of the vernacular may be recognised by: 

a)A manner of building shared by the community; 

b) A recognisable local or regional character responsive to the environment; 

c) Coherence of style, form and appearance, or the use of traditionally established building types; 

d) Traditional expertise in design and construction which is transmitted informally; 

e) An effective response to functional, social and environmental constraints; 

f) The effective application of traditional construction systems and crafts.

2. The appreciation and successful protection of the vernacular heritage depend on the involvement and support of the community, continuing use and maintenance. 

3. Governments and responsible authorities must recognise the right of all communities to maintain their living traditions, to protect these through all available legislative, administrative and financial means and to hand them down to future generations. 


1. The conservation of the built vernacular heritage must be carried out by multidisciplinary expertise while recognising the inevitability of change and development, and the need to respect the community's established cultural identity. 

2. Contemporary work on vernacular buildings, groups and settlements should respect their cultural values and their traditional character. 

3. The vernacular is only seldom represented by single structures, and it is best conserved by maintaining and preserving groups and settlements of a representative character, region by region. 

4. The built vernacular heritage is an integral part of the cultural landscape and this relationship must be taken into consideration in the development of conservation approaches. 

5. The vernacular embraces not only the physical form and fabric of buildings, structures and spaces, but the ways in which they are used and understood, and the traditions and the intangible associations which attach to them. 


1. Research and documentation 

Any physical work on a vernacular structure should be cautious and should be preceded by a full analysis of its form and structure. This document should be lodged in a publicly accessible archive. 

2. Siting, landscape and groups of buildings

Interventions to vernacular structures should be carried out in a manner which will respect and maintain the integrity of the siting, the relationship to the physical and cultural landscape, and of one structure to another. 

3. Traditional building systems

The continuity of traditional building systems and craft skills associated with the vernacular is fundamental for vernacular expression, and essential for the repair and restoration of these structures. Such skills should be retained, recorded and passed on to new generations of craftsmen and builders in education and training. 

4. Replacement of materials and parts

Alterations which legitimately respond to the demands of contemporary use should be effected by the introduction of materials which maintain a consistency of expression, appearance, texture and form throughout the structure and a consistency of building materials. 

5. Adaptation

Adaptation and reuse of vernacular structures should be carried out in a manner which will respect the integrity of the structure, its character and form while being compatible with acceptable standards of living. Where there is no break in the continuous utilisation of vernacular forms, a code of ethics within the community can serve as a tool of intervention. 

6. Changes and period restoration

Changes over time should be appreciated and understood as important aspects of vernacular architecture. Conformity of all parts of a building to a single period, will not normally be the goal of work on vernacular structures. 

7. Training

In order to conserve the cultural values of vernacular expression, governments, responsible authorities, groups and organisations must place emphasis on the following: 

a)Education programmes for conservators in the principles of the vernacular; 

b) Training programmes to assist communities in maintaining traditional building systems, materials and craft skills; 

c) Information programmes which improve public awareness of the vernacular especially amongst the younger generation. 

d) Regional networks on vernacular architecture to exchange expertise and experiences.


Madrid, January 30, 1996,

Jerusalem, March 28, 1996

Mikkeli, February 26, 1998.

Santo Domingo, August 26, 1998.

ICOMOS: Stockholm, September 10, 1998. 

By using this website you agree to the use of cookies to recognize your repeat visits and preferences, the display of videos and the measurement of audiences.No cookies are used to track you for commercial or advertising purposes.

Your browser and online tools allow you to adjust the setting of these cookies. Learn more

I understand

Cookies Policy

ICOMOS informs you that, when browsing the ICOMOS website and all the pages of this domain, cookies are placed on the user's computer, mobile or tablet. No cookies are used to track users for commercial or advertising purposes.

A cookie is a piece of information stored by a website on the user's computer and that the user's browser provides to the website during each user’s visit.

These cookies essentially allow ICOMOS to:

You will find below the list of cookies used by our website and their characteristics:

Cookies created by the use of a third-part service on the website:

For information:

You can set up your browser to alert you of the presence cookies and offer you to accept them or not. You can accept or refuse cookies on a case-by-case basis or refuse them once and for all. However, some features of the ICOM website cannot function properly without cookies activated. 

The setting of cookies is different for each browser and generally described in the help menus. You will find more explanations on how to proceed via the links below.

Firefox   •  



Internet Explorer


Dowload ICOMOS Cookies Policy