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Introduction: earthen architecture, an endangered vernacular heritage

Throughout the centuries, earthen and vernacular architecture have revealed outstanding building cultures across the world. This rich and unique architecture is expressed through different tangible expressions in distinct cultural regions. For the last 50 years, a fragile earthen vernacular heritage is disappearing, even with rising awareness for its protection. The earthen endangered heritage is today at a higher risk of vanishing, especially due to man-made actions, such as urban pressure, globalisation, climate change, human conflict, but even through gentrification and inadequate interventions.

This edition of Built Heritage Journal is a unique opportunity to contribute in the disciplinary area of earthen architecture. The traditional architecture with rich and diverse building cultures is not enough valued and protected. This is perceived as approximately 15% of the human population still lives in earthen structures, especially in the developing world; and 25% of the World Heritage earthen architecture properties were in the World Heritage List in Danger, according to the World Heritage Committee in 2006. This reveals the vulnerability of this field of study and the need to address, in a critical way, the challenges faced by its technical and cultural conditions, regardless of the multicultural nature of the approaches. Especially, in a changing time as we are facing today, with a well-known paradigm shift of society, there is still an opportunity to save and safeguard this exceptional heritage and the intangible know-how to keep it alive.

‘Earthen Architecture, an Endangered Vernacular Heritage’ number offers the opportunity to learn from authors from Argentina, France and Madagascar, Mali and Japan, Yemen and Germany, Spain and Italy, Oman and Algeria, Thailand, China, and Portugal. Experts coming from a number of institutions, academies, committees, and networks that have carried out throughout the years, rigorous and consistent work in the field, constituting a valuable source of knowledge, with high relevance that even becomes a document, for nowadays fast-changing world. Their contribution reveals an exceptional in danger heritage, witnessed in several continents, with great challenges to survive.

This Special Issue emerged from the international conference organised by ICOMOS CIAV-ISCEAH 2019, Joint Annual Meeting and International Conference ‘Vernacular & Earthen Architecture towards Local Development’, organised in Pingyao, China. This was possible through the commitment of several institutions and experts, dedicated to protecting cultural heritage and to enhancing best practices in the conservation and maintenance of vernacular earthen architecture.

A word of thanks should go to all the authors that shared their knowledge and high standards to create this special number, also to all the reviewers that contributed greatly for the higher quality of the papers. A particular thank you should be shared with Yong Shao, CIAV-ISCEAH 2019 coordinator, and Plácido González Martínez, the Executive Editor of the Built Heritage journal, as well as to Tongji University, for all their support to make this number alive.

Finally, this special issue is a tribute to Hugo Houben, responsible for an undisputed contribution to earthen architecture as a field of study, of research and knowledge—together with Hubert Guillaud and Patrice Doat—who will have a long and transnational impact that will extend far beyond our lives. A mentor for several professionals and researchers, to whom he always had a word to go beyond factual data and to discover a wonderful world of knowledge that had so much to offer, if people would dare to go deeper and far. A good friend that with his inseparable Titane, always had a motivation word, and the door open to discuss and to discover the world. Merci, mon ami.

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Correspondence to Mariana Correia.

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Correia, M., Duarte Carlos, G. Introduction: earthen architecture, an endangered vernacular heritage. Built Heritage 5, 22 (2021).

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