Texas Tech University

Professor Joe Aranha- International Faculty at TTU

Joe Aranha

As a Fulbright Scholar, Professor Joe Aranha has traveled the world to study and teach vernacular architecture. Vernacular architecture refers to buildings and settlements that are based upon specific local needs, availability of materials and building traditions. Studies in vernacular architecture include documentation, analysis and theoretical approaches toward understanding how architectural form and settlement layout of specific societies is also shaped by abstract ideas related to belief systems, social order, cultural values and lifestyle.

Originally, from Bangalore, India, Aranha received his BA in Architecture from the Indian Institute of Technology and a Masters of Architecture from Iowa State University. As a professor of Architecture at Texas Tech University, Aranha's research and work explore continuity and change in traditional built environments in non-western societies. “My research involves the study of the relationships of culture and architecture, and it deals with documenting and understanding the meaning of architectural forms and how the built environment and architectural form—particularly in traditional societies—are shaped by physical context as well as belief systems, social order, gender, life style and other aspects of culture. Layout and design of dwellings in many traditional societies are closely connected with local beliefs. In Bali, for example, it is believed that the gods move around the island through the wind. The ancient building manuals of the Balinese prescribed that dwelling structures should welcome the gods and allow them free and unobstructed passage into and out of a structure. If the roaming deities were trapped or prevented from entering they would bestow bad luck upon the inhabitants of a dwelling. Traditional Balinese dwellings therefore consist of compounds in which the ‘rooms' take the form of pavilion or gazebo like structures for eating, sleeping, working, etc. Enclosing walls are used only in areas where privacy or security is needed. When looked at from a practical point of view Bali is a tropical island so open structures make sense in an environment where airflow keeps the buildings and their occupants cool and dry. The Balinese, like many traditional societies around the world, handed down this knowledge for building in a tropical climate through religious beliefs and superstitions rather than through the use of scientific language about ventilation and airflow as is used today. Additionally, the location, size and placement of the structures that make up a Balinese dwelling compound are traditionally also dictated by beliefs in a tripartite universe and dualities such as east- west, sacred -profane, etc. What may look like a disorganized and haphazard collection of structures in a traditional Balinese house compound is actually a carefully orchestrated architectural assemblage that has profound meaning to its occupants,” said Aranha.

Aranha critiquing student work as a Fulbright Specialist in India 2011

Aranha critiquing student work as a Fulbright Specialist in India 2011

An accomplished two-time Fulbright Scholar (to Zimbabwe and Ethiopia) and one-time Fulbright Specialist (India), Aranha was recently awarded a sabbatical during the spring semester to share his expertise, teach, and conduct research in Ethiopia, India, and Spain.

In Ethiopia, Aranha was one of several TTU faculty participating in a grant funded by the German Agency for International Cooperation and administered by the British Council. Focusing on civil engineering and construction technology, this project seeks to develop “home-grown” graduate programs in the region to improve the Higher Education system of the country. Aranha developed and taught a seminar/ workshop course for an MS program in architectural engineering. Classes are offered through the program as seminar, block, or online courses by TTU faculty. In addition to teaching, Aranha also added to his knowledge of vernacular architecture by visiting and photographing dwellings and mosques in Harar, an ancient walled Islamic city in Ethiopia.

Aranha Reviewing students at EiABC Addis Abba in 2017

Aranha reviewing students at EiABC Addis Abba in 2017

In his home country of India, Professor Aranha wanted to share his expertise in a place where people do not often have opportunities to interact with international scholars. “Many of these newer universities which are located away from large cities are looking for opportunities to bring in professors from other parts of the world to enrich and ad to the educational experience of their students through short courses, workshops and guest lectures. This was a great opportunity for them to have a professor from the United States because many of the students there cannot afford to travel or study abroad,” said Aranha. During a three-day workshop, Aranha worked to enrich the knowledge of these students with regard to documenting vernacular architecture. “As part of an ongoing project of the Center for Applied Research & Education to document ancient water related structures in South India, the workshop involved field work to document and study a 10th century Hindu temple with a stepped well. The project was to develop a publication documenting the history, architectural features, and use of the structure,” stated Aranha. Though his time in India was brief, he has continued to work and communicate with students and faculty there to help them complete the project.

Aranha working in a Hamer village Omo River Valley Ethiopia 2009

Aranha working in a Hamer village Omo River Valley Ethiopia 2009

Professor Aranha also spent about six weeks during his sabbatical in Seville, Spain observing and studying the transformation of public spaces during the annual traditions of Holy Week. Each year, during the celebration of Semana Santa the city becomes a stage for these rituals, which have been taking place for centuries. “This is not just a religious festival, it is an urban festival and I wanted to experience, photograph, and collect data on all of the complex things that happen in the streets and plazas in the city,” stated Aranha. “During this week the street- a secular and public space- becomes a place of worship, a grand theater and complex problem of managing traffic, security, access, and other urban activities. For example, flow of pedestrians, accommodation of spectators, passage of vehicles, etc. is complex because of the number of processions that simultaneously converge upon the city center every day during that week. As many as 60 separate processions some with as many as three thousand participants must be carefully orchestrated and coordinated. My interest was to study and show how urban space and the architecture of the city is transformed during this major urban celebration.” said Aranha. Archival research at various libraries in Seville was also conducted to gather and study old photos from previous decades to note changes as this annual event has grown from a religious ritual to a major tourist attraction. Aranha also gave a series of lectures on non western architecture to students at the University of Seville.

Aranha notes that continuity of traditional building practices and the forms of traditional settlements are affected by modernization, globalization, urbanization, population growth, migration, natural disasters, conflicts, tourism and other forces of change. In his travels around the world, Professor Joe Aranha is attracted to locations that are relatively unchanged where one can experience the “traditional” environment.

Aranha states that “lessons learnt from vernacular architecture help architects to design innovative contemporary buildings that are more responsive to local factors such as climate and which reflect the time as well as the place and region in which they are built”.

“Travel is an important part of learning, particularly in architecture. Being in a different place helps you see things from other points of view and helps one to be more creative and more critical about things that one may normally take for granted. This helps to make one a better designer,” said Aranha.

When asked where he would recommend students to travel, Aranha said Southeast Asia. “It is a region of the world that is very energetic and culturally diverse where one can experience a wide variety of traditional and vernacular buildings as well as contemporary architectural projects that innovatively blend tradition with modernity.”

Learn more about Professor Aranha