Paul Oliver Vernacular Architecture Library

The Paul Oliver Vernacular Architecture Library (POVAL) is a unique multi-disciplinary collection of books and visual resources dealing with vernacular architecture worldwide. Collected over a period of more than 50 years by Professor Paul Oliver, it includes works by architects, geographers, architectural and art historians, planners, folklorists, archaeologists, conservationists and anthropologists. The largest collection of its kind in the world, it is a truly global resource of value to anyone interested in the study, conservation and development of the world’s built environments.

The books in the collection include well-known and influential publications as well as important works that are little-known and difficult to obtain, and cover a wide range of topics, including the philosophy and theory of vernacular architecture, building symbolism and decoration, and vernacular materials and technology.

The books are complemented by more than 22,500 visual resources (35mm slides, photographs, stamps, postcards and drawings), taken and collected from 1960 to the present, which provide a unique visual record of vernacular buildings, landscapes, architectural details and materials from all over the world. The visual resources are singular in terms of their geographic and subject coverage and constitute a truly unique diachronic record of vernacular architecture in all continents.

The Paul Oliver Vernacular Architecture Library collection provides an unparalleled resource to the global academic community. It acts as a depository of the knowledge of the subject gained up to the present and serves as a basis for further scholarship and teaching in an area that is of increasing interest to a number of academic disciplines. The collection is housed in the Main Library of Oxford Brookes University, where it is accessible to staff, students and visiting scholars as a Special Collection. Please search the Collection here.

Paul Oliver Vernacular Architecture Library Images (POVALi)

From 2012 onwards, with the financial support of Professor Paul Oliver and the School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University, the 35mm slides in the collection have all been catalogued and digitised by volunteer students, under the direction of Dr Marcel Vellinga. Over 20,000 images are stored on Oxford Brookes University’s Research Archive and Digital Assets Repository (RADAR) and are freely available for teaching and research purposes at

Paul Oliver Vernacular Architecture Library Archival Collection

The Paul Oliver Vernacular Architecture Library collection includes the Paul Oliver Vernacular Architecture Library Archival Collection, which comprises material related to Oliver’s publications, general correspondence, conference papers, and more personal material such as notebooks, travel logs and press cuttings. A finding aid for the archive is available here. The acquisition of the Paul Oliver Vernacular Architecture Library Archival Collection was made possible by the generous support of the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

Paul Oliver

Paul Oliver

Paul Oliver (1927-2017) was an art historian who graduated from the University of London in 1955. During his career he has taught at various institutions, including the National Gallery, the Architectural Association, Dartington College of Arts, and Oxford Brookes University. He has written and edited a large number of books on vernacular architecture, most notably the monumental Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World (Cambridge University Press), which won the Sir Bannister Fletcher Award for Art and Architecture in 1997.

Other work includes a study of early 20th century suburban housing in the UK, published in Dunroamin: The suburban semi and its enemies (1981, Barrie and Jenkins; with Ian Bentley and Ian Davis); Dwellings: The House across the World (1987, Phaidon)(second edition published in 2003 entitled Dwellings: The Vernacular House Worldwide); Built to Meet Needs: Cultural Issues in Vernacular Architecture (2006, Architectural Press); and the Atlas of Vernacular Architecture of the World (2007, Routledge; with Alexander Bridge and Marcel Vellinga).

From the early 1960s onwards he documented and studied vernacular architecture traditions in many parts of the world, most notably in Ghana, Turkey, Costa Rica, the UK and various parts of the USA. Paul Oliver was an Honorary Fellow of the RIBA and received a life time achievement award from the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments (IASTE) in 2002. In 2003 he received an MBE in recognition of his contribution to architectural education. In addition to his work on vernacular architecture, he was also a leading scholar in the field of African-American music and wrote a large number of books on the blues.


Dr Marcel Vellinga

Place, Culture & Identity Group

School of Architecture
Oxford Brookes University
Headington Campus
Gipsy Lane
Oxford, OX3 0BP

Tel: +44 (0) 1865 483200
Fax: +44 (0) 1865 483298