New London Vernacular
If you live in the UK you have probably heard of the London Vernacular, and heard it described as timeless, or a return to some historic norm.
The 'norm' is Georgian architecture - the legacy of Gibbs' "The Rules of Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture" (1732), itself aspirational Palladian (an English adaption of Italian neo-classical, viz Gibbs' own St Mary's-le-Strand). Stone, (and later white paint) trim, pediments and portico entrances are all legacies of this abridged Italian style.
This architecture was, in a way, local, in that it was adapted to affordable speculative construction methods: By using local clay and ash brick, façades made best use of the common London clay soils. In Georgian architecture there is a marked preference for yellow 'sandstock' or 'marl stock' brick (using the abundant chalk to lighten the brick), to emulate the sandstone ('yorkstone') edifices of the upper classes. These in time turned black (soot, later made permanent using pitch), 10 Downing Street being an obvious example. Brown/purple "plum" (natural) clay was also common and cheap, supplanting pre-Georgian red (from the Home Counties) for the most part (unlike colonial Georgian, which stuck to the Tudor reds also produced by foreign clays).
In the Industrial age, when houses continued to follow these trends (as well as the red brick and stucco revival styles), Industrial architecture took a new path. One of the greatest Victorian inventions was the Staffordshire Blue Brick, marl fired at high temperature, which turned the local soil deep purple/blue. This became ubiquitous in rail viaducts and other high-strength brick structures - and in the rare case aesthetically for civic structures.
Today's 'vernacular' overwhelmingly favours this blue and black brick - a new use for Staffordshire bricks and their equivalents, which gives the buildings a distinctly 'modern' appearance. Also notable in the current style are the lack of trim and deep reveal windows - in fact legacies of earlier English Tudor brick buildings - only writ large. Square windows (an innovation, ignoring Georgian proportioning principles) seem to derive from grid forms, perhaps a borrowing from the New York loft / warehouse conversion form recently popular around the western world.
Recessed or absent balconies / sheer façades also predominate - the UK having long struggled with balconies due to poor light levels (witness the Victorian lacework balconies, often only 1m deep, the poor cousins of the wide verandahs of the Raj) - a welcome return to the street wall after the 20th century 'Town Country' and its picturesque front setbacks, which elsewhere (eg Sydney, Australia) survive even into new high density forms. The buildings do however adopt the Edwardian stepped brick balcony roof form (a good example of this is the fire tower in Lambeth Fire Station, 1937)
So, then, the London Vernacular is in fact quite new, and not altogether vernacular. Yet it is a style which marries well with the old, which may render it 'timeless' after all, when architecture next moves on.