Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Dwelling in the Agraharam

The house has a verandah at the entrance for social activities and a platform, slightly raised from the street, which runs the entire length of the row houses. It also acts as a transition from the street to the dwelling. A passage which starts at the street face, runs through the house ending at the backyard. There are some open spaces too, in the form of sunken courtyards or backyards which are highly functional. The concept of ara and pathayam, the storage spaces of Kerala houses are seen to be followed here. The storage areas keep the grains safe and dry during the wet monsoon season. This particular double storeyed unit has rooms on one side of the passage and also has a small open-to-sky courtyard attached to the living space. The court has provisions of taps for ablution and also outlets for water drainage which takes the rainwater outside. The opening in the roof provides light to the windowless rooms. As in the traditional Kerala houses, there is a well attached to the kitchen and water can be drawn through the opening on the wall. Another courtyard, larger in size is seen next to the kitchen and toilets which is functions as a washing and bathing space.

Tribal House in Waynad

The tribal huts found in the highlands of Kerala are minimal in their spaces and structure. Locally procured bamboo, grass and mud are the basic materials of house construction. Each plot is fenced with bamboo sticks to mark boundaries and for protection against wild animals. Bamboo framed roof is covered with a thick layer of hay thatch. The roof slope is so steep that there is no chance of rainwater seepage to the inside spaces. The edge of the thatch roof is hardly 150 cms high from the ground- the roof being very deep to protect the walls and plinth from lashing rain. The walls are made of woven bamboo screens and finished with thick layer of mud on both sides. Certain portions are left unplastered for the provision of ventilation. The mud walls keep the inside spaces cool even during summers. The plinth is low, of about 10-30 cms height and is extended outwards by about a feet, with wooden logs or stones, which protects the walls from getting damp during rains. This part of the extended plinth is known as the ‘thinna’ and forms the main social and activity space. Then there is the ‘kolaya’ which is the side open verandah and the ‘akam’, the inside private space which has few openings and is used for living and storage. There is a separated ‘adukkala’ or kitchen space within the house. The floors are finished with cow dung. Most of the houses also have a ‘thattu’ or attic which is built as a part of the bamboo structure itself.

Thekkedathu Illom- Residence in Aranmula

A typical nalukettu of South Kerala, symmetrical with courtyard in the centre, is about 450 years old according to the residents. The rooms on both sides of the courtyard have few openings. There are no windows in the entire house. The walls and roof are entirely made of timber. There are loft spaces within the roof with gable openings at the ends. Though the opening over the courtyard is very small (0.6M x 1.2M) letting in minimum light, during the day, this space around the courtyard is the most used. The courtyard, 1.2M x 2M in area and 0.6M deep, is paved with stones and has a drain outlet which takes the rainwater outside the house. The poomukham or the entrance verandah with sides open is the social space which also becomes the space for relaxation. The well is located on the north-western part of the house, easily accessible from the kitchen. The plinth is more than 1 meter in height which ensures protection of the wooden members and the inside spaces from humidity. There is an upa-pitha, or second plinth for the poomukham, which created a social hierarchy in levels. The most remarkable feature found here is jalagam, an intervention made for better protection from rain. A special joinery of rafters makes their ends curved upwards and lets the rain water driven away. This ensures the protection of poomukham from getting wet during heavy downpour.

Nalukettu in Changanacherry
Nalukettu is the dwelling type in which the habitable spaces are built around a central courtyard. In this house, the courtyard is towards one end, which functions more as a utility space for the kitchen and not used as a major living space. The ara is located in the inner south, where as the kulam, kinar and kitchen are located in the north and north-east as per vastu prescriptions. The courtyard is unpaved and lets the water drain off without getting collected. The verandah around the courtyard is finished with terracotta tiles which absorb the sweeping water. The slight slope of the plot lets the water drain to the north, thus keeping the southern side comparatively dry. The kinar which is connected to the kitchen and the kulam located outside facilitates washing activities. It has an elevated plinth of more than a meter and a high roof with loft spaces inside. There are shaded verandahs all around the house.
The house has undergone extensions over years and the major living spaces have shifted to a side open verandah in the front and a living room with wooden jali on the longer side. Since the overhangs are not deep enough, there have been later additions of corrugated sheets attached to the roof ends. At the open ends, drain pipes are also attached to avoid water falling down directly. The kulam remains as a lotus pond, being rarely used these days.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Homestead in Ponnani

A homestead forms the affluent house prototype in the midlands of Kerala. The large compound accommodates a dwelling and its related entities as separate units. They include the main house, guest house, store house or granary, cow shed, serpent grove, tanks and wells. The inhabitants act as connectors between these units which are generally anchored to the main house. According to vastu, these have assigned positions within the site which is followed in most traditional samples. The selected homestead at Ponnani in Malappuram district is a typical example which holds a two-storeyed main house, a two-storeyed pathayapura or store house which is also used as a guest house, a granary, a thozhuthu or cow shed, a serpent grove, two tanks and a well attached to the kitchen. The structure which is over 100 years old, had inhabitants till recent who vacated with the occupational shift of the younger generations. The compound is covered with trees leaving some clearance all around the structures. In the centre is a raised platform with koovalam tree, which is considered auspicious. Each of these built structures has a semi open verandah all around. One kulam is located in the north-east, while the other is in the south-west corner which is against the vastu prescriptions. These collected rain water as well as percolated ground water. They do not have a bath house or steps attached, but are accessed from the sloping sides. The well which is attached to the kitchen is located in the north east as prescribed. The sacred serpent grove which is located in the north-east, adjacent to the tank, with its thick vegetation and deep roots help retain ground water. The compound is adjoining agricultural fields and hence the water table remains high except for summers. The house as well as the pathayapura has a loft which is ventilated by means of small openings around. This remained as the storage space which was rarely accessed. The verandah of the main house has charupadi lined on two sides. This used to be the family gathering space which also allowed viewing the rain. The lower roof of the main house is further extended to provide a larger shade. This probably was used to gather the fruits and crops grown within the compound.


Padmanabhapuram Palace Complex

The Padmanabhapuram palace complex is considered the epitome of domestic architecture in Kerala. The whole complex though organic in growth and hence not symmetrical, consists of different units built at different periods and hence giving rise to a series of built and open spaces. The open and closed spaces are sewn together by the semi open spaces which outline the blocks and sometimes connect the separate blocks to each other. Each unit had its own open space/central courtyard, closed secure rooms and verandah spaces all around, thus functioning as independent units, yet part of the complex. The huge longitudinal scale is broken by the low height buildings and narrow open spaces. The unique, non-repeating structures gave every space an identity of its own, and hence the experiences varied from place to place.The huge compound of 6.4 acres also accommodated water sources in the form of two tanks and a well. One of the tanks is attached to the kulapura or bath house, which had provisions for oil massage and pre-bath procedures. This used to be the commonly used tank for all general needs of bathing, washing, etc. From this tank, there is a flight of steps leading up to the Bhagawathi temple on its east. This takes the worshippers to the temple directly after bath and thus the act of bath becomes part of the ritual. The kitchen which is adjoining the tank has an opening and provision to draw water from a separated portion of the same tank. There is another tank on the north east side, which is away from the centre of activities and more private in nature. It adjoins the homa pura or place of rituals and thus considered to be a part of holy activities, and is not commonly used. There is a separate well located near one of the side entries to the complex, which is well connected to the saraswati temple, navarathri mandapam or dance hall and the administrative sections. It can therefore be inferred as public in nature, used by visitors and non-residents. Thus a hierarchical division of water sources in terms of privacy and diversity in functions can be drawn.