Why stick to staid approaches? If we fail to connect two rooms efficiently, why do we simply introduce a passage in between

It's strange but true: functional efficiency, cost-effectiveness and eco-friendliness are connected. Most ideas and systems we have been discussing, like passive cooling, local materials, tall windows, verandahs or skylights, together exhibit all of the above qualities.

These could be contrasted with other ideas singularly effective, like a sound-proof window or RCC chajja, which may cost more or have average climatic performance. Most often, consultants are aware of the limitations of these ideas, yet end up executing them mostly with no other choice in sight.

However, there are approaches simply taken for granted, only to be repeated without critical thinking. Narrow internal passages are a case in point. These are among the neglected parts of the plan making process, where if we fail to connect two rooms efficiently, we simply introduce a passage in between.

This is a trap

Movement is an activity that happens all over the building, since we need to reach up to every inch of the plan. While all areas accommodate one or the other activity, the 3 to 4 ft. wide passages serve only movement, walking across into some room or door. Where every inch of built area is increasingly costly today, why are we into this trap called passages?

In cold countries, passages served a climatic function – they acted as buffer zones, helping so much in retaining the warmer room temperatures. Most rooms were fully enclosed with thick walls and doors, to be shut off from the vagaries of harsh nature.

With the arrival of the British, the concept of passage and room entered India too. However, in tropical contexts like ours, we need not cut off air from a room, rather let the air move freely, either as gentle breeze in hot humid zones and displacement ventilation in hot dry zones.

Passages also retain the foul air, with no escape route. Besides tending to be darker, with no direct light from external windows, passages disturb perceiving the built area as a large entity. How narrow spaces hinder carrying furniture around need not be further highlighted. Despite all this, passages are taken for granted in most house plans even today, and felt as inevitable in public buildings such as hotels and hospitals.

Eliminating passages

By now we realise that we cannot avoid movement areas, and people need to move through even an entrance lounge. What could be eliminated are the exclusive narrow passages.

One option is make them wider, so a storage shelf or a mural art wall can be a part of the passages, turning them into multi-functional spaces.

Most areas can be designed such, one space merging into another like living room leading into dining space.

Classrooms in a school or bedrooms of a house may be accessed directly from a common space, without a connecting neck called passage.

How the space liberated from the bounds of passage contributes to enlarged internal area can be felt in all open planning buildings!

(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at varanashi@gmail.com)