Designing parapet and compound walls attractively, balancing aesthetics and cost, is an architectural challenge

All of us are aware about the importance of a picture frame. Edging a picture on all the four sides, be it a photograph or artistic painting, the frame can be neutral, thus highlighting the picture. Alternatively, the frame may also adorn an antique wood look, sleek modern touch or thin line minimalism. These options are important in the process they compliment the picture.

Likewise, a building also gets framed by the front compound wall and the top-most parapet wall. The compound wall is the nearest element to the observer and the terrace parapet wall is the farthest one; between the two sits the elevation of the building, as such framing it. The idea of elevation, formed majorly by wall finish, proportions of opening, window types and such others seems to begin with the compound and apparently stops at the parapet, connoting the end of the building.

Despite such a major role for these two, we notice most buildings either have non-descript ordinary walls or a design repeated from some other context that appears unfit in the given situation, simply suggesting that the two walls have not been given their due creative credits. The compound and parapet may have more of aesthetic appeal than ecological perspectives, yet can be designed more sensitively from varied parameters such as cost, culture and context.

Considering the fact that compound and parapet are comparable to being the frame of the building, it is better to develop them upon the same design style. Similar looking walls look better than dissimilar ones, the latter appearing visually disconnected from each other and the building too. Specificities like required height, other elements like gates, voids within, pattern of wall top, option for planter boxes and such others ensure the two walls are not exactly the same, but can look similar.

In an eco-friendly architecture with un-plastered walls, try exposing the materials in these also, just like in the building, to get all the benefits of such walls. Simple solid walls could be cheaper, but most often neither highlight the elevation nor compliment it. Alternately, it is not worth designing a costly wall either. As such, designing parapet and compound walls in attractive and creative modes, balancing aesthetics and cost, is an architectural challenge.

Neither the parapet nor the compound wall carries any load, and privacy across the walls is not a criteria. So, these walls can be thinner than the actual building walls to save money; they can take small openings within to reduce the material usage; technically do not need any plastering and painting; the top line need not always be a horizontal straight line, but can take stepped patterns, and varied material options can be explored in designing these walls, often using more than one material in designer fashion. It is important to realise that they are not separate from the building elevation, but are part of it.