Despite the hype about modern materials and design, indigenous building traditions still continue to be relevant, reports Hema Vijay

Does globalisation signify the end of vernacular architecture? Are ‘intelligent' buildings all about hi-tech gadgets and state-of-the-art materials and technology?

Not necessarily. Vernacular architecture, having evolved as functional design with elements geared to meet the needs of the local climate and people, has continuing relevance.

Recognising this, some architects in the city are reviving vernacular concepts, incorporating and expanding upon these elements and ideas in their work.

As conservation architect Benny Kuriakose puts it, “There is no such thing as traditional or modern architecture; there is just good architecture and bad architecture”.

Here are some contemporary structures that sport time-tested vernacular elements:

Kaatrupandal

The kaatrupandal, indigenous to the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu, consisted of a katcha or temporary sloping thatch placed on the roofs to suck in cold air from the outside into the house, providing natural ventilation.

KSM Consultants' Sriram Ganapathi, who has contributed to the Encyclopaedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World, has given a brick-lined kaatrupandal to Ram Naidu's farmhouse at Palamaner in Chittoor district.

Sriram modified the traditional kaatrupandal a little, making a pukka, brick-lined kaatrupandal with a funnel-like shape which slopes down and opens into the house.

“It funnels air into the living room and then on to the rest of the house through modulated openings”, says Sriram.

Spin off: Great energy gains. This house does not a single ceiling fan or A.C.

Self-shading device

Buildings in Jaisalmer and other districts of Rajasthan have stone ledges that jut out from the walls, to deflect sunlight and provide shade. Sriram has created an aluminium composite panel (ACP), modifying the concept aesthetically and amplifying its effect, giving an office building at T. Nagar, a curving ACP skin. “This doesn't allow solar rays to hit the building at all.

“The white colour also helps to reflect the sunlight,” Sriram points out. The ACP skin also encloses a cavity between it and the wall, preventing heat transfer.

Spin off: Minimum heat gain in a hot city

Kalari

The Kalari is a spacious sunken pit where the martial arts form kalaripayattu was taught. The idea, perhaps, was to ensure privacy from curious eyes.

Benny Kuriakose has expanded upon this concept to create a sunken arena named ‘Chandramandapa' at Spaces, the art foundation at the late dancer Chandralekha's residence in Besant Nagar. The Chandramandapa goes three-and-half-feet below ground level and is lined by brick walls, cuddapah flooring and black oxide seating. It also sports a two-tiered, mangalore-tiled sloping roof that towers to a height of 21 feet at its centre and sports a gable at the entrance.

All around the Chandramandapa, there is a two-foot gap between the roof and ground level bordering the pit. “When you step into this sunken space and look outside, it is a visual revelation”, Benny voices. You get to see a new world that encompasses the earth, the trees, and grass, which you don't get to see normally. It's also cool in here.”

Spin off: Privacy, and a new perspective.

Mud blocks

Even today, village homes continue to be built with mud blocks. Benny Kuriakose has revisited this tradition and has built a two-storey house with modified mud blocks for Ranjeet Jacob, and absolutely no concrete or burnt bricks! He has only added a little fly ash and cement to add strength.

“The carbon foot print of the building gets even lower if you can make the mud blocks onsite while digging to lay the foundation”, Benny says. Mud block buildings also last as long as burnt brick buildings.

Spin off: Use of natural material, low carbon footprint

Clay filler-slabs

Clay tiles once used to roof our buildings, keeping them cool as they don't absorb as much heat as concrete. Sriram decided to incorporate clay in the roofing in the form of filler slabs.

At the Mannar house in T. Nagar, he has introduced clay tiles within the concrete grid of the roof. These one-and-half inch thick clay tiles fill up spaces inside the concrete grid and cover up to 30 per cent of the roof space and proportionally lower heat gain.

“They can be double layered too, or can have cavities inside to provide more thermal insulation”, Sriram suggests.

Spin off: Keeping cool while playing safe.

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