Folded walls save on cost, provide deep alcoves for shade and protect windows from rain

Have you ever tried to go close up to a tree trunk or a hill-side cliff? You will notice the seemingly plain surface has a thousand minute folds. How is the surface of a seemingly smooth rock boulder? Close up, it is rugged and not in one smooth plane. What about fruits, vegetables, timber logs or tender coconut shells? It is the same story everywhere — all non-planar, rough textured, micro-folded and gently curving.

If nature never had a smooth, straight and fine finish, where did we humans get all these ideas for our constructions from? Why are we not trying to learn from and emulate nature?

Village scene

Incidentally, we have followed nature, but mostly during the earlier days. Let us look at a typical Indian village home.

The vernacular-style approach used to be rustic and not in perfect plane, being hand or simple trowel-plastered.

Often there would be natural materials such as stone, timber or bricks left exposed, hence solar passive, also creating a sense of local material and character.

Smooth-plastered walls receive more heat compared to rough-textured ones, since the latter cast micro shades within the wall, thanks to their roughness.

If used in the natural state without plastering, brick and stone exhibit such a textured surface that they absorb much lesser heat.

Beauty of curved walls

Gentle curves are part of most objects found in nature, which could be blended with our regular walls to get multiple benefits.

We rarely make full use of all the four corners of the a room, as such and hence, converting one corner into a curved edge does not reduce functionality. Critical areas where storage, furniture, shelves, platforms and such others that happen could be left straight, while the movement areas and passages can flow along a curve.

There could be issues like fixing windows, casting curved lintel beams, workmanship, perfect plaster levels and difficulty in using tools.

However, if we are able to retain the sense of the curve, the job is well done.

In our context, building materials such as stone or brick are rectilinear, hence making the curve using such geometrical blocks needs an expert mason.

Folded walls

Among the much less used variety is the folded wall typology. It was Laurie Baker who discovered that thinner walls with half-brick thickness saved money, but need to be folded to gain strength. Incidentally, from an ecological perspective, these folded walls have add-on values!

They create so many external deep-set alcoves that most wall surface is under shade.

Not all rooms of a house could be comfortable with folded walls.

In non-residential building types like those at Hosa Jeevan Daari at Melukote, such a wall plan internally creates storage niches, with an overall elevation that looks different and attractive.

Windows now set within the alcoves are well sheltered from rain, with no additional chajja protection needed. One approach can reap many benefits.

SATYAPRAKASH VARANASHI

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