It is a paradox that all that goes with the supposedly negative qualities of cutcha constructions are positive qualities towards green buildings and sustainability, says architect SATHYA PRAKASH VARANASHI
The word ‘cutcha’ probably did not exist before the advent of colonial rules in India. While it is difficult to define it considering the wide range of ideas there, the easier mode could be to define the pucca constructions and then simply say, the rest all are cutcha.
However in principle, cutcha is supposed to be using more of natural materials than manufactured materials; believed to be less durable compared to the pucca; more often than not built by the local building craftsmen without a formally trained skilled team and is tagged to require periodic maintenance, as if the pucca buildings need no maintenance at all.
Are all the above definitions really true? Red oxide floor is not yet counted as pucca and gets less property tax in Bangalore though such floors have been commonplace for centuries. Roof- top and garden pavilions in Mangalore tiles are hardly promoted by formal systems, though they may last longer the main pucca building.
The completely local idea of thatched roof or even a room over regular concrete roof in many parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, add a cutcha touch at a very low cost, besides keeping the building cool during the scorching summers. The mud, wood and slate roofed buildings of lower Himalayan region have existed for thousands of years, yet the PWD will not build similar structures anymore. Bamboo and rattan make up for most parts of houses in the North-East and they are in regular use even today.
The terrace-level food court found in many office buildings in Bangalore have a trussed tiled roof, basically simple shelter for staff facilities – a cutcha concept skillfully adopted for urban conditions. Semi-open verandahs with brick or wooden pillars around a house costs less than half the regular construction cost, but become part of the enclosed house during larger gatherings. Of course, they make the house appear local and cutcha. Boulder pack foundations save material, cost and time, and are valid equally in a city or a village. Perforated jaali walls are a rare combination of unique aesthetics, low cost, good ventilation, even lighting and ease of construction. Building a wall with good materials and then leaving it without plastering and painting can be modern and traditional at the same time.
All these and more examples can show how the idea of cutcha can be applied for modern day buildings without any compromise.
It is a paradox that all that goes with the supposedly negative qualities of cutcha constructions are positive qualities towards green buildings and sustainability. Mud and terracotta-based constructions best exemplify this contrast. Unfortunately our current codes for green buildings, public buildings and PWD norms do not yet accept such principles. Maybe, the private sector needs to lead the way by backing up the cutcha sector, paving the path for an eco-friendly future.
(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )