Charmingly vernacular

Natural materials styled to suit local conditions can pack in design elements that can be totally arresting in aesthetics, and sustainable as well. A look by NANDHINI SUNDAR

Structures invariably veer towards a theme, be it contemporary, traditional, or Victorian, the building conforming to the styles dictated by each. While each of these could be built on sustainable lines, incorporating green elements, opting for a structure that is by the very essence of its style sustainable in character and representation can serve to be both unique and charming.

Vernacular architecture is precisely that, offering a structure that is stunning in representation while packing in an old-world charm that can serve to be rejuvenating. Using only natural materials and styled to suit local conditions, vernacular architecture packs in design elements that can be totally arresting in aesthetics.

The mode of construction opted here is totally traditional, incorporating local practices which calls for specialised skills. Random rubble stone and mud blocks are some of the commonly used elements in the construction and these require specific skills that the local workforce is trained in. Laterite stone is also used heavily in vernacular architecture, its colour and texture lending an arresting façade to the building.

Interestingly, vernacular architecture, given its leaning towards local skills and construction methodologies, tends to dispense in most cases with columns and beams, built very much on the lines of past structures which opted for pure masonry work sans RCC. Vernacular architecture leans more towards high ceilings, arches that offer free flowing interiors which are accentuated by the green courtyards and water bodies that form an integral part of the structure. Besides, the height of the ceiling ensures there is plenty of natural light and ventilation while the water bodies keep the interiors naturally cool.


The presence of arches also eliminates the need for lintels, reducing further the quantity of steel used in construction. These arches can manifest as semi-circular representations or even as flat elements to lend a special charm. Stone arches can further accentuate the charm with the stones craftily stacked and held together without any binding material. While this traditional style is popular, a factor that deters many from increasingly opting for vernacular architecture is the need for skilled labour for construction.

Says architect Khalid Rehman of Centre for Vernacular Architecture, “Structures using random rubble require labour with special training to pile the stones deftly so as to reduce the gaps ensuing in between. With very little cement used for binding these stones, these gaps are essentially filled with smaller pieces of stone, a factor that requires both experience and skill.”

Mud walls are also popular options of vernacular architecture in a rural ambience. Such walls are similar to ones used by rural houses and are extensively labour intensive. They are constructed from a mixture of mud, sand and sawdust and shaped to the required form.

The roofs equally pack in plenty of character and the green element with many having tiled options. These tiles are supported by wooden or steel rafters while coconut wood too can be used for support, according to Khalid. “Coconut wood, however, requires to be seasoned and treated well before use,” he says. Filler slabs are equally popular in place of tiles for the roof. The mud wallsas well as the tiled roofs add to the insulation of the interiors.


Flooring in vernacular architecture is again representative of traditional elements, with handmade tiles like Athangudi being used, along with oxide flooring, be it red or yellow.

While natural stone is also used, Athangudi stands out with its colourful representation. Wood when used is plantation wood which again speaks the sustainable story.

To accentuate the structural beauty and blend effortlessly into the décor, we have antique doors and windows and wooden pillars. Stacked columns prevail in plenty in courtyards and porches.

The Centre for Vernacular Architecture, which constructs buildings only in the vernacular style, was founded by late R.L. Kumar who was a Chartered Accountant by profession but took to architecture out of passion for design and buildings.

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