Most of us react to the building we own in two ways — either we observe it or we just live in it. In the former, there could be an understanding of its drawbacks, with feedback and ideas for improvising. The latter, of course, takes the architecture for granted, often not even realising how good the building has been. Needless to say, most of us belong to the latter category. Despite having a large stock of buildings that are both efficient and aesthetically pleasant, we tend to criticise them, seeking a change, sometimes for the worse. May be, the trend confirms the old-world adage ‘familiarity breeds contempt'! This critical introduction follows a reader's comment about how verandahs today are a waste of space in the precious urban land and possibly have no great merit.
Even in the crowded lanes of Varanasi along the Ganga or Bijapur in Karnataka, where no prominent verandahs are found, the elements of entrance are highlighted.
The entrance is well protected, niches for oil lamps flank the main door, the house is slightly raised up, door frame has a threshold and there would be some informal stone bench seating attached to the front wall. Incidentally, we notice similar features in public buildings too, with some minor modifications like niche for oil lamp missing.
What a verandah does is to enclose all these elements, adding of course, options for seating and storing footwear.
The fact that in the process it adds pillars and roof, adding a beautiful frontage needs to be counted as a bonus.
However, what matters to professionals like us professing green architecture are the ecological benefits of a having a verandah.
Early designers might have realised that roofing the area in front of the main door is the best way of safeguarding the door itself.
Naturally, the opening is now distanced from direct sun light, reducing tropical glare.
In a rain-fed country like ours, protection from rain comes by as well, if we add a verandah. This would also mean keeping the monsoon slush away and keeping the summer dust at a distance.
In a crowded street, the house with verandah appears to be slightly less noisy, thanks to the sound getting partly trapped at the entrance itself.
If the verandah is large, the deep set shadows ensure reduction in direct solar heat gain, in case the house faces south or west.
This phenomenon becomes clear when we look at some agrahara streets, with every house having a verandah in front.
Back to the query, whether a verandah is a waste of space, our answer from climatic considerations could be in the negative – verandahs are worth as eco-designs.
They appear to have the right answers for all the problems of heat, dust, glare, noise and rain.
(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )