“The pandemic has been good for us,” says Dhinakar Perumal, who owns the Nirmala Nilayam Retirement Community campus near Siruvani, 15 kilometres from Coimbatore city. “COVID-19 gave us ample time to revisit traditional architectural designs such as the sky-lit courtyard that lets sunlight to filter in and disinfect the building,” he says.
The compact villas for senior citizens modelled after the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards of the US, also use the traditional Open To Sky (OTS) design, where an area in the house directly opens to the sky and is covered by fibre or translucent glass. “Nothing like sunlight to sanitise homes,” says architect Manikandan Ilango who has designed the villas. He has done projects across South India for over two decades and is also working on green villas. “Healthy living is the keyword now. Our vernacular buildings with courtyards were designed with forethought. At NNRC, we have used natural sunlight wherever possible. OTS is a traditional concept that we lost along the way. It is now making a comeback.”
Dhinakar says the project took off when he started looking for a retirement home for his mother. “Retirement communities abroad pack in a lot of fun. I frequented some in the suburbs of Malden, Massachusetts, during my stay in Boston,” says Dhinakar adding how watched the community play pétanque, basketball, croquet and frisbee. He adds, “That’s the kind of retirement home, a place buzzing with energy that I wanted for my mother. I found none. Though she passed away the same year, I decided to go ahead with the project in her memory.”
More people are opting for sky-lit courtyards, especially during the pandemic, says Bengaluru-based Sathya Prakash Varanashi who specialises in sustainable architecture. “All traditional homes around the world, in Japan, India, Europe or Africa have OTS courtyard in the centre. We avoided it in modern day buildings, because of mosquitos or the fear of rainwater coming in. Now, we cover it with window grill for security and use glass for light.”
Sathya Prakash, who has designed homes in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu for over two decades says sunlight inside homes ensures continuous circulation of fresh air. “It is best to have the ceiling at 15 or 20 ft high to accommodate the courtyard. This way, inside spaces look larger and better.” He lists out other advantages too: the ability to bathe in sunlight right inside your homes and get a dose of Vitamin D.
Located at Theethipalayam, off Siruvani Road, at the foothills of the Western Ghats, the sprawling campus of NNRC has spaces earmarked for pottery, sculpting and painting. A gazebo that has a double-layered tile roofing and open sides all around stands tall in the middle of the property. Says Dhinakar, “This open space also has natural light coming in from all directions and it can be used to learn arts, music, yoga or just to meditate. We have OTS primarily in spaces that are wet like bathrooms, utility areas, and kitchen. The ceiling is kept at 11 ft to ensure better air circulation in rooms. The portico uses traditional Kerala style double-layered tiled roof for a cooling effect.”
- Consult an expert. One should ensure that it is set up at a specified angle and is waterproof
- Choose a clear or translucent glass cover
- Ensure that there is an outlet to let hot air out
- If occupants are averse to exposure to direct sunlight, the space can be designed to allow partial exposure
- Trellises can be used or trees can be planted outside for partial shading
- Retractable shading can also be designed, especially for bedrooms
- To know more on OTS, call 96773-33697/ 96773-33025
- Visit https://www.nnrc.in/
Dhinakar says he wants to replicate the model he saw in the US. “There, people live it up at retirement homes. I want this to be a space where they stay healthy, learn new hobbies, and pursue their passion. We even painted the walls in yellow to ensure that the space is bright and cheerful.”
He has uploaded YouTube videos on how to use OTS in infrastructure too. “In Chettinad homes in Karaikudi, it is called ‘muttu kattu veedu’ where the design helps that were designed to conserve water. We have drawn the theory from there and implemented it differently to ensure germ-free interiors.”
Bird song and blue skies
The OTS concept has gained traction among people designing holiday homes away from the city, who want to bring Nature back into their lives, says Mumbai-based Neha Arte, an artist and environmental architect who works with sustainable designs and green buildings. “OTS works beautifully for green buildings that are basically about creating energy efficient, healthy and comfortable spaces. It saves energy as it reduces the need for artificial lighting and mechanical ventilation,” she adds. Then, there are added perks such as views of lush treetops and bursts bird song that enhance the indoors, when it is so closely connected with the outdoors.