The magic of 'jaali' work

It’s artistic, fosters environmental sustainability and keep costs low, says Anupama Mohanram

Updated - February 23, 2018 06:48 pm IST

Published - February 23, 2018 01:03 pm IST

A s a child I would always enjoy peering through small openings as it provided me with a totally different view of the ‘world’ beyond. Peering through a jaali or perforated screen takes this experience a step further by adding an artistic element to the visual experience. Traditional jaalis involved extensive handiwork by artisans and formed a major aesthetic element in Indian, Indo-Islamic and Islamic architecture.

Early jaali work involved carving into stone, generally in geometric patterns, while later the Mughals used very finely carved plant-based designs, as seen at the Taj Mahal. In current times they are created from materials as varied as cement, wood, metal and even fibre reinforced plastics.


As I pursued my architectural career, what struck me most about jaali s, were the multiple roles they could play in a building’s design. Here is a design element that can be made as beautiful as you would want it to be through customisation to provide a unique identity/character to the space. A jaali lets in adequate natural light and ventilation without the use of more expensive conventional windows systems and also provides security in lieu of the more expensive metal grill work used today.

In Chennai, interesting jaalis can be effectively combined with adequate shading and insect screens and used to ventilate spaces such as staircase areas, foyers and even common spaces such as living and dining rooms. Pre-fabricated ones made with terracotta and precast concrete are readily available today. Custom designs can be created in materials as varied as natural stone and metal as well. What is even more exciting to me is its contribution to environmentally conscious design, letting in breeze and filtered sunlight without the direct heat and glare, a passive solar element. This is especially a boon in hot tropical climes as it helps maintain indoor thermal comfort.This traditionally used element is artistic, fosters environmental sustainability and keep costs low.

The author is the founder of Green Evolution, acity-based sustainablearchitecture firm

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