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Better Interiors - April 2020 issue

Time Traveller

This handsome Vasthukam-designed laterite-and-brick residence in Thrissur, Kerala, pays homage to local traditional architecture  while promoting a greener living.

 

Architect Sreenivasan Pandiyath

When Narayanan Master Puranattukara, an academician from Kerala, decided to finally build his dream home, he knew exactly what it should be like… a simple and sustainable structure reflecting the roots of traditional Kerala architecture. Luckily he knew just the man for the job — architect Sreenivasan Pandiyath. Pandiyath heads Thrissur-based organic architecture practice Vasthukam, and has in his extensive portfolio, residences, public service buildings and hospitality spaces. Several buildings dotted in and around Kerala bear a distinct Vasthukam stamp wherein every detail tries to cut back on the use of natural resources. And in a world where “eco-friendly” is tossed about loosely and with irreverent abandon, this firm makes it their philosophy and the backbone of all its work. And this house, which was to be built in Thrissur was no exception.

 

The facade of the organically constructed Thrissur residence is only a teaser of what’s to come inside. The construction materials of the house — exposed laterite and brick walls, sand pillars, and roof tiles, were either locally available or rescued from demolished buildings.

A handsome two-storey affair, the structure was constructed on a raised plinth. A short flight of steps leads you to the shade of a wide L-shaped veranda that juts out of the main structure, which is supported by sand pillars. And then you enter through the front door of the house. Inside, the living quarters are built around a large square central courtyard that is open under the sky. This design feature, called nadumuttam, is a staple in heritage Kerala homes. “The courtyard sits between four solid granite pillars sourced from old mansions 80 km away from Thrissur. These mansions are no longer in use and certain priceless architectural elements from those sites are sold at a reasonable price,” explains Pandiyath. Intended or not, this feature dominates the space as its most attractive element. The columns exude history and the square of sky laced with the tops of tall coconut trees cleverly blurs the distinction between the indoors and the outdoors. “In the old days, a courtyard was meant to cool the living spaces down. When it rained, one could enjoy the light spray that wet the edges of the courtyard and in the summer months, a stray bird or two would swoop in. Nowadays, people who opt for a central courtyard in their homes install a grill at the top, for reasons of safety,” says Pandiyath.

The house is built around the central courtyard, with four granite pillars at its corners, which used to be part of an old mansion. The courtyard, under an open sky, is an element of a typical traditional Kerala home.

The rest of the residence is arranged neatly around the courtyard. The lower level houses the kitchen, dining area and two bedrooms. The floors alternate between recycled wood and cotta stone, and simply beg to be enjoyed barefoot. In keeping with the sort of simple lifestyle that his client preferred, the home has none of the trappings of swish, urban living. There is no entertainment or media room in sight and the furniture — including few treasured cane pieces from Japan — is serviceable and sturdy. The accessories and furnishings were all moved from the owner’s former residence. The lower level sports a small niche in the wall, which serves as the puja room and under the staircase, a little slice of a powder room fits cosily into the wall. The kitchen is a large, light-filled space with all the elements of a typical Indian kitchen — a large granite slab with a neat row of cupboards under it. Fresh air wafts in from the many windows. A word about the windows — Pandiyath avoided the use of glass like the plague. “Glass was never meant for a climate like ours. It traps heat inside a house,” he explains. Instead, the architect opted for simple wooden window panels, which allow breeze and fresh air to flow in unfettered. The simplicity continues on the upper level, which has a wide landing with wooden flooring, two more bedrooms, a library and a living room.

A view of the landing on the upper level. The wood for the floor is from demolished buildings. The simple furniture and built-in cupboards leave the area uncluttered. The bright light washes throughout the space

The exposed walls, made of laterite and bricks, are a warm, welcoming hue. The insides have been plastered with layers of mud dug up from the well on site and ten truck loads from another site. During construction, Pandiyath found that the colour of the first didn’t match that of the second. Undaunted, he mixed the two and came up with an unusual colour. “The walls are not only an example of eco-friendly materials, but also of how the correct use of materials can take care of the expense and headache of maintenance later on. These walls won’t ever need a paint job, they can be cleaned with a cloth and the colour will not fade,” says Pandiyath.

A bedroom on the upper level has windows with wooden panels instead of glass, which allow constant breeze to flow in. The cupboard is fitted into a niche in the wall to save floor space.

Waste not want not, is definitely the maxim that runs through the house. The roof was constructed from a filler slab covered over in recycled MP tiles. The wood used on the floors and the doors inside the house was rescued from demolished buildings. A structure built on the roof diverts rainwater into a nearby swamp and the square of land around the house has been left natural so that the earth can soak up excess rainwater. What’s more, Pandiyath took care that the way the house was built ensured that the residents lived with minimal carbon footprint. “Nowadays, you find that the smaller the family, the more their consumption. This leads to a grave depletion in resources and the only solution is sustainable buildings,” he says. The Thrissur residence, in all its red-hued, recycled splendour, stands as a solid punctuation mark to this belief.
CONCEPT
A traditionally constructed home in Kerala is built with organic methods, which automatically reduces the carbon footprint of its residents.

MATERIALS
Foundation Rubble masonry work Wall Exposed laterite and brick, mud plastering on the walls inside Roof Filler slab covered with MP tiles Floor Wood and cotta stone Furniture Cane pieces sourced from Japan, existing wooden furniture

FACT FILE
Design firm Vasthukam Principal architect Sreenivasan Pandiyath Total plinth area 2,780 sq ft Year of completion 2009

 

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