Building future for a billion voices: the best of Indian architecture in 2022
by Jerry ElengicalDec 30, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Sunena V MajuPublished on : Feb 15, 2023
For the longest time, in many parts of India, traditional architecture composed the architecture of the elite and higher caste— whether it be the courtyard houses or religious places. An introspective dive into the chapters of history would bring forth the realities of the 'traditional' architecture we celebrate. However, in recent years, and with a new generation of architects, it can be said that most of these styles are undergoing a revolution, a state of revival. With projects like Archidobe’s Sanctum of Harmony, Wallmakers’ Chuzhi, and studio Mitti’s Flintstone6, the architects in southern India have already brought about radical means of reinventing traditional architecture in the modern context. Rooted in vernacular construction techniques, sustainable materials, local labour and a sensitive approach to the climate and topography, this new approach has been both experimental and interesting.
While designing a new farmhouse in Palakkad in Kerala, Tamil-Nadu-based Earthscape Studio also followed these new paths of vernacular construction. The Wendy House was proposed to be built on a vast eight-acre forest-like land with lots of coconut trees, mango trees, nutmeg and teak. Due to the dense spread of nature on the site, the architects had to anchor the farmhouse at a point where it wouldn't hinder the trees. Once they identified a place for the structure to be built, a grid was made which guided the form of the building in accordance with the trees near it.
Extending their environment-sensitive approach, they also tried to replace steel and concrete with local materials. This intent of the Indian architects found a home in the proposal to use a timbrel vault structure. The Wendy House, therefore, takes shape in a twin vault structure of 11m and nine metre in width, and four metre and three metre in height. “The vault form has been formed based on the position of the trees and natural surroundings which camouflages with the site. This timbrel vault technique has been followed as per my mentor Ar. Senthil Kumar Doss’s catenary-based vault structures,” mentions Petchimuthu Kennedy of Earthscape Studio.
The visitors enter the building through a padippura-like minimal arched gateway. Greeting at the entrance is a small water body formed in between the twin vault. This waterbody, along with the circulation space around it also forms a courtyard for the vaulted structure, bringing in natural light, ventilation and transparency in the interior spaces. In the spatial arrangement of the different areas, levels—guided by the contour of the site— become an intriguing element.
For the vault, the architects have used Sithu kal— small bricks of three layers— which were once widely used for the madras terrace roof technique in south India. As its use declined, the community that made these bricks also became unemployed. By bringing back this material, Earthscape Studio aims to revive the significance of the community and the sustainability associated with it. For the fourth layer, they reused waste broken tile from factories thereby avoiding expensive waterproofing chemicals. Furthermore, the rods used for the frameworks and supports of the vaults during construction have been reused for creating the built-in furniture. To enclose the twin vault, poured earth wall has been built where the mud has been collected from the site.
“Throughout the process, my mentor Ar. Vinu Daniel guided and encouraged the new techniques and methods. The total construction period is eight months during which we stayed at the site for the full construction period. Experimenting with different materials as their original forms makes the construction process interesting and the building becomes nature friendly and sustainable. The main ideology and concept of this farmhouse are to bring out a nature-friendly building and use all locally available materials making it sustainable,” shares Kennedy.
Though they tried to minimise the use of steel and concrete, at places, they make their presence as supporting elements for the vernacular palette. At the coming together of local roof tiles, earthy finishes, natural stone and olden wooden elements, The Wendy House imparts the sense of a local village residence shaped by the experimentation of the modern. Sitting in the muddy terrain of Palakkad’s agricultural layers, even when, the farmhouse blends into the earth, in colour and in structure, it still remains a foreign entity, one that is both in synch and in separation from its site.
Name: The Wendy House
Location: Kozhinjampara, Palakkad, Kerala
Area: 102 sq.m
Typology: Farm House
Architects: Earthscape Studio
Lead Architect: Petchimuthu Kennedy
Team: Rigesh Niganth, Shivani Saran S K, Maria Suvicksha Victor, Siddharth Baji, Jeffril J Kumar, Naveen Saminathan, Aparajita Vibu, Krishnaraj, Mohamed Aashik
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