Living with Earth

It has a rich vernacular architecture tradition still prevailing with its glorious old houses, and other western influenced buildings having a sense of climate and the region. “Unfortunately, today the construction of buildings, especially houses, are becoming a threat to this ecologically sensitive

Ar. Biju Balan's home 'Chaman' built at Malamparambil in Kozhikode is like a scene out of a dream sequence.

Kerala, with an unusual landscape of vast stretch of Western Ghats and long beach, within a span of around 600 km long and 60 to 100 km lowland to high land, also possess a unique climate with rich monsoon rains, diverse tropical flora and fauna and thus aptly termed as GOD’S OWN COUNTRY. It has a rich vernacular architecture tradition still prevailing with its glorious old houses, and other western influenced buildings having a sense of climate and the region. “Unfortunately, today the construction of buildings, especially houses, are becoming a threat to this ecologically sensitive region. Use of natural resources like brick, laterite, etc. in a way so that they cannot be recycled, concrete roofs adding heat buildup, covering land with filled earth and putting concrete paving enabling quick run off of water, cutting the supply of underground water – are all resulting environmental imbalance,” says Ar. Biju.

In this context, the architect tried to design his own house using modern technology and natural materials in such a way that most of the materials can be recycled in future, just like traditional houses of Kerala, while providing ample lighting, ventilation and comfort without artificial means for most of the time.

In this context, the architect tried to design his own house using modern technology and natural materials in such a way that most of the materials can be recycled in future, just like traditional houses of Kerala, while providing ample lighting, ventilation and comfort without artificial means for most of the time. The architect tries to utilise the special provisions of building rules to best utilise the space of 4 cents land where normal building rule allows only 50 percent construction of the plot, leaving space around the house which become useless for planting, no proper lighting, privacy and safety of the inhabitants.

CONCEPT AND DESIGN

The house has its wall on the southern long boundary, steel fabricated construction on the opposite boundary, north wall utilising best available space, leaving a big courtyard at the centre of the plot for rain water collection (which the architect states, must become a provision in Rules to conserve water in every plot of Kerala) for easy growth of trees, agriculture and to develop cool micro climate inside the house, provided the wind is channeled through smaller openings throughout the day and night. These openings are having privacy too since they face the courtyard. With features like pond with fishes, natural bird nests, seasoning flowers, sun ray patterns, moon light, rain fall etc., the inhabitants expected to live with the earth - as in traditional houses.

The Laterite stones used for wall area are exposed, so that they hardened over time, enabling recycling on demolition. All the materials used, including the Kota Stone slabs, wood and plain plywood, tempered glass, steel frames for middle floor and roofs and roofing bitumen (Onduline) sheets, can be recycled.

The Architect firmly believes that the traditional Keralite way of lifestyle; living with natural fresh air, positive sunlight, earthy floors and walls without the use of air conditioning, ceiling fans or any artificial paints, the body attains immunity and with that, one leads a healthier life. For the walls, he has only used traditional shell lime paint for plaster and gypsum ceilings.

“A Keralite today lives in pollution. He goes to and comes back from workplace via polluted road for hours, sit in closed rooms without fresh air for hours even though air conditioned, and comes back to houses which are again closed, and hot in the day and night, filled with mosquito repellent and harmful fumes of polishes and paint. Eventually, he becomes diseased to an extent that sometimes even gets a cancer.

“A Keralite today lives in pollution. He goes to and comes back from workplace via polluted road for hours, sit in closed rooms without fresh air for hours even though air conditioned, and comes back to houses which are again closed, and hot in the day and night, filled with mosquito repellent and harmful fumes of polishes and paint. Eventually, he becomes diseased to an extent that sometimes even gets a cancer. Artificial glazed flooring causes falling incidents of old people and no proper way of using toilets adds to the unhealthy life style. Architects design for a higher class of the society, leaving a major population who are the backbone of developing Kerala, prone to this unhealthy life. Earlier, the traditional houses from hut to palace were designed by ‘thatchans’ the architects of Kerala. Now everyone blindly follows their ‘measurements’ - without realising how they designed, houses which are still beautiful, comfortable and giving back a lot of money after demolition even after surviving for nearly two centuries,” comments Ar. Biju Balan.

Ar. Biju Balan has tried to design his own house using modern technology and natural materials in such a way that most of the materials can be recycled in future, just like traditional houses of Kerala, while providing ample lighting, ventilation and comfort without artificial means for most time of the day.

In Chaman, with features like pond with fishes, natural bird nests, seasoning flowers, sun ray patterns, moon light, rainfall, etc., the inhabitants expected to live with the earth - as in traditional houses.

The article was published in the September issue 2016 of SURFACES REPORTER.

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