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Architect Babu Cherian on Kerala’s Vernacular Tradition and Architecture

Home to multiple ideologies moulded from varied cultures, Kerala is a state which is a kaleidoscope of religions, cultures, cuisine and architecture
Architect Babu Cherian, Principal, BCA Architecture, Calicut

Kerala has managed to imbibe in itself a language of itself which can be seen in all contexts of life uniformly throughout Kerala. But when seen through the far reaching lens of history, Kerala always has been a land which stands out for a willingness to receive with open arms any new culture, ideology and style which finds itself in the horizon.

“Home to multiple ideologies moulded from varied cultures, Kerala is a state which is a kaleidoscope of religions, cultures, cuisine and architecture,” says Architect Babu Cherian, Principal, BCA Architecture, Calicut. 

It was natural for such a race of people to develop their houses and architecture to welcome guests and make them feel special. The inspiration came from the architecture of Kerala’s famous temples. Coupled with an intent to make every space compliant with nature, traditional elements have always carved a niche of their own. From the gated padipura (entry gate) and to the airy poomukham (sit out), the priority then and now was to make guests feel at home.

The Naalukettu

The most basic form of a traditional Kerala house is the naalukettu, a four block structure with an open courtyard in the centre. Four sets of sloping roofs descend in a manner allowing rainwater to percolate down. The naalukettu can be extended to an ettukettu (8 blocks) with two courtyards or a pathinaarukettu (16 blocks) with four courtyards.

Babu Cherian

The location of each room and space is governed by Vastushastra (an ancient science of architecture). These house forms were limited only to the elite while the lower class of the society opted for small single blocked structures.

Independent Plot Of Land

A peculiar and unique factor amongst the Keralites was the requirement to have an independent plot of land. Unlike people elsewhere, we are known to wish for adequate surrounding space and this attribute comes from their preference for having their own front and backyards. Wanting to be self-sufficient and self-reliable, wells were dug deep in almost every plot to ensure a steady supply of water even during the summers.

Materials & Techniques

Turning towards the materials used for construction, wood was and still is to Keralites what marble was to the famed Mughals. Wood continues to be a preferred source of building material. Looking at Kerala’s traditional form of architecture, we can basically point out a few materials that have been consistent throughout its evolution.

The walls were primarily built of stone especially laterite which has a very unique property of hardening with time. The unique roofs designed and built to withstand torrential downpours had a structural framework made of timber over which tiles made of clay were laid. Wood again was used to make doors, windows and their frames. Any traditional residence built in traditional Kerala architecture style is very rich in its woodwork. Kerala developed a unique science called “Thatchushastra” meaning “science of carpentry” which formed the basis of Kerala architecture as we know today.

Babu Cherian

Even with the advent of modern age, most materials have remained as was before. Wood still continues to be used in abundance though structural elements have been replaced for the most part with concrete solutions. With the rising cost of timber, creating columns, beams and roof framework out of wood would prove to be absurdly expensive. But wood still finds a major role in fabricating doors and windows which are almost exclusively made of timber in a traditional structure.

Walls are still built of laterite in most places owing to the high quality of the stone and good thermal qualities. Bricks are also used predominantly. Modern developments such as aerated autoclave concrete blocks are also gaining popularity in the industry.

“A modern-day building built in the traditional Kerala style still retains the look and feel of traditional architecture but using materials that have been substituted with modern implements,” said Ar Babu Cherian, Principal, BCA Architecture, Calicut

The essence of traditional architecture which lies in the details is still painstakingly reproduced which celebrates the prowess of the artisan rather than of the architect.

Wood for one is perhaps the most celebrated material in Kerala architecture. Due to the land’s abundance of timber, wood was used as a very basic construction material. Huge logs were shaped into structural beams and columns which formed the basis of any structure.

About the Firm:

Situated in the heart of the city at Mavoor Road, BCA Architecture delivers architectural solutions for all types of projects including traditional/ contemporary style residences. With a unique combination of resources, skills and vision, he often draws inspirations from the spectacular land scenario of Kerala and the architect in him steps into the spirit and character of the Kerala style of architecture. Practising traditional vernacular architecture which features heavy use of craftsmanship, his designs and products are more the work of the craftsman than of the architect. His recent works are interpretations of the traditional Kerala style with their sloping roofs laid with Mangalore pattern tiles and plastered walls rendering a feeling of timelessness leading you to a bygone era. His residences, condominiums/apartments, commercial complexes etc strikes a chord between architecture and people. SURFACES REPORTER invited Ar Cherian to share some of his insights on Vernacular influences in modern architecture of Kerala.

About Surfaces Reporter

Surfaces Reporter is India’s 1st magazine specialized on “products & materials” for architecture & Interiors! The prime objective of Surfaces Reporter magazine is to contribute positively to the Indian material industry, with unbiased information & awareness initiatives.

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