Kerala architecture is well known for its unique wooden construction with intricately carved designs, gabled roofs and extended open verandahs. Southern India is famous for its traditional homes and temple architecture, especially Kerala. However, all wood constructions are now impractical as wood is very expensive. Lifestyle changes have further encouraged modern architects to intelligently synchronize traditional wooden architecture with the present day construction techniques. This unique blend of styles has metamorphosed into some stunningly beautiful homes in Kerala.
A modern home incorporating old style Kerala architecture
Modern homes in Kerala are made from a mix of concrete, bricks and wood. The main building is made of concrete with some parts of the house showcasing intricate wooden designs and structures. These constructions have still not parted ways with the ancient principles of Vaastu.
Lawrence Baker, the late English architect was fascinated by Kerala architecture and settled down in Tiruvananthapuram, Kerala. These are his own words “The various styles of architecture are all the result of thousands of years of ordinary people trying to make buildings that keep out the rain, wind and sun by using locally available materials. So I see what principles have developed over centuries and then apply these principles to what I want to do for my client. Sometimes, the local architecture is so beautiful and so apt that I feel it would be foolish and an affront to try and design in any other way.” (Source: http://lauriebaker.net/personal/life/biography-summary.html)
Features of old Kerala architecture used in modern homes -
Every traditional home in Kerala had a small door called ‘Padippura’ with a tiled roof, forming part of the compound wall surrounding the house. In modern homes, ‘Padippura’ has given way to a wider gate system facilitating the entry of cars. However, some gates still have an arch or padippura like framework in wood, towering above the gates.
Poomukham, Chuttu Verandah and Charupady
Poomukham is the main entrance to the house, characterized by an open area with a sloping roof supported by pillars, leading into the house. Old style poomukhams were wooden pillars with carved designs. The same effect is achieved now using concrete pillars and POP designs.
Chuttu Verandah is an open verandah joining the poomukham on both sides, supported by pillars, thru which you can walk around the house. Many modern homes still feature an open verandah surrounding the house. The wooden pillars and wooden floors have given way to round, concrete pillars and modern flooring like marble, granite etc.
Charupaddy – carved design on wood
Charupady is a resting area, adjoining the poomukham and the chuttu verandah, characterized by wooden seats with carved wooden back rests. This traditional feature is still preserved in modern homes. The seats are usually granite or marble with back rests made of carved wooden pieces.
Nadumuttom – Photo credits: Unnikrishnan2011
Nadumuttom is a traditional open courtyard right in the middle of a traditional home. Being square shaped, this leads to the house interiors on all the four sides. This ‘open to the sky’ feature lets in ample amount of sunlight and fresh air into the house. These houses are called ‘Naalu kettu’ meaning a structure with four sided distribution. In modern Kerala homes, due to security reasons, this open courtyard is covered with a sloping roof higher than the roofs over the other parts of the house in such a way that proper ventilation is still achieved in spite of not being open to the sky. Pergola, Stained glass or safety grills may also be used for as roofing over the open courtyard. Wooden or concrete pillars made to look like wood, are used to border this courtyard.
Modern staircase with carved wooden railings and glass balusters.
’All wood’ staircases have been replaced by marble, stone or granite stairs with wooden railings. Some stairs have veneer or laminate coverings on a concrete base. The intricately carved teak wood railings and balusters of old style Kerala architecture have been retained in modern homes.
Doors and windows
Beautifully carved and polished teak or rosewood doors and windows are still a part of every Kerala home. Often, the designs have gold colored enameling, etching or beading work done. This is one feature that has not been done away with. The door handles and fixtures also have intricately carved designs in shades of gold.
In addition to the above, North east placed Pooja rooms with wooden paneling and mural paintings are still seen in modern houses of Kerala. The traditional pond or ‘Ambala Kulam’ is seen on large properties.
With a few design changes, features of traditional Kerala architecture can still be made a part of modern homes.