Vernacular Architecture of Tamil Nadu

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Vernacular Architecture of Tamil Nadu

Vernacular housing is a type of architectural housing that is original to a region. It’s built by people of the region itself with materials that are readily available. As opposed to buildings designed by architects, the form of indigenous architecture does not particularly have to be designed. Since it has a common form it can be built by any skilled person of the region itself. Even though every region has its own vernacular house architecture, similarities can sometimes be seen in the forms of the architecture of different regions (mainly due to similarities in climatic conditions), although they’re different due the fact that indigenous architecture is built by and for people of their own region. Just like every country in the world, India has its own vernacular architecture.

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Although, unlike many other countries, India consists of different states with wildly varying physical conditions. They vary in climate, types of materials, cultures, language, and several other factors. As a result of all these conditions, each state has its own indigenous architecture. For example, the architecture of Tamil Nadu is based upon its environmental conditions and culture. There are two types of houses in Tamil Nadu namely community-based houses which are planned and occupation-based houses which have organically grown throughout the years (Jayasudha, 2014, pp. 39). There is hierarchy in the way people reside in these houses.

The people of higher caste live in important areas whereas the people of lower caste live in areas close to the agrarian field. Several characteristics of vernacular housing include building next to water source (river) to help with the hot weather conditions of Tamil Nadu, orienting the house in East-West direction, compact size of settlement, and the surrounding of settlement by agricultural fields. Although as a community the settlements have several common characteristics, the houses itself are different from each other on a street-to-street level. Just like any other region, Tamil Nadu has gone through several stages of vernacular housing. It started off as a single-spaced-multifunctional-dwelling made out of mud, thatch and other indigenous materials (Jayasudha, 2014, pp. 40). It has a dome shaped roof and circular plan which later evolved to a rectangular plan

The second stage of development resulted in housing with three divisions which are the verandah, living hall and kitchen space, in that order. The arrangement of the housing is hierarchical; it defined zones as public, semiprivate and private. The male occupied the verandah, the family occupied the living hall and the female occupied the kitchen. Not only did the form of the house evolve but also its materials. These houses used materials like stone, laterite stone, country wood, mud mortar, bamboo and tiles for construction (Jayasudha, 2014, pp. 42). The roof is pitched and made out of tiles.The third and most important stage of development in Tamil Nadu’s vernacular architecture was the inclusion of a courtyard into tripartite house of stage two. The courtyard was open to sky and helped change the micro climate of the house. To accommodate the courtyard, the roof of the houses had to be made with ridges and valleys. Also, as opposed to the previous houses, permanent materials were used instead of temporary. The materials used were brick, stone, wood, tiles, mud and lime mortar (Jayasudha, 2014, pp. 43).

Later courtyard dwellings of Tamil Nadu also used this as a model. The vernacular architecture of Tamil Nadu also three different typologies out of which two are common and the third one is rare. Typology one of housing, has the courtyard at the center of the house. Although, as seen in the diagram, unlike courtyard houses of other countries, the courtyard is not the center of the house itself. The house is raised on a platform which acts as a threshold between the public and private spaces. Deep overhangs of the house helps the wind travel from the streets to the house. The courtyard is extremely important to the house as it provides light, ventilation, a place to collect rainwater, and a space for the performance of Tamilian rituals. Most Tamilian rituals use fire while performing the rituals and the smoke from it is let out of the courtyard. Also, in the diagram below, it can be seen that both the back and front entrances are on an axis with the courtyard and since there are no rooms in between, the public cannot view the private spaces.

Typology two of vernacular housing has houses with courtyard shifted to one side with rest of the functional spaces being on the other three sides. The entry and exit of the house are still on the axis of the courtyard. Wealthy people have more than one courtyard. Although the form of the house remains, every house has certain differences based on preference (including ornamentation). Typology three is comparatively rare and owned only by wealthy families. There are no courtyard spaces inside the house, and it consists of double height spaces. There are two raised platforms (thinnai) separating parts of the due to caste differences. The outer thinnai acts as a porch. Typology three houses are usually have several largegatherings, hence the largeness of the house. It consists of two kitchens, one for smaller gatherings and other for larger. (Jayasudha, 2014).

The vernacular architecture in Tamil Nadu is exceedingly sustainable. It lets for the heat gain during Winter seasons and cooling during the summer, also providing constant ventilation for the house (Jayasudha, 2014). Sustainablility is achieved through several techniques like making the house East-West facing, having strict row houses with a narrow lane that separates two houses and provides ventilation, using natural materials, and using wall thickness as a way of providing insulation. Vernacular architecture in Tamil Nadu is not only sustainable but also protects the house from harsh climates. Although the people are aware of this, scientific tests were conducted only recently. These tests show that the systems used for climate control are extremely effective which results in a comfortable interior space no matter what the climate it outside (Radhakrishnan, 2011). Aspects of Tamilian vernacular architecture that are still used for certain buildings include simple plans, load bearing walls and the use of indigenous materials for construction (Seetharaman, 2014). This shows that the traditional construction of housing was and still is effective.

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