Remember the outdoor life?
We have simply forgotten verandahs
Great feeling: If only we had retained such open spaces…
How many of us have seen the ‘mukhamantapa’ of Kerala, ‘balcao’ of Goa, ‘thinnai’ of Tamil Nadu or the ‘jagali katte’ in Karnataka? Undoubtedly, many of us have not only seen them, but also possibly lived in them. They are the traditional living rooms without physical walls, drawing rooms without visual boundaries and simple roofed areas providing adequate shelter. In south India, no built-up room can come closest to ecological living as does semi-open space.
Can sustainable living learn something from these spaces? Of course, there is plenty to follow up. In Auroville, many residents have returned to houses without glass windows and grills. Resorts and cottages are experimenting with large verandahs and perforated walls. Restaurants boast of outdoor dining as their speciality. Air-conditioned software offices are accepting terrace-tiled pavilions as food courts. However, for some unknown reason, urban homes are yet to catch up on this phenomenon.
Mind blocked by modernity
The idea of enclosed spaces evolved as modern architecture advanced. So did all our problems of heat, light, air and cost, in our dusty tropical country with limited construction budgets. Somewhere in this process, the idea of roofs without walls got a negative image as an ordinary village idea, to be neglected. Increased urban living necessitated enclosed security, and no wonder we all have slowly moved indoors.
Incidentally, the British had discovered how well we can live outdoors and took the idea of verandahs to a great order in their bungalow form of houses. We are forgetting living out of verandahs which both our elders and the British did!
In defence, we the architects may quote sit-outs and balconies as common elements in our modern-day designs. Let us take a walk along any typical Bangalore street, and watch the hundreds of balconies, mostly empty, without people.
Balconies are designed more for elevation than for activity. Sit-outs are more private; invisible from the street, but anyone can guess how often they are used. Even when we try to open up a room to the outside, we ensure they are fairly enclosed, citing privacy as the reason. The closely knit city sites are a good excuse to cover up all our failures.
What does all this mean? We may appreciate the way our elders lived outdoors, but we cannot simply replicate that lifestyle in the cities of today. However, the sequence of outdoor to semi-open to enclosed and then finally to the private indoors as an ideal sequence of spaces cannot be denied.
This has cultural meanings, ecological bearings and of course cost implications. Hence, the challenge is to re-invent the idea of living in the semi-open and save on the fully enclosed spaces. The challenge is to manage light, air and cost.