The welcome verandahs
Imagine how multi-functional they have been, managing every activity, starting with being an entrance to a home.
If we were to name one element of Indian architecture which could be listed as being good in every sense – eco feature; cultural expression; climate friendly; cost effective; zero life cycle cost and functional – it could be the ubiquitous and age-old verandah. Call it jagali, thinnai, chaavadi, balcao, katte or by any other name, verandahs have been part of our traditional architecture like no other element has been. And imagine how multi-functional they have been, managing every activity from being an entrance to a home to a place for serving tea, home office or sleeping area! It’s surprising, how we tend to forget our near past, when the wave of modernity takes over. Till recently, most of our buildings exhibited an open space, only roofed, at the entrance of the building, and would often go round the building too.
Found all over our country, the idea was celebrated by the British, who developed the bungalow-type of houses, with the verandahs virtually wrapping the building. Graduating from the house level, verandahs appeared in all public buildings, schools, courts, commissioner’s office, inspection bungalows and all other public structures.
Being open all around, it’s but natural that verandahs cost less to build and maintain. During the days of no fan or A/C., this shaded area could have been among the most comfortable areas built with the least cost. No wonder, the verandahs either became the living rooms accommodating guests or were used as family spaces on quieter occasions.
During family events, food was served here and children played around. Guests from distant towns who could not travel back due to the paucity of travel options, simply slept off at these naturally air conditioned areas. All these varied functional possibilities were feasible only in the verandahs.
Not disliked by anyone
In these days where buildings are looking more like boxes, creating an inviting and attractive elevation has been a critical issue. With its beautiful carved pillars and homely artefacts lying around, no extra money was spent in the past for elevation, once people placed a front verandah.
It also created a distinct sense of entrance, where the front roof would contrast with the rest of building. It’s common to find the verandah with sloping tiled roof, with the house wall rising from behind. New-age owners may not take a verandah in the new construction, but by and large, the aesthetics of verandahs may not be disliked by anyone!
Treated as outdated?
Can one forget the visit to Chettinad houses in Tamil Nadu or the Malnad homes of Karnataka? Yet we see less of verandahs in modern buildings. Has the effectiveness of this idea, time tested for thousands of years, suddenly vanished? Are we bored with the routine, thinking that verandahs are now outdated?
It’s time to re-discover verandahs, specially when the greatest validation for verandahs has come from the famed Sri Lankan architect Anjalendran, who till recently managed his consultancy office from the verandah of his mother’s house!