Spread the coolness, and the space

Courtyards, open halls and verandahs of the past suited the climate of the region.

Have we observed how we feel stuffy and suffocating in small rooms in south India, while the larger spaces with many windows are relaxing and soothing? Contrastingly, up north in Kulu-Manali, a large space could be freezing and debilitating, where people would rather get locked up in small, warm rooms. Just a matter of how our activity spaces are located, either as an interconnected open plan or a plan with compact and enclosed rooms.

Last week, we discussed how narrow internal passages negate the movement of light and air. Interestingly, there has been a discussion/rejoinder soon after, stating how passages also mean compressed spaces restricting even the sense of space, opening up a whole new talk on buildings with open planning.


Most south Indian homes of the past were fairly open in the floor plan, irrespective of the size of the house. Only the kitchen and pooja were for sure proper rooms! Some houses would have had proper bedrooms in some cases, rest of the house being open halls with column support for the roof.

These open rooms could take on any activity — dining, sleeping, family function, receiving guests, occasional large worships or even storing farm produce.

Observing this, an European architect on cultural study here remarked that our vernacular houses do not have rooms; the whole house is like a room.

Incidentally, it is the Europeans who during the colonial era introduced the concept of house plan as a collection of individual rooms, each enclosed by walls and closed by a door. Passages and common spaces connect these rooms.

Local needs

European continent being a cold region, more the number of rooms with least external walls, greater the trapping of heat. The British transplanted their lifestyle into most parts of India, and the past practice of south India with open halls that suited this hot, humid region got a back seat. Simultaneously, the internal courtyard and external verandahs also made a gentle exit, being replaced by formal rooms.

Interestingly, the British realised their folly shortly thereafter. The now popular word, bungalow, was born around this time, merging the dreams of a colonial house with the harsh local climatic realities.

Typically found with large verandahs, the high-pitched roofs, deep roof projections as rain eaves, wall-top ventilators, light from roof or just below roof, oblong house plan rather than square ones and many such ideas attempted to localise the European house form.

Right plan

Even in the hot, humid region of south India, a small bit of heat may have to be retained to keep the short spell of winter warmer, especially in certain specific regions, including hill stations. However, at large, we need a plan form that spreads the coolness, with the least of obstacles like walls. If so, a house full of rooms each with hardly one window is bound to create a house of complaints, warm with temperatures and not the warmth of people!


Posted on June 4, 2011, in designs, fundamentals and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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