Wooden posts, antique columns
Pillars are the foremost element seen in elevation, and hence contribute much to the external looks of a building.
Recyclability of material components is among the primary principles of green architecture and building rating systems. Antique wooden pillars, as they are today called in the market, are amongst the most popular of all recycled materials from demolished buildings. No wonder, wood has always been an attraction, carved beautifully or not, for sheltering human civilisation, with most early buildings virtually starting from wood for construction.
Traditional huts were supported upon simple tree posts, which led to tree trunks being cut and shaped as desired. When building with stone was felt possible or concrete technology was developed, the basics learnt by timber architecture continued as first principles. Wooden pillars also expressed the social status of the building owners. In the past, most village houses had the same method of construction with verandahs, wooden pillars and sloping tiled roofs. The first distinction between houses of farmers and landlords would be in their front looks, in the degree of carvings in the pillars – while the poor settled with simple posts, the rich had ornate pillars.
This desire for such ornate carved columns continues in our culture. From five star hotels to lavish bungalows, we see grand visual statements being made by decorative columns, mostly in concrete, plaster of paris, synthetic materials like fiber glass or mortar, all done to look alike traditional wooden pillars, softly suggesting carved wood as a time-tested attraction.
Modern architecture shuns carved ornate appearances, but if the building owners like tradition, it is possible to blend the pillars of the past with the design ideology of the present. Besides recycling a material, they create a sense of continuity, juxtapose tradition with modernity and connect the building to local design roots.
The solace in reuse
In many parts of south India, like Kochi, Karaikudi and Pondicherry, there are informal markets thriving on antique sales. Besides, most towns have demolition contractors or dealers in old building materials who can supply carved pillars and doors. While it feels sad to see the demolitions, the possibilities of a carved pillar not being used as firewood brings solace to the mind, in case we can reuse them. There are numerous cases where people gave away their antique belongings to genuine takers, while refusing to sell them to commercial middlemen.
Unfortunately, there is an argument that the market demand for anything antique leads to demolition of old buildings, which is not all true. Monetary gain by reselling the salvaged materials could be among the consolations, but hardly anyone pulls down century-old houses just to sell and earn, for the earnings are no match for getting another house built.
Pillars are the foremost element seen in elevation, and hence contribute much to the external looks of the building. However, more importantly, in a tropical country like ours, it is a pleasure to sit in an open verandah or internal court, flanked by traditional wooden pillars, either to work or to relax.