Along tranquil backwaters, among the shades of coconut trees,
A peaceful retreat in God’s own country!

Spread along the Vembanad lake backwaters, Kumarakom Lake resort is an ongoing eco-retreat on the manmade Puthenkayal island in Kerala. This 40-acre site is arrayed with small artificial water channels and lies facing the backwaters in a serene natural ambience. This eco-resort of studio Morphogenesis, by Manit Rastogi and Sonali Rastogi, offers a twist to the vernacular architecture of Kerala. At first glance, we can see its form inspired by the vernacular architecture of the Kerala houseboats (kettuvallam). The vernacular nalukettu (courtyard house) form of Kerala houses, along with the kettuvallam have been referred to while designing within the local context. 

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Villas along the tranquil waters of the canal_©www.inspiringtravelcompany.co.uk
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Visualization of one of the kettuvallam inspired forms of villas stilted on the water_©Studio Morphogenesis

The architects at Studio Morphogenesis aimed to change very little in the existing land formation while designing the master plan. The villas are arranged in clusters of differently sized units such that they interact with the surroundings in a very natural and harmonious manner. The stilted built structures and connecting pathways help retain the unique character of the location while also providing safety from uncertain water levels. The location of the villas is over-layered with the striated water channels running through in such a way that they create an interlocking movement system of road and pathways. This network is periodically hyphenated with nodes connecting to a tertiary movement system linking villas. The pathways are covered to provide rain protection, ensuring they connect effectively while maintaining privacy and peace for each of the individual units. Along with this, the condition of no vehicle movement inside the site and a clear distinction between the location of facilities and villas helped to construct the master plan. 

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Distribution of the clusters and other facilities in the master plan_©architecture.live

The aerodynamic form was developed considering the microclimate of the site, along with studying the vernacular architecture. One typology of the built structures is designed as per the houseboats, while the others take inspiration from the traditional Kerala matrilineal homestead, locally called ‘Nalukettu’, where four blocks are built around a courtyard into which the roof slopes on four sides. As per various architectural studies, the passive design strategies of traditional ‘Nalukettu’ houses have been successful in maintaining comfortable indoor conditions at all seasons in southern India. The flexibility of these indoor courtyards offers a wide range of opportunities for human interaction.

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Ventilation inside a traditional Nalukettu_©researchgate.net

The steeply pitched roofs and overhanging eaves allow easy discharge of rainwater. Owing to the heavy monsoons of Kerala, it is essential to install proper drainage for the courtyard to avoid flooding the house. A well planned and well-executed drainage system can not only save the house from flooding but can also efficiently harvest rainwater that can, in turn, replenish groundwater in the growing crisis of freshwater scarcity. The integration of current technologies with passive techniques can provide cost-effective measures for human comfort in today’s houses.

This type of structure allows one to enjoy the outside rain and sunlight while also being protected from it. Furthermore, these villas are topped with aerodynamic, retractable roofs with perforated cantilevers, filtering wind and sunlight with such efficiency that night and day will remain appropriately cosy inside.

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Visualization of one of the Nalukettu inspired forms of villas stilted on the water_©Studio Morphogenesis

In the design of this resort, studio Morphogenesis tries to employ a sustainable approach by using local techniques and materials along with technologically advanced design forms. The hyperbolic form of the roof has been derived from a tree, where the foliage spread is used to provide shade whilst simultaneously creating a Venturi effect to regulate the temperature. 

The location and orientation have been derived from achieving a maximum flow of westerly winds to provide natural ventilation throughout the elongated site. Along with that, the roofs are retractable with large perforated cantilevers. This allows one to adjust the roof as per the temperature or wind outside but at the same time provides a pleasant indoor-outdoor experience. All these contribute to creating a sustainable environment on multiple levels, which is one of the main goals of studio Morphogenesis.

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Passive-Strategy_©architecture.live

Ultimately, Kumarakom Lake resort becomes a cosy, secluded oasis where people can enjoy nature. The architects of the project intend to create an identity for the project that engages the imagination of the client by setting it amidst a calm setting. Its sustainability and architectural character also add to its quality as a space. While exhibiting a distinct uniqueness, the resort is an ode to Kerala’s regional identity. 

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Visualization of one of the kettuvallam inspired forms of villas stilted on the water, with the hyperbolic roof and cantilevers_©Studio Morphogenesis

References:

  1. Morphogenesis. (n.d.). Kumarakom Resort. [online] Available at: https://www.morphogenesis.org/our-works/resort-in-kerala/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2022].
  2. McCoy Mart. (2017). Kumarakom Resort by Morphogenesis. [online] Available at: https://mccoymart.com/post/kumarakom-resort-morphogenesis/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2022].
  3. ‌says, H.S. (n.d.). Nalukettu – The Heart of a Tharavad – Archipasta. [online] Available at: https://archipasta.com/archipasta/#:~:text=Nalukettu%20or%20%E2%80%98courtyard%20house%E2%80%99%20is%20the%20most%20evolved [Accessed 10 Apr. 2022].
  4. Anon, (2016). Kumarakom Resort, Kerala – Morphogenesis Architects – ArchitectureLive! [online] Available at: https://architecture.live/kumarakom-resort-kerala-morphogenesis-architects/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2022].
  5. ‌Blog, S.M.T.B. to (n.d.). Socio-Cultural Manifestation in Built Form- Kerala. [online] Morphogenesis. Available at: https://www.morphogenesis.org/media/socio-cultural-manifestation-in-built-form-kerala/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2022].
Author

An observant and wandering soul, Gandhali has always been fascinated by the power that words can hold. While exploring architecture, she developed an interest to learn about spaces and the life in them, and about seeing architecture through words. She strives to be able to express through her words too.

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