Kerala, also known as God’s own country truly justifies its title owing to its rich natural beauty as well as cultural and traditional values. The cultural pillars of Kerala stand on the strong foundation of beliefs and respect for the past. These ethics are reflected beautifully in the architectural language of Kerala. While growing with the changing times, architecture in Kerala has always looked back to the vernacular techniques for designing exquisite structures. This is what has helped Kerala in maintaining an architectural language throughout the ages.
The vernacular architecture of any place is derived from the beneficial aspects of the climate while reducing the impact of extreme weather conditions. The warm and humid climate significantly affects the skyline of Kerala. The climatic responsive design is achieved by imbibing passive control systems and thus ensuring user comfort. Principles of Kerala architecture are based on Vastu Shastra (the science of architecture and planning) and Thachu Shastra (the science of carpentry) which are quite distinctive due to their features.
Therefore, it is important that while designing in Kerala, the building should take context from the traditional practices to put them into modern use. A continuous and consistent attempt should be made to design perfect contextual designs that are environmentally friendly. We have mentioned some of the design guidelines which should be considered while designing in Kerala:
1. Orientation and planning | Architecture in Kerala
Owing to the hot and humid climate of Kerala, the orientation of a building is a major deciding factor.
- The building should be facing the prevailing winds and not the sun to maintain cross-ventilation at all times.
- The East and west façade should be least exposed to the sun. It is advised to plant dense trees for shading
- The juxtaposition of open and closed spaces in a way to allow a continuous flow of air
Vernacular architecture of Kerala is based on the principles of Vastu Shastra which gives a layout for placement of various facilities within a house. Houses preferably face East direction according to the direction of prevailing winds. Other options are opened only when there is no access road from the east direction.
2. Natural Ventilation | Kerala Architecture
In a tropical climate, cross ventilation plays an important role in enabling comfortable indoor spaces. The presence of high moisture content and high temperatures in summer can cause thermal discomfort. To avoid such situations, the following design elements can be integrated:
- Courtyard spaces to induce continuous air movement
- Openings in opposite walls and internal partitions to allow cross-ventilation
- Use of vertical louvers and large window shutters
Courtyard spaces are extensively used in houses of Kerala of all scales. It helps in achieving passive cooling and reduces the dependence on HVAC systems.
3. Solar shading
The temperature can rise to 40 degrees Celsius in summers. Therefore it is important to incorporate sun shading elements in the design
- Verandas to avoid direct exposure of walls to the sun
- Avoid windows on the west and east walls to prevent late afternoon and early morning heat
- Include tall trees in south and north directions for shading
- Minimum glass surface should be exposed to direct sunlight
- Use overhangs, louvers, canopies, etc. for sheltering
- Shading devices for windows and doors to avoid solar heat gain
Traditional buildings in Kerala have an internal as well as external verandah which acts as buffer space to reduce direct exposure to sunlight whereas the internal verandah allows light to enter the building via a courtyard.
Appropriate measures should be undertaken to maintain thermal comfort within the building by using:
- Highly insulated walls to prevent conductive heat flow
- Avoid using hard paved surfaces outside
- Walls should be of light color to reflect the heat
- Filler slabs, cavity walls, double roof, and composite walls insulate the house against heat
In vernacular architecture, it is achieved by the use of a highly insulated building envelope made of thick laterite blocks. It is combined with a pitched timber roof with Mangalore clay tiles which averts conductive heat from indoors.
5. Roof insulation | Architecture in Kerala
It is important to insulate the roof against sunlight and heavy rains. It should be designed to avoid the accumulation of rainwater as well as insulated against external heat. The materials used should be lightweight, highly reflective, and should have a low warm limit.
- Concrete and clay tiles offer thermal insulation
- While limewash coat on the terrace acts as a reflective surface
- Maintain a green roof by cultivating plants. It absorbs rainwater and keeps the roof cool
The high pitched roof of traditional Kerala structures maximizes pressure difference to optimize airflow. The attic space acts as an insulating layer. It is provided with openings to let the hot air escape to maintain the second roof cooler. They also help in discharging rainwater.
Different fenestration elements can be oriented in the right direction to maximize the flow of air and thus maintain thermal comfort.
- Jaalis to invite diffused air and maintain air movement
- Skylight in the northern facade to bring in daylight
- Windows with maximum openable area
- Large vents are to allow a lot of air to pass
In typical Kerala houses, wooden jalis, two-panel casement windows, etc. were used to maximize airflow. The small fenestrations increased the velocity of the air and allowed its deeper penetration in the inner space.
7. Prevention from rain
It rains for most of the year in Kerala which requires effective solutions to endure the extreme climatic conditions
- Building should be placed at high plinth to strict water from entering inside
- Sloping roof to avoid the accumulation of rainwater on the surfaces
Kerala architecture structures have a characteristic sloping roof to withstand heavy monsoon and also protect walls from direct contact to rainwater.
8. Construction material | Kerala Architecture
Owing to the vernacular practices, it is advised to use locally available material that is eco-friendly. Stone, wood, and clay can be used extensively to maintain harmony with the surroundings.
Laterite stone, wood, clay, bamboo, and granite are some of the locally available materials which can be found commonly in all Kerala buildings. Lime mortar combined with vegetable juices is used for plastering whereas mud mortar is used for binding. Not only are these materials easily accessible but they are also sustainable.
9. Moisture prevention
Due to heavy rains, the moisture content is high in Kerala. Appropriate preventive measures should be taken to avoid dampness through the plinth, walls, and roof. Allowing proper natural ventilation will also facilitate the prevention of moisture.
Traditional Kerala houses use a granite slab below the ground to avoid the risk of dampness. Whereas thatch or clay tiles on the sloped roof keep it dry.
10. Conserve energy | Architecture in Kerala
The last but not the least aspect is to conserve the natural resources. The abundance of sunlight and rainfall throughout the year is an excellent opportunity to capture the energy and put them to use.
- Solar panels can be implanted on the roof to catch maximum sunlight
- Rainwater harvesting system can collect a significant amount of rainwater
- Terrace garden will absorb excess rainwater and keep the roof cool.
The passive environment control system is deep-rooted in the vernacular architecture of Kerala. Despite the changing times, they are appropriate to be put in modern-day use. It is important to look at the background of Kerala to draw inspiration and design a sustainable solution for the future.