Five traditional architecture homes that can withstand natural calamities

From Himachal to Kerala and Gujarat to Assam, India’s regional architecture is eco-friendly and climate-resilient. The homes built as per vernacular architecture minimize carbon footprint by using local materials and also boost the regional economy

Team 30 Stades
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Bamboo houses of Assam can withstand heavy rains and floods

Bamboo houses of Assam can withstand heavy rains and floods

India is synonymous with the diversity of art, culture, traditions and religion. An aspect of this diversity is the vernacular or local architectural styles which vary from region to region. From grand palaces to temples and monasteries, the imprint of regional architecture is visible in all the structures of the bygone ages.

However, when it comes to homes, vernacular architecture takes a whole new dimension. Unlike palaces and mansions, traditional homes are simple and make use of only locally-available materials. While kings would transport stones and wood from different parts of the country for building megastructures, the common man made use of whatever was available around them – wood, bamboo, mud, palmyra leaves etc.

The result is a minimization of carbon footprint by cutting down on material transportation and allied costs.

Usually, neighbours and relatives come together to construct a house, helping each other in turns. Some take food in return for manual labour while money is exchanged in other cases. 

From Himachal Pradesh’s Kath Kuni houses to Kerala’s Nalukettu and Gujarat’s Bhunga to Assam’s bamboo homes, India’s regional architecture is also eco-friendly because it does not involve non-biodegradable materials and is not dependent on cement and steel for strength. 

Another outstanding aspect of these vernacular homes is climate resilience.

The Bhungas can withstand earthquakes, Chuttillus of Andhra Pradesh can absorb the impact of cyclones and Assam’s double-storeyed bamboo houses protect the inhabitants from floods.

This is because these houses are built on traditional wisdom gained over centuries of living in specific climatic conditions akin to adaptation by plants and animals. 

Here are five vernacular architectural styles from different parts of India, underlining the importance of living in harmony with nature to withstand calamities:

1. Chuttillu of Andhra Pradesh: Built using mud, bamboo and palmyra leaves, these circular, concentric houses have aerodynamic features that help them withstand high-speed winds. Called Chuttillu, which means a circular house in Telugu, these structures are built by farmers and fishermen in the cyclone-prone areas of the East Godavari district.

Chuttillus are constructed close to each other in a circular formation so that the cyclonic winds that often hit the coast bounced off tangentially away from the cluster.

These traditional homes have a thatched conical roof and a circular house plan with concentric walls, making them cyclone resistant. The concentric pattern gives rise to an inner safe space for the family and an outer transitional space, which has a grain storage area on one end and the kitchen at the other end.

More here: Chuttillu: Andhra’s cyclone-resistant mud houses

2. Bhunga of Gujarat: Unique to Kutch in Gujarat, these circular walled mud houses have thatched roofs. In this disaster-prone region, Bhungas are known for their structural stability and for being climate responsive. The region is sandy and Bhungas also protect the inhabitants from sandstorms and cyclonic winds.

A typical Bhunga has a diameter of 18 feet with a foundation depth of 2 feet. Since the circular structure does not have any corners, it can withstand the lateral forces of earthquakes as well as storms. Not surprisingly, in the 2001 Bhuj earthquake, Bhungas were unaffected despite being close to the epicentre.

Bhunga: The 200-year-old earthquake-resistant mud houses of Kutch
Bhunga - mud homes of Kutch. Pic: Flickr

The mud houses are eco-friendly and constructed using locally available bamboo, clay and timber. Bhunga walls and floors are made using clay mixed with the dung of cow or camel or horse. Since the walls are thick, they protect the structure from temperature variations, keeping the interior cool during the hot season and warm during the cold season.

Details here: Bhunga: The 200-year-old earthquake-resistant mud houses of Kutch

3. Kath Kuni of Himachal Pradesh (known as Koti Banal in Uttarakhand): Kath Kuni is the region’s zero carbon footprint architecture that uses locally available wood and stone for construction. 

These houses are earthquake-proof, provide excellent insulation and are energy efficient. The buildings are made with alternate layers of wood and stone and have wooden corners.

The beams are placed horizontally which gives it tensile strength and flexibility to withstand earthquakes. The life of a Kath Kuni building is 600 to 700 years.

Since the thermal mass of stone and wood is high, they absorb heat and keep the building warm. They also act as a barrier against cold and provide good insulation.

More on Kath Kuni here: Rahul Bhushan: The Himachal architect reviving the 1000-year-old Kath Kuni architecture

4. Kerala’s Nalukettu: Kerala’s Nalukettu vernacular architecture is sustainable, cost-effective, uses local materials and is in tune with the state’s climate. 

A traditional house had sloping roofs, porches, and verandahs and the construction allowed for ample natural lighting and cross-ventilation. Houses also traditionally had a granary, cattle sheds and a pond while the land around the house had several fruits and coconut trees.

Nalukettu: Kerala’s eco-friendly traditional homes
A Nalukettu in Kerala. Pic: Flickr

The houses are built in keeping the hot, humid and rainy conditions in Kerala. All the materials like clay, timber, palm leaves and stone used in the construction are sustainable and sourced locally, minimizing carbon footprint.

A Nalukettu is usually single-storeyed and made with wood. But they can also be two-storeyed or three-storeyed.

More here: Nalukettu: Kerala’s eco-friendly traditional homes

5. Assam’s bamboo houses: These traditional homes are suitable for the local climate where it rains heavily and floods are common. The houses are made to combat rain and bamboo is used as the main construction material.

The walls are made of bamboo strips and plastered with mud. The roof is built using local grass and can last up to 10 years after which it has to be replaced. 

The house is stilted to protect against gentle floods. Bamboo has a low modulus of elasticity, making it a preferred construction material in areas of seismic activities as well. 

Also Read: Build local: This architect creates sustainable & sturdy homes without using cement or steel

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