Five traditional house designs that remain cool in scorching heat

For centuries, people living in the deserts of western India have been beating the summer heat through innovation in building technologies and local architecture. Here are five sustainable homes that remain cool even in summer

US Anu
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Five traditional house designs that remain cool in scorching heat

Sahariya Hut, found in Kota, Rajasthan. Pic: West Zone Cultural Centre, Udaipur

Cooling technologies like air conditioning are of recent origin, but people have been beating the heat in the desert regions of western India for many centuries. They have been able to manage the high temperatures through innovation in building technologies and architecture, which has been perfected through centuries of trial and error. 

Though these architectural styles are not even heard of in urban areas, which rely on air conditioning, the folk houses are far more effective and sustainable than concrete structures.

They are also environmentally sustainable and don’t require any use of energy for cooling and ventilation, unlike urban homes. According to UN estimates, the construction and housing sector accounts for nearly 35 percent of all carbon emissions across the world. The bulk of this is contributed by air conditioning. 

If these architectural styles move beyond the deserts, they can lead to a reduction in energy usage in air conditioning and cooling and cut down carbon emissions. 

Here are five house designs that remain cool in the scorching heat of deserts:

1. Rathwa Huts

They are traditional homes of the Rathwa tribe in the Chhota Udaipur district of Gujarat. Rathwa huts are typically constructed using locally available mud, wood, thatch, and bamboo. These huts are renowned for their unique circular or oval shape, which is not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional. 

The circular design with sun-dried brick roofs helps to withstand strong winds common in the region. Thatching protects from the blazing sun during summers and insulates the interiors during winters.

rathwa hut
Part of a Rathwa house. Pic: Flickr

The construction of Rathwa huts often involves a communal effort, with members of the tribe coming together to build and repair these structures. The interiors consist of a central living area with a fireplace for cooking and heating, surrounded by sleeping areas.

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

2. Sahariya Huts

Also known as Sahariya (or Saharia) bhavans, they are traditional houses of the Sahariya tribe found primarily in the Kota region of Rajasthan, India. The Sahariya tribe is an indigenous community which historically relied on hunting and gathering for sustenance, though many have now transitioned to agriculture and other livelihoods.

The Sahariya huts are typically constructed using locally available materials mud, thatch, and wood. The architecture of Sahariya huts is simple yet effective. The walls are made of mud and clay, providing insulation against the heat, while the thatched roofs help in keeping the interiors cool.

The huts are usually circular or rectangular shaped, with a single entrance.

Inside, the huts are sparsely furnished, reflecting the minimalist lifestyle of the Sahariya tribe. Basic necessities such as charpoys (traditional woven beds), utensils, and storage containers are often found within. The layout is functional, with separate areas designated for cooking, sleeping, and storage.

Also Read: Chuttillu: Andhra’s cyclone-resistant mud houses

3. Rama Huts

 Rama Huts of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, reflects the unique architectural heritage of the region. Jaisalmer, often referred to as the "Golden City," is renowned for its majestic forts, intricately carved havelis (mansions), and vibrant culture, all of which are reflected in the design of the Rama Hut.

rama huts
Rama Huts. Pic: West Zone Cultural Centre, Udaipur

Rama Huts are typically found in the rural areas surrounding Jaisalmer, where communities have preserved their traditional way of life amid the shifting sands of the Thar Desert. The walls of the huts are usually made of mud and straw, while the roofs are thatched with palm leaves or straw mats, providing natural ventilation and cooling.

One of the distinctive features of Rama Huts is their rounded shape, reminiscent of traditional Rajasthani architecture. The circular or oval design helps minimize heat gain and maximize interior space, efficiently using limited resources. 

Rama Huts often showcase the artistic heritage of the region. The walls may include hand-painted motifs, geometric patterns, or mirror work, adding a touch of vibrancy to the otherwise austere interiors.

4. Bhunga Huts

The Bhunga houses of the Kutch region in Gujarat are traditional dwellings mostly built by indigenous communities such as the Rabari, Ahir, and Meghwal tribes.

Constructed using locally available materials such as mud, clay, wood, and thatch, Bhunga houses are specifically designed to withstand the harsh desert climate of Kutch. Their circular or oval shape, low-slung profile, and dome-shaped roofs provide excellent insulation against the heat of the day and the cold of the night. 

Bhunga houses, Kutch. Pic: Flickr

The roofs are thatched with straw or grass, which helps to keep the interiors cool during summers and warm during winters. Additionally, the dome-shaped roofs are designed to efficiently shed rainwater during the monsoon season, preventing leakage and water damage.

One of the most remarkable features of Bhunga houses is their eco-friendly design and the ability to withstand earthquakes. Built using sustainable building practices and natural materials, these houses have minimal impact on the environment.

Moreover, their circular shape and compact size help to conserve space and resources, making them highly efficient in terms of energy consumption.

5. Sam Huts

Locally known as a "dhani" or "dhanis," Sam hut is found in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan. These huts are essential for the survival of the inhabitants in this arid and inhospitable environment. The Sam huts are constructed by communities, adapting to the harsh climatic conditions while maintaining a semblance of comfort and functionality.

The walls of the huts are thick and coated with a mixture of mud and cow dung, which helps keep the interiors cool during summers and warm during cold desert nights. The huts are usually small in size, with a single room serving multiple purposes. 

One of the notable features of Sam huts is their low profile and domed roofs. The low height helps to minimize heat gain during the day, while the dome-shaped roofs aid in the efficient shedding of rainwater during rare desert downpours. 

Additionally, the thatched roofs provide natural ventilation, allowing hot air to escape and cool air to circulate, thus maintaining a comfortable interior temperature.

They represent the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the desert dwellers, who have adapted their way of life to thrive in one of the world's most unforgiving landscapes.

Also Read: Five traditional architecture homes that can withstand natural calamities

(US Anu is a Madurai-based writer. She specialises in stories around human interest, environment and art and culture.)

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