Wednesday, September 26, 2007

For a fusion with neighbourhood

MODERN day apartments appear to lack the homogenous character that was present in olden day settlements, where streets and colonies were planned to complement the design of the houses and to reflect the harmony among the residents. Neither the house nor its occupants got alienated from the surroundings.
Present day constraints of space notwithstanding, there are some options for builders and property buyers for achieving this `oneness'. Like combining adjoining properties. May be two friends could think of removing the common compound wall so as to get a setback of, say, 5 ft, on either side(this will make a total setback length of 10 ft saved). This larger area can be used for some landscaping or as children's play area; a small shuttle badminton court could be created.
On residential streets, you could provide small `thinnais' or seating platforms for elders to sit and children to relax after a tiring game. This option might be ideal for dead-end streets and houses built around parks. In some European towns, the local authorities decide the colour the houses would have in each street or locality, keeping in mind the overall `oneness' of the locality.While planning a house in relation to the street and the local climate, one must bear in mind the fact that the street level rises every time the road is re-laid. So having a high plinth, say, a minimum of 3 feet above the existing road level, is ideal. You can see many houses in Mylapore and West Mambalam that are below the road level because they did not foresee this factor.
As for the climate aspect, maximum importance should be given to the orientation of the site. Sea breeze mostly comes from southeast and land breeze from northwest. So, either the complete room layout can be planned to be in orientation with the breeze direction or an opening arrangement can be made as to allow for wind movement inside the house.
The opening on the `wind side' could be kept large and that on the other side small for a `venturi' effect or funnel effect. Also, windows up to floor level can be made to allow for wind movement at low level.
You could even have windows on the inner side of the rooms. Even the doors, if designed in the Palakad style, having three tiers, with each one opening independently, can act as a window during the day.
As for the west sun and harsh sunlight, the conventional 2-foot wide sunshades do not help much. Instead, huge sunshades serve as shading elements and are also impressive.
The roof could overhang and hug the walls to give ample protection from the direct sunlight. Outdoor spaces such as a small garden can be planned taking into consideration the climate besides the aesthetics.
The garden on the east would make for ample shade in the evenings; serving as a `tea-time' area.
Selecting the right construction technique and materials could be the next line up of defence to beat the heat. Having a cavity wall on the west would prove useful especially in a hot and humid climate like that of Chennai.
Additional elements such as cupboards, fins, courts and even toilets on the west side wall could be effective.
For flooring, natural porous materials such as marble or kotah (rather than synthetic materials such as ceramics or vitrified tiles) helps the floor breath, keeping it cool.
To keep the terrace cool, we can create a park-like environment there. By having cement boxes on the terrace, we can look at planting small trees like the palm tree. If hardy plants like the palm tree are provided at the terrace level, the wash water can be put to use for watering these plants. This gives us an extra layer of protection from the harsh summer sun.
(The author is chief architect, Murali Architects, Chennai.)

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