The courtyard houses
In collaboration with Modersohn & Freiesleben, Berlin
Client, Al Karim Somji
Local Architect, Menon Associates, Aluva
Structural Engineer, Valsaraj & Damodaran Pvt Ltd, Kochi and Kozhikode
Building Services Engineering, GrTech, Kochi
The courtyard houses are a part of the resort at the Periyar river. They come in small groups to give the buildings more presence, three times two and one time three houses. The “middle house” in the row of three is slightly wider than the standard and comes with an extra little courtyard in the back for better cross ventilation.
Two high parallel walls define the space of the house. They mark the interior of the house and the space on the other side, the garden, which is in itself again another kind of interior. The walls protect and offer shadow and a space to rest but the wind is free to blow.
The shed roofs shelter against rain and sunlight. A gentle breeze is required and the view of lush vegetation is welcome, dampening the glare of the sun, dissolving it into rich patterns of shadow. And the hot air moves out between the surfaces of the roof and a cooler breeze comes in through wide open doors.
The walls are built from local bricks and laterite, the roofs from cement and steel. Beams of concrete tie it all together, a three- dimensional jigsaw. The walls are slender and the beams exposed. Cornices covered with local roofing tiles protect the walls from dampness. Larger roofing tiles cover the roofs.
The interior is plastered and whitewashed the outside of the walls is exposed brickwork and concrete. At the entrance porch the wall is plastered, and painted in bright colours, “Kerala style”.
Kerala is a land of woodwork with an ancient tradition of perfect carpentry and masterly cabinetmaking. And although wood became scarce and precious over the years the craftsmanship is still at hand. The doors and windows, ceilings and cupboards bear witness to this and even the old wooden columns turned into obviously idle statues hold their place with sculptural and haptic power of persuasion.
The courtyard house is a fundamental typology employed for thousands of years in warm areas of the earth ranging from Rome to China.
The courtyard connects a calm and introverted setting directly with the sky. It provides wind and light, the view of distant clouds and stars and trees in a very private arrangement. The water in the centre amplifies this effect of transformed connection when the ripples mirror the wind and the rain and the clouds sail over the surface.
In South India traditional courtyard houses exist in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In Kerala we see ingenious structures, where the house becomes almost a world on its own whereas in Tamil Nadu the courtyard is employed for grandeur and dense urban layout.
A courtyard house provides not only a cool stream of air which is most welcome, it connects man and nature, interior and exterior, enclosed shelter and the open sky with blazing sun and pouring rain in the most delicate way.