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Ethnic houses on the rise in Bangalore

The aim is to fuse creatively indigenous styles with modern technology

STYLE STATEMENT: The chic exterior and the fascinating interior of a house gone ethnic in Bangalore. — Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

WITH THE IT tagline now attached, Bangalore has truly gone global and its skyline is filled up with the silver of glass walls. But obalisation has also taken a break with more and more people going "ethnic." It is clear that homogeny in architecture is passé.

Jaisim, an architect, has a poster on his wall that says: "Tradition is never static. Whatever is good or useful persists over time. Whatever fails to function is weeded out." This reflects his architectural style. Tradition does not necessarily mean mud plastered, non-earthquake proof kaccha houses. Today, it is about creatively fusing indigenous styles with modern technology.

Here is how. Bethamchella tiles (popularly known as Andhra stone) never occur twice in the same colour. The traditional stone is three inches thick and suitable only for one-storeyed buildings. But hi-tech cutting tools have enabled architects to use these beautiful tiles in any space.

Today, even corporate offices are going "ethnic" to make the working area a more personal and friendly place. HDFC and ITC are some of the offices that have adopted tradition.

Thinking traditional should essentially begin in the planning stages itself. Mohan, an architect, has a house in which the roofs are made of Cuddapah stone slabs in between which there is mud, which has a cooling effect. There is also a makeshift cave in the basement made out of a huge rock initially considered useless. All these factors and the red oxide floors deem fans obsolete in their house.

Simple principle

All traditional houses have some kind of an open space inside the house for air circulation. In the Mohans' residence, a two-storey building, there is an opening on top that looks into the basement cave which has vents in it. This is in accordance with a simple scientific principle: hot air rises, and is replaced with cooler air. They also have large windows that allow for cross ventilation and the entry of plenty of light. Tradition takes such constraints into consideration before construction. Ornamental doors from Andhra and deep brown wooden pillars from Chettinad bring back reminiscences of a rural India. These have breathed the air of generations of Indian families who lived in traditional houses. These houses have been brought down and the century-old pillars and slabs have been made into tables in modern households and adapted for cereal breakfasts.

Neeti says her grandmother's ancestral house in Kerala is now home to a multiplex. In an attempt to preserve memories of her childhood, she's created an inner courtyard at her house, complete with pillars from Kerala, bought at Dhakshina. Preetha, the owner of Dhakshina, a store in Domlur which sells ethnic material, describes the "selling off" generation as suddenly waking up to its roots and it is their children who are interested in discovering a world they never knew when they were growing up. In the villages, however, they are opting for new structures and are demolishing the old ones. It's almost as though villages want to revamp and appear city-like while cities are following the opposite trend for aesthetic as well as practical reasons.

Preetha says there are quite a few people who remodel their old houses in the villages but for most, it is too expensive and so they prefer selling them.

While it is expensive to buy antiques, it is more expensive to create replicas of traditional pillars and other materials, says Neeti. At the end of the day, 'Tradition is never static. Whatever is good or useful persists over time. Whatever fails to function is weeded out.'

How it is done

How can one give an ethnic touch to one's house? You thought going "ethnic" will involve astronomical budgets. Preetha, who sources furnishings from old houses all over South India and makes contemporary redesigns, says a lot of her clients are middle class people. She also says that antique furniture at her shop costs the same, if not less than regular furniture. The quaint store in Domlur has intricately carved doors, panels, pillars, grandfather clocks, four-poster beds, chests, anklets and a lot of such knick knacks that smell of history.

The quality of wood, mostly Burma teak, rose wood and jack wood, is very good and Preetha says the only problem she has encountered is with new plywood.

Roof panels are converted into mirror frames and door frames into book shelves. A small centre table or a pillar would cost about Rs. 7,000 while an elaborately carved door costs Rs. 3 lakhs. Huge four-poster beds cost Rs. 20,000- Rs.35,000 and they are very popular.

Besides, if you are feeling inventive, you can put together slabs from Kerala and a door frame from Andhra and create your own fusion bookshelf. There is a personal feel to this place and it does not have the jarring commercialism of other shops.

In terms of house construction, popular traditional materials are bricks, adobe walls, Cuddapah and other slate stones, timber in its rough cut expression, arches and vaults, composite roofs, lime mortar and mud mortar, cow dung plaster, Bamboo, straw, red earth and clay. How they are used depends on one's creativity.

It is also advisable to use energy efficient materials like stone rather than cement. Architects such as Jaisim do houses that blend the ancient and the modern to a harmonious effect.

There are many ways to do it but tradition scores in both the aesthetic and practical sense.

Younger generation is rediscovering all that is ethnic.

It is stylish to use Bethamchella tiles and traditional stone.

Use ornamental doors from Andhra and deep brown wooden pillars from Chettinad.

Cuddapah stones slabs can be used for the roofs.

Natural materials give a cooling effect.

Useless rock can form a part of your house and add an aesthetic dimension.

Ethnic houses provide cross ventilation and plenty of light. Go for inner courtyard.

Ethnic materials are on sale at Dhakshina, a store in Domlur.

Corporate offices are going ethnic. HDFC and ITS offices are examples.


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