Friday, November 8, 2013

Features of Kerala Architecture

Kerala Architecture has its own unique features

Selection of place for construction of House

Place where the house has to be built is first selected. In a larger plot, Plot has to be divided into four equal parts and the North eastern part of the divided parts is taken for construction of the house
House is preferably built facing East and other options are considered only if there is no road or access to the plot from the east. Other options of front of the house are North, West and South in that order

Location of well

Well was very important for the house as the only source of drinking water, water for agriculture and water for bath, cleaning etc, .Well has to be in the North East corner of the house. If a line is drawn between North East corner of the house to North East corner of the plot, the line should not touch the Well or cut it


It is a structure containing a door forming part of Compound wall for the house with a tiled roof on top. It is the formal entry to the compound with the house. At present the door is not there as car will have to enter the house through the entry. Still tiled roof is provided preferably with a traditional type lamp below the roof. Instead of door of entry, we now have the Gate
It is where you enter the house climbing up steps in the front. Traditionally it has a slope tiled roof with pillars supporting roof. Sides are open. In the earlier days, the Head of the family called Karanavar used to sit here in a reclining chair with thuppal kolambi (Spittoon) by the side of chair. This chair will have long rails on either side where the Karanavar will keep his legs raised for comfortable rest

Chuttu verandah

From the Poomukham you can walk through Chuttu verandah to either side in front of the house through open passage called Chuttu Verandah. Chuttu verandah will have hanging lights in equal distance hanging from its slope roof


By the side of Chuttu verandah and Poomukham, wooden benches with carved decorative resting wooden pieces for resting the back are provided. This is called Charupady. Traditionally the family members or visitors used to sit on these Charupady to talk

Ambal Kulam (Pond)

At the end of Chuttu verandah there used to be a small pond built with rubble on sides where water living plant called Thamara (lotus) or Ambal used to be planted .Both Lotus and Ambal have very good wide and beautiful flowers floating in the water

Living Room

After Poomukham, we enter Living room where formal seating arrangement is provided for formal meetings with family members and guests. This is one of the larger rooms of the house. Preferable measurements can be 20 feet by 13 feet (600 cm by 390 cm) or whatever the Architect may find suitable for the plot

Front Foyer

From the sit out, when you enter the house, you can have an area called Front foyer from where you can go to Formal Living room, Office room and Stair for going to First Floor .This area will thus be used more as a passage


Traditionally Nadumuttom or central open court yard used to be there in bigger houses of Kerala. There is an open area usually square shaped in the exact middle of the house dividing the house in its four sides. Due to this four side division of the house by having a Nadumuttom. Houses with one Nadumuttom used to be called as Nalukettu house. Similarly there was Ettu kettu and Pathinaru kettu which are quite rare with two and four Nadumuttom respectively
Nadumuttom will be normally open to sky. In the modern houses due to security reasons this open to sky feature is being avoided. Instead a slope roof much above other roof is provided above Nadumuttom with sides above other roof protected with steel railings for safety reasons. Air passage is possible through this steel railings thereby bringing fresh air to the middle of the house from above. Even though Nadumuttom is an old feature of Kerala Architecture, in present day houses Nadumuttom is coming back with more people going for it. I myself am now building houses featuring Nadumuttom now

Pooja Room

Pooja room should preferably be in the North East corner of the house. Idols should be placed facing east and the person praying should face west. At present, woodden paneling is done on Pooja room walls and there is a standard design for Pooja room which can be given to clients interested in having traditional Pooja room

Family Living Room

As the formal living room will be used to meet guests and for formal meetings, this area is where family members can relax and watch TV or listen to music. Present day houses in Kerala have this area or room as a standard feature

Usual items of use in old Kerala houses

a) Aattu Kattil-It is a swinging piece of wood, wide and long enough for two or three persons to sit. Four corners of this wooden piece will be firmly fixed with thick coir to the roof. One or two people will sit and somebody will push it for swinging. It is used to be fixed in large living rooms in old houses In present day houses also, people who like this feature fix it mostly in family living area where family members can sit and swing in this as part of relaxation
b) Kindy-It is a brass utensil filled with water used to be kept at the steps of Poomukham for cleaning feet of those who enter the house. It has a side opening just like a tap so that a person can easily use it to clean his feet before entering the house In present day houses, probably you can see this as an antique item displayed and nothing more than that
c) Montha-It is similar to Kindy made of brass. Only difference is that it has a wide opening at top and side tap like arrangement for pouring water is not there. It is not kept at the entry. It is kept inside the house for storage of drinking water; milk etc.While milking the cow by the house wife Montha was used to collect milk pressed out of the mammary of the cow
d) Uruly-It is a larger vessel to cook food for large gatherings and to keep cooked food stored. Usually made of brass
e) Arakallu-Grinding stones-It is two pair of stones, one large with a level top and tne other round in cross section with length less than width of the base stone. It is used for manual grinding of spices and coconut for preparing curries with the main meal, rice
f) Ural-This is a granite piece almost cylindrical in shape with an opening at top which has a central portion with slight depth to keep granules to be crushed with a long piece of wood normally that of coconut wood with two ends fixed with metallic crushing elements. This long piece of wood used to crush granules to powder by repeated crushing through forcing by hand up and down by women doing house hold work in olden days Kerala, is called Ulakka.It was a familiar sight in Kerala houses where many women used to chit chat and crush granules to powder in their respective Urals using Ulakka

Bed rooms

As per Vasthu Master Bed room should preferably come at South west corner of the house, with head of the cot facing south. Bed rooms have got bed space separate and a space called dress which acts as entry to toilet, thereby hiding toilet door to bed space. Dress if made spacious enough can be used to keep a dressing table. Toilets now have shower cubicles for bath instead of bath tubs. For medium size houses with two storey, two bed rooms are preferred in Ground floor


Traditionally Keralites used to have their Kitchen in the North East corner of the house, close to well which is in the North east corner of the plot. Even though position of well is at the proper place as per Vasthu, Kitchen as per Vasthu should come preferably at South East and if not possible due to some other considerations, it can come at North West as a second option. Due to better awareness of Vasthu, present day houses have the position of Kitchen relocated
With modular kitchens coming, proper Kitchen is kept as a show piece Kitchen and a work area is added for cleaning of vessels, cutting for food preparations etc
Earlier there used to be a Store which was just a storage room. Modular kitchen provides lot more storage space compartmentalized, and hence no need for an unorganized storage space
Items like Arakallu, Washing machine, Grinder for grinding of granules for making Dosa and iddlies are kept in the Work area space

Rear Foyer

This is a new addition to Kerala houses. It is normally provided in the rear with access from the Dining room. Mostly three sides of this covered area are kept open to have a feel of the open area. Floor level for this area is kept at ground level of the plot. Sometimes, grass floor is used instead of formal flooring. This is one area where family members and close friends or relatives can sit and relax, without noticing by outsiders if they use sit out or Poomukham

Car porch

Current trend is to go for car porch which can accommodate two cars. Car porch is generally considered as a show piece or status symbol showing to others the type of car the house owner has. Hence in some cases it is kept in the front in the middle, possibly with a slope roof above car porch with decorative round pillars. To add elegance, four pillars in the front and back with long steps in the back is also provided. Two front pillars can come on either side of the car porch portion. Similarly for the rear side of car porch
More convenient arrangement will be to provide car porch on any one side of the house with a side step access to the sit out so that after getting down from car porch, one can go to the house through side steps to front verandah and from there to the house
As per Vasthu, there are desired positions for car porch depending on to which direction the house faces. Unlike in the west, car porch is never closed in Kerala

Aaattu Kattil

This feature was quite common in old Kerala houses. Generally the old houses used to have a large Hall like portion, with Nadumuttom in the middle. Attu kattil is a swinging piece of wood tied to the roof on all four sides with rope. The person or persons sitting in the large piece of wood can swing to and fro while sitting in the Aaattu Kattil. This feature is added to modern houses with more decorative work for the sitting piece of wood and ropes holding it to the roof

Chitra thoonukal

Pillars in wood or rubble with carvings or decorative works used to add elegance to the Hall portion of the old Kerala houses. Even though adding wood pillars is quite costly, this feature is being added to modern houses also. Pictures are carved into such pillars of Rubble In the case of wood pillars generally it is plain round pillars with polished surface

Mural paintings

These paintings used to adorn old Kerala building walls. Generally these paintings depict stories from epics of India.
Present houses have these paintings as decorative piece of art and not used extensively covering all walls as in old houses

Clay tile laying on roof and floor

Traditionally clay tiles were used for floor of the Kerala House and Kerala houses or rather Kerala style of roof is supposed to be slope roofs with clay tiles laid over wooden reepers and wooden koodu with wooden thulam,kazhukkol etc properly installed by old asaris with precision
As wood became costlier and when concrete roof became popular, Kerala Architects tried to give similar old Koodu appearance with slope roof concrete as roof which will later have clay tiles laid over it complete with old Mukhappu and Thoomanam. Mukhappu comes at the top of the sloping portions of the slope roof and sometimes in the middle of one side of slope roof. This appearance is also achieved by using steel fabricated koodu structure with tiles laid over steel reepers
Thoomanam used to be made by wood at the bottom end where clay tile reaches at the bottom. Rain water falling on the slope roof will flow down fast due to the slope and when water reaches the bottom of the slope roof, Thoomanam will act as a diverter to direct water directly towards ground instead of it flowing inside to wall of the house
In the earlier days plain or carved with picture design wooden Thoomanam used to be fitted by traditional Kerala asaris, usually painted dark blue. As wood is now costly, precast concrete Thoomanam with attractive designs are now being used in place of wooden Thoomanam
Now clay tiles of smaller dimensions and of different shapes are available. I can give website details of one of the clay tile manufacturers in
Even on floor we can use these clay tiles which are healthier to use as they do not have negative energy unlike other normally used flooring materials. Here again different models and designs are available of course with better strength and practically wear and tear resistant. If you give an antifungal exterior paint over these tiles it will go without any fungus for about five years. Costly baked with antifungal paint claytiles are also available which will last longer fungus resistant

Wooden flooring

Earlier we used to have wooden flooring in Kerala houses with less finish and without modern wood polishing. Now different type of wood in small to slightly big pieces arranged neatly to give good appearance with good polishing which last longer is available for flooring. As wood cost is now going up, cost of wooden flooring is also on the rise. But wooden flooring is really comfortable and healthy also

Interior wood work with carvings

Traditionally Kerala houses had interior wood work done with wood carvings by skilled artisans. In the earlier days house was built with wood, brick and clay tiles. Content of wood was very high as the cost was not high.Arappura, Pathayam, Machu (sealing between tiled roof and Room space) were all done by wood and mostly teak wood. Verandahs and living halls were having round pillars in wood of rosewood or teak with decorative carvings on top and bottom
Even today this wood work and carving work is used in high cost houses being built in Kerala with all the beauty and splendor of yester years. Some of the wood work now being used can be classified into following types
1:-Charupady for sit out and balcony (Fully covered and partially covered)
2:-Wood paneling of wall on either side of main door which can be opened as two parts to either side with carving work and possibly with pictorial lock like manichitrathazhu
3:-Wood paneling for round pillars inside the house
4:-Wooden flooring
5:-Wood paneling with top carving work for inside room walls
6:-Decorative cots in wood with designs similar to cots of old Kings
7:-Stair case posts with carving
8:-Cup boards and sofas with carved back rest
9:-Modular kitchen with wooden cabinets for storage and proper keeping of kitchen utensils and tools (This is a modern day addition)
10:-Wood carved Mukhappu above tiled slope roof
11:-Wood carved Thoomanam
12:- Aattu Kattil


Kerala Architecture has rich tradition and there was never an attempt to collect valuable details and traditional styles and methods used by Kerala Architects of olden days. Anyone with more information on features of Kerala Architecture and practices earlier used by Kerala architects may please write to us with details to be included in this website. Corrections or additions to details already given are also welcome



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