Materials and their impact on traditional Architecture of Kerala

The natural building materials available for construction in Kerala i.e. stones, timber, clay and palm leaves have anchored and guided the acceptance orrejection of outside influences. The availability of granite -a strong and durable building stone is restricted mainly to the highlands and marginally to some hilly zones. Accordingly, the skill in quarrying, dressing and sculpturing of stone is scarce in Kerala. Laterite stone however, is abundantly found as outcrops in most zones. Soft laterite available at shallow depth can be easily cut, dressed and used as building blocks. It is a rare local stone that gets stronger and durable with exposure to the atmosphere. Block of this stone may be bonded in mortars of shell lime, – the classic binding material used in traditional buildings. Lime mortar can be improved in strength and performance by admixtures of vegetable juices. Such enriched mortars were utilised for plastering and low relief work. Timber remains the prime structural material abundantly available in Kerala, in many varieties – from bamboo to teak and rosewood. The skilful choice of timber, artful assembly and delicate carving of wood work for columns, walls and roofs frames are the unique characteristics of Kerala architecture, using accurate fit of joints. Clay was used in many forms – for walling, in filling the timber floors and making bricks and tiles after firing in kilns, tempered with admixtures. Palm leaves are still used effectively for thatching the roofs and for making partition walls and along with mud walls (clay) is still the poor man’s construction material.

Due to the limitations of building materials, a multi modal approach of construction was evolved in Kerala. Stone work was restricted to the plinth even in prestigious buildings including temples and palaces. The indigenous adoption of the available raw materials for architectural expression thus became the dominant feature of the Kerala style.

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11 thoughts on “Materials and their impact on traditional Architecture of Kerala

  1. Interesting post. Fascinating that availability of materials has had such a strong influence on the development of the traditional typology.

    I think this is the reason that vernacular and traditional architecture make a very valuable study for sustainable building.

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  2. Its interesting to know how effectively we can still use the vernacular materials in the modern context of construction.

    More such articles should be shared to let people know how beautifully we can still carry forward the green ways of construction.

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