• Benny Kuriakose


Laurie Baker used to say, “we should be thinking and designing as Indians for Indians in India. The buildings I see have nothing to do with the normal life of the Kerala individual or with the climate or with the materials available.”

We have a rich and varied kind of vernacular architecture which is beautiful and interesting. Unfortunately, there is no ‘Indianness’ in most of the buildings we do. I will say we are more western by our way of thinking than our way of living.

The traditional architecture had developed according to the climate, local materials, and socio-economic relations. Bamboo. mud, lime, timber, stone, bricks, thatch etc. were used according to the needs and availability.

Sloping Roofs

The most prominent feature of traditional buildings in Kerala is the sloping roof. The roof overhang protected the mud or timber walls from rain. The carpenters considered the roof design as the most important and difficult part. It comes down very low and protects the walls from rain and sun, thus keeping the interior cool. In Malayalam, we even used to say that I want to make a roof (koora).

Traditional Kerala buildings
The roof is very predominant in traditional Kerala buildings.
Traditional Kerala Buildings
The roof comes very low to protect the timber or mud walls from heavy rain

In many of the flat-roofed residences and apartment buildings, the roof is not seen at all. But during the last two decades, the sloping roof has come back in the case of residential buildings.


The rich people in all the communities in the olden days lived in Nalukettus. They have an internal courtyard and when there are two courtyards, they are called ‘Ettukettus’. The size of the house depended on the size of the courtyard and the number of courtyards. In the case of the Nair houses in which a joint family system existed, courtyards were added as the size of the family increased.

The internal courtyards had an interior veranda on all the four sides of the courtyard. The courtyards ensured that there are enough ventilation and natural light in all the rooms.

In all the old houses, the kitchen is invariably in the north-east corner of the houses. This is because in Kerala, the prevailing winds blow from the south-west and the smoke is blown away. Most houses had thatched roofs and if the roof in the kitchen caught fire it would not spread to the other parts easily. Usually, there will be a well close to the kitchen. In a courtyard house, the main living area was in the south-west portion away from the fireplace. In North Kerala, where two or three-storied courtyard houses were common, the northeast portion was single storied because of the kitchen. The bedrooms are upstairs in the south-west portion.

Traditional Kerala Buildings
In North Kerala, two and three-storied houses were quite common in the old days.
Traditional Kerala House Courtyard
Internal courtyard in one of the traditional houses.

Cattle sheds and the gatehouse were located based on the principle laid in ancient texts. Trees were also planted on each side of the house according to the Saastras.

Problems in Conservation of Old Buildings (Nalukettus)