Saturday, January 7, 2012

PADMANABHAPURAM PALACE

The quintessential example of the vernacular architecture of Kerala is the Padmanabhapuram palace complex, located in Thuckalay of Tamilnadu, very adjacent to the Kerala border. Founded by the royal family of Travancore, the initial structures of the complex date from 1400s, with other buildings added incrementally over time. It is one of the best examples of wooden architecture that has come to symbolise the vernacular architecture of Kerala. The palace complex is a masterpiece - an intriguing play of volumes, scale, spatial planning & courtyards, all of which have a strong underlying cohesiveness. The spaces move from the public spaces on the periphery to the more private spaces as one moves towards the core, reflected through variations in scale & proportion, producing very interesting spaces





The entrance to the complex is from the west, through a formal version of the ‘Padipura’ or the entrance gate, which is common in all the traditional dwellings of Kerala. The central locus of the entire composition is the Mother’s palace or the ‘Thai Kottaram’, around which all the other spaces are organised. There are separate halls for audiences & gatherings, a large dance hall, feeding halls of various sizes, kitchen, residences for the king & other dignitaries, weapons store, bath houses, offices and even a temple. There is also a 4 storeyed ‘Upprika Malika’ in the complex, constructed in the 1740s, which is a testament to the technological progress at that time. A 300 year old clock tower in the palace stands witness to the march of time and is still now in good working condition.  Though there is no formal symmetrical spatial layout to be found as such, there lies a strong organisation principle, which creates a very coherent & unifying whole. The various built spaces are interlinked & accessed through a series of courtyards & open spaces which vary volumetrically & in scale depending upon the level of privacy required, most often, being very intimate in nature.
The roof forms are the most dominating element in the whole complex, which through their wonderful juxtaposition creates an impressive visual composition – an ever changing play of light, shadow & mass. The columns are mainly in wood & stone and support the wooden roof structure, which has been designed very creatively to be functional as well as aesthetic. There are strict rules & canons laid down in the ancient building science of Vastu Shastra, regarding the use of wood, techniques of joints, angles of roof forms etc, which have been religiously followed over the various periods during which the complex was built. The overall effect of this being that there exist cohesiveness throughout the structures, rendering them timeless.




The walls are usually made in laterite or brick & plastered over with lime. There are non-structural wooden screens called jaalis, which have the function of allowing in light & ventilation while ensuring the privacy of the person inside. The filtered light creates a dramatic play of light & shadow in the interiors and ensures a very cool & comfortable ambience inside, away from the blazing sun. The shaded interiors are cool, which is a direct derivative of the climatological need to counter the warm humid tropical climate. Indeed, one of the most significant aspects of the design is the sensitive handling of the light & shadows to create a wholesome comfortable ambience inside, one that focuses inside, calming, soothing & contemplating.
The flooring is unique and is black in colour, retaining a mirror like polish even now after so many centuries. It is said that the flooring was done using a mixture of different structures like burnt coconut shells, egg whites, plant juices etc.





Indeed, the Padmanabhapuram palace, with its amazing vocabulary of sloped tiled roofs, intricate jaali works, mysterious corridors, intimate courtyards, amazing woodwork, play of light and shadow, comfortable interior spaces etc, is a timeless architectural marvel and is a stark reminder to us of our rich tradition of innovativeness, respect to nature and search for perfection. The graceful simplicity of the complex stands as a dignified beacon, a reminder of what we should strive for in these times of mindless architectural gimmicks.
All images courtesy - Rajdatta Dewang



All Plans, Sections & Elevations courtesy - MIMAR - 'An Indian Portfolio - Padmanabhapuram palace' - by Raj Rewal, K.T.Ravindran & the Architectural Research Cell



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6 comments:

  1. Stunning architecture.... its the best pick for your one day trip from Kovalam...super liked it...

    ReplyDelete
  2. beautiful palace..and nice documentation...!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi,

    Is it possible to get a clear plan of the place. I would like to make it in 3d.

    Cheers
    Ranjit

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi,
    Loved the article and has been really helpful to me. I would like to get in touch with you for more details on this topic.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi,
    we are making some analysis on this palace like its insulation, thermal mass, earthquack measures, flood control, drainage system.

    so is it possible for you to help us?

    we are architecture students from Vadodara.

    ReplyDelete