The Wabi-Sabi House blends Kozhikode’s traditional and colonial history
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The Wabi-Sabi House blends Kozhikode’s traditional and colonial history

The port city of Kozhikode, along the coast of Malabar in Kerala, exhibits a rich history of trade from as early as antiquity. In the medieval period, it served as a crucial gateway to the South Indian coast for Chinese, Persian and Arab traders and later European colonisers, earning it the reputation of the City of Spices. This extensive interaction with diverse cultures led to a distinctive, multicultural architectural landscape that showcases the influences of its various trading and settler societies.



  • The asymmetric front façade results from the amalgamation of a wabi-sabi ethos and Anglo-Indian design elements| Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
    The asymmetric front façade results from the amalgamation of a wabi-sabi ethos and Anglo-Indian design elements Image: Abhimanyu KV






  • Entrance of the Wabi Sabi House | Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
    Entrance of the Wabi Sabi House Image: Abhimanyu KV



Traditionally, both domestic and religious architecture were codified under ancient architectural treatises basis the geographical, climatic and historical context. This rich tapestry of influences presents a spectrum of elements from which to craft a contemporary architecture that seamlessly blends historical elements with modern techniques, intending to reclaim the traditional while celebrating the present.

The Wabi-Sabi house is a private residence in Kozhikode with an Anglo-Indian design exhibiting elements from the traditional Nālukettu alongside the colonial bungalow typology. This 19th century colonial import emerged as both a cause and consequence of urban sprawls and represented a marker for health and prosperity. Distinguished by a spacious site, the British Bungalow typology was a composition of simple volumes carved out of a symmetric form, enclosing a symmetric spatial organisation.



A verandah separates the front garden from the double-height interior | Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
A verandah separates the front garden from the double-height interior Image: Abhimanyu KV


The verandah faced the front garden and led to a central hall flanked by rooms on either side. Socially, the bungalow was designed to maintain the status quo and manifested gender, kinship and race/caste hierarchies spatially. Stylistically, the bungalow integrated local architectural elements with contemporary technology and materials. Similarly, the traditional courtyard houses of Kerela were laid out like detached buildings and distinguished themselves from the former as a courtyard house, enveloped by blocks containing the living spaces on the four sides of a rectangular plan.



The interior boasts a juxtaposition of a traditional design language manifested through contemporary materials and techniques | Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
The interior boasts a juxtaposition of a traditional design language manifested through contemporary materials and techniques Image: Abhimanyu KV


Designed by Aslam Sham Architects, the plan of the Wabi-Sabi house appears as a reinterpretation of the bungalow typology, displaying a U-shaped footprint with outdoor living spaces spilling off its edges. A front verandah separates the garden from the double-height living area, wedged between a stairwell, two bedrooms and a kitchen on two sides.



  • The U-shaped plan is a reinterpretation of the bungalow typology; shown here is the ground floor plan | Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
    The U-shaped plan is a reinterpretation of the bungalow typology; shown here is the ground floor plan Image: Courtesy of Aslam Sham Architects






  • A double-height atrium alludes to the courtyard of the traditional house; shown here is the first floor plan | Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
    A double-height atrium alludes to the courtyard of the traditional house; shown here is the first-floor plan Image: Courtesy of Aslam Sham Architects






  • The front elevation is a symphony of architecture elements | Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
    The front elevation is a symphony of architecture elements Image: Courtesy of Aslam Sham Architects



As the volume shrinks on the third side of the living area, it appears to tunnel its way out to a garden at the rear of the house. The spatial organisation therefore discards both the symmetry and hierarchy of the bungalow typology. The atrium-like space of the living room is, in fact, evocative of the central open courtyard of the Nālukettu not just in terms of organisation but also its social quality. While this extroverted plan inverses the relationship between the indoors and the outdoors by pushing the open spaces to the periphery, it imitates the intimate relationship between the internal spaces of the traditional courtyard house.



  • Venetian blinds create a playful chiaroscuro in the double-height living area | Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
    Venetian blinds create a playful chiaroscuro in the double-height living area Image: Abhimanyu KV






  • Linear geometries take centre stage within the house | Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
    Linear geometries take centre stage within the house Image: Abhimanyu KV



Externally, the front elevation is an asymmetric visual narrative, mapping the evolution of the house typology from its traditional to its colonial to its contemporary expression. On the ground floor, the Poomukham (portico) and the ambal kumal (lotus pond) contrive a front verandah, which serves as an informal sit-out facing the garden.

The sloping tiled roof with its overhanging eaves, showcases an enduring sustainable response to the tropical climate, while Venetian blinds built from reclaimed wood, large glazed openings and port windows are a testimony to the colonial context.



  • Port windows symbolise the city's heritage as a historic port town | Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
    Port windows symbolise the city’s heritage as a historic port town Image: Abhimanyu KV






  • The Poomukham (prime portico) exhibits a sloping tiled roof supported on pillars, and open on the sides | Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
    The Poomukham (prime portico) exhibits a sloping tiled roof supported on pillars and open on the sides Image: Abhimanyu KV



Wabi-sabi, a Japanese concept, serves as the ethos of this project, embracing beauty in imperfections and transience. Internally a series of walls finished in lime plaster lends a robust, yet intimate disposition to the expansive volume of the living area, where light filtered through the blinds creates a playful chiaroscuro. The bold colours used on structural elements, flooring and upholstery balance the sobriety of the walls.



The traditional ceramic tiles add a splash of colour to the space | Wabi-Sabi house| Aslam Sham Architects | STIRworld
The traditional ceramic tiles add a splash of colour to the space Image: Abhimanyu KV


The Wabi-Sabi House typifies a ubiquitous design language employed for contemporary architecture with an arbitrary ethos. While the interiors may invoke the ambiguous and the often abused wabi-sabi aesthetic, its exploration is restricted to the lowest hanging fruit of the wabi-sabi tree, for it is neither imperfect not transient.