Of soil and sillage: This Kerala home by LIJO.RENY.architects is an ode to the regional laterite stone

JUL 9, 2024 | By Namrata Dewanjee
Interiors are exteriors are a play between charming chaos and austere order; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography
The barrel vaulted spaces are characterised by natural materials like laterite and terracotta along with exposed concrete; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography
The built form makes use of the brilliant red laterite blocks. This natural material and the building practice gives a regional flair to the spaces; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography

Laterite carries the memory of earth and water. It is an unusual material — its surfaces, unlike any other. Part soil, part rock — it holds the stories of shores in its infinite crevices. How can this strange material define a built form? Will it absorb the essence of the space in its pores? LIJO.RENY.architects attempt investigation in a home in Kerala’s town of Kadirur.

They call this home, The Stoic Wall Residence. Stoic. A curious descriptor for Laterite but it is an apt one. The red rock is formed due to leaching in intense tropical rain where the mercury rises high. Located in a similar sweltering landscape, the 7,317 sq ft space is a result of negotiations as well: contoured terrain, large trees, a northeastern slope, the wind and the sun.

The lights are from Nichia LED Strip lights, K lite bollards and Luker Garden Lights. The wall paints are from Jotun, Asian Paints, MRF and Galtex. The curtains are from Hunter Douglas whule the flooring is by Shamjith Kadirur-SK Flooring Group; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography


The interior space mirrors the bare laterite exteriors with a melange of contemporary elements. Cedar Home Store, DTALE, IKEA, Home RUs Dubai, Sleepwell and Sarita Handa constitute the choice of furniture and artefacts; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography


The home follows the contours of the land. The landscaping is by Plain Spaces and LIJO.RENY.architects along with Unique Garden Decor, Thrissur; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography

Listening to the landscape

The architects placed the home towards the North of the site, orienting the primary section along the East-West axis to minimise heat gain. Taking a sensitive approach to architecture, the designers Reny Lijo and Lijo Jos explain, “The house can be divided into four zones, with three on the ground floor, spanning across three levels, aligning with the natural topography of the plot and minimising the need for extensive excavation and earth filling on the site.” 


Terracotta and Laterite bring in elements of the earth while exposed concrete acts as a foil; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography

The first zone includes the formal living area, foyer and outdoor sitting space. The car porch is physically separated yet a part of this zone. A ramp in the foyer connects this zone to the second, which includes an open family living and dining area, an indoor courtyard and a kitchen. 

The third zone consists of bedrooms, a pooja area and an internal courtyard that facilitates cross-ventilation and circulation. All the bedrooms have a foyer that also acts as a dressing area and connects to an internal open-to-sky courtyard subsumed in southwesterly winds. The entertainment room, master bedroom and lounge area are tucked away on the upper floor which is wrapped in a screen made of terracotta blocks. Playing the double act of protection from the natural forces, the screen also makes for a private passageway that can be accessed from every room on the upper floor.

The terracotta screen on the upper floor provides climatic comfort as well as privacy; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography


Many expressions of the earth

The interiors trace the visual and material language of the exterior. The bare laterite walls continue inside while the deep tones of teak wood and stone follow. The choice of furniture echoes the colour palette in its upholstery. 


The glazing systems are by Royal Glassfab and the sliding door and windows are from b Life-LiXiL TOSTEM; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography

In this home lies a delicate balance between delightful recklessness and austere restraint. Outside the green frolics in gay abandon, leaves washed emerald green by the monsoon rain. Inside, there is calm, an aedicule amidst the chaos of nature. “The landscape has been sensitively managed to enhance the desired ambiance, with a thoughtful intervention that involves the integration of several native plant varieties and trees alongside the existing ones,” explain the designers.


The exterior lighting is from Power ‘n’ Shower, Kannur. The pavement and driveway are by Malabar Stones, Calicut; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography


The rich hues of laterite continue into the interiors of the home; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography


The home is nestled in a sloping terrain surrounded by lush verdure; Photography by Turtle Arts Photography


Is this expression contemporary or is it traditional? Is it regional or is it global in its vision? The distinction is immaterial. When a craft is carried forward as memory, as legacy — it evolves with time. From Portuguese forts in Fort Kochi to ancient temples in Mangalore, laterite has prevailed, especially in Kerala. In LIJO.RENY.architects’s interpretation of barrel vaults and geometric planes against exposed concrete, the material simply finds a new meaning.

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