Plapally House in Chengannur.

Modernity on a traditional foundation
Fusing tradition and modernity is always a challenge. T. NANDAKUMAR takes a look at Plapally House in Chengannur where the owners and the architect successfully blended the two.

- PHOTO: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT 

AN ARCHITECTURAL MARVEL: Plapally House in Chengannur.
When businessman R. Sethuraj and his wife, Lekha, decided to pull down their sprawling ancestral mansion located in the midst of a nine-acre plot in Chengannur to construct a new house, they had their plans worked out. They wanted their new dwelling to be as big as the old one, it had to be a single-storied structure and equipped with all modern amenities.
Retaining the past
Before the design was on the drawing board, the couple had already set their minds on retaining the wooden portion of the old building that housed a storeroom and cellar. They knew that constructing a house around the existing structure would not be easy from the engineering point of view. But they were not ready for a compromise on the idea.
Four years later, their dream is reality. The old house with 32 rooms has been replaced by a stately building bearing the ancestral name, Plapally House. The new structure, all of 7,000 square feet, has retained all the elements of traditional architecture, including a sloping tiled roof with intricately carved gables, a central courtyard and a verandah running along the front and side.
The challenge
Says architect and builder, B. Arjun of Arjun and Associates, "Building the house around the existing wooden structure was the most challenging aspect." After demolishing the rest of the building, a concrete beam was inserted below the wooden portion to bring the basement in line with the rest of the structure. The section located at the North East corner, has been converted into a pooja room. The height of the underground cellar was also raised to seven feet and wooden steps were provided at one end. Noted Vasthu expert Kanipaiyur Krishnan Namboodiripad was the consultant for the project.
The nine boat-shaped gables on the roof were faithfully replicated in the Central Travancore style. "It required expert craftsmen to recreate the gables in the old house. One of the old gables was used as a model," says Mr. Arjun. Most of the wood from the old mansion was reused. The open well in the North East corner of the plot was also retained.
The long verandah sports 10 graceful pillars in front and four on the side. The cornice work on the pillars is supplemented by decorative designs on the basement. The design has given top priority to natural lighting and ventilation. French windows open out into the verandah, flooding the drawing room with light. The central courtyard also helps to bring the sun indoors.
The ceiling height has been raised to 15 m to retain proportionality of the building corresponding to the plinth area. Apart from the six bedrooms and a drawing room, the house also has a dining hall, kitchen, store and work area. A staircase room adds another tier to the roof at one end. A lotus pond made of laterite stone acts as the visual focus of the landscaped grounds around the house while a quaint `padippura' frames the entry.
Measuring 7,000 sq.ft. in plinth area, one would assume that daily maintenance of the mansion is a daunting task for the couple and their two children. But not for Ms. Lekha who takes pride and pleasure in keeping the house spick and span.
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