Reminiscence of the Pastness of the Thar Desert Vernacular

Reminiscence of the Desert Past The Project is a reminiscence of archaic intel of the Desert Past where water is a sanctified element. The premise of the project is an analogical exploration into the tectonics of the Desert and how it transpires from the people who inhabit such harsh yet beautiful and serene terrain.
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Designer(s) : Santhosh Narayanan

University : Anna University

Tutor(s) : Shoonya Jain


Deserts are an elusive and ephemeral environment. There are many such varied vernaculars of the desert, the one of focus for this intervention is The Thar Desert of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan -India.

Thar Desert vernacular architecture has always been the product of the culture and the terrain. Desert ecosystems are harbingers of a certain vernacular architecture distilled through the generations which fuse the culture traditions and lifestyle of the local populace with the desert terrain. People inherited the traditional way of building from their ancestors and the knowledge was transferred and developed from one generation to another.

The Intervention aims to intervene in this niche, study it thoroughly and after analysis proposes a DESERT ECO LODGE & INTERPRETATION CENTRE to negotiate and improve the existing condition and relationships between the desert ecosystem the local people and the tourists


• Utilising tourism to create a new niche for desert vernacular and its architectural values. Embody the local traditional water harvesting and thus Improve the life of the local community and build interaction
• Possibility of revitalizing and recontextualizing desert vernacular.
• To observe the traditional architectural language, style, passive climate-responsive apparatus and translate it to the contemporary world without losing its core values.
• Improving the appeal of the desert town to a wider worldwide audience thus developing the village economically and socially.
• Providing a facility for the international and domestic tourists to get a holistic experience of desert terrain without affecting its ecology.

The form plays a crucial part in this project and is a derivative of multiple
factors into play. These factors are prioritised based on the order

The climatic responsiveness is a direct revival of the local traditional desert responsive techniques passed out through generations distilled by archaic trial and error methods The unique and iconic eco-lodge will
provide a unique pristine experience of the beauty of the desert through
the built form, protect and conserve the fragile ecosystem, provide passive building services and thus uphold the traditional desert vernacular.

Linearity is a central theme in form-making. It is derived
from the ancient planning method adopted by ancient architects
spanning from Greco Roman to Indian and even locally
used in step-wells owing to its simplicity as well as its
climatic cultural significance. The Subterranean building method is also used in step-wells for its cooling effect and as a water retainer.

The whole building is derived as a result of the “ ASSEMBLAGE “ of repetitive parts arranged in linearity. The parts work in tandem with each other, like the circulation, light, ventilation etc, arranged like a complex clockwork. Therefore the structure is akin to an engine like machinery where a collective of complex systems acts as “ ONE “achieving its own goals still living as a unified body.

The thesis strives to be an architectural embodiment of the traditional water management systems of Rajasthan passed down the generation as Water attracts a sense of community and the environment can be beneficial for the relationship btw locals and guest The unique and iconic eco-lodge will provide a unique pristine experience of the beauty of the desert through the built form, protect and conserve the fragile ecosystem, provide passive building services and thus uphold the traditional desert vernacular.

The main goal of this structure is to passively provide THERMAL COMFORT without the use of any active mechanisms.
The climate responsive techniques employed stem from analysing the
existing weather conditions and using strategies passed down from
generations. Various principles were also employed
such as

The project draws parallels between light and ornaments. Traditional vernacular calls for ornaments, here the light is warped into ornaments by JAALIS, which becomes dynamic with the movement of the sun with time. The patterns produced emulate glistening Diamond Jewellery. The desert chalice treats lights as a dynamic ornament, given from the sky, and decorates the raw stone material of the building. Jaalis placed filter light and water is a mirror which refracts light. Thus the building itself is an analogy to a woman wearing a jewel of lights and walking over a stream of water with its reflection gleaming and illuminating radiance.

Our protagonist, a desolate form inhabits the terrain and thrives against the odds of the malevolent desert. The battle is an everlasting constant conflict between the protagonist and the inhospitable climatic conditions of the desert.

The poise of the protagonist takes shape of a linear streak drawn onto the terrain. The Architectural notion of stereotomy and tectonics are given the military treatment, with poetics of assembly translated into actionable intel. The form has dual pretence, from behind its exudes a feeling of safety akin to something one would have while standing behind the soldiers. On the opposite side, one would get the menacing pose of an army.

The sun is the main nemesis apart from harsh sand storms, drought, and dryness. Battleplan is metaphorically drafted on the sun path and wind path diagrams to draw tactics. The protagonist tackles the adversary with a militant strategy by arranging itself in battle formation, orienting with the longer linear side facing the north shielding it from the eastern sunlight. The linear formation is akin to phalanx formations. Each block is similar to a cohort of soldiers. The sloping roofs are analogous to soldiers holding long war spears up the sky at an angle ready to strike. The Sloping roof shields the formation from dusty desert sandstorms and collects rainwater and shade. A perfect stereotomy to its terrain, deriving from the traditional climate response of the local.

The battle is fought with great hardships every day and the protagonist provides comfort and protection to the people who inhabit the form. The battle is everpresent and continues as long as the sun rises and sets, in an infinite loop of daytime. An eternal war, enduring against elements.

The programmatic design is mainly divided into two main categories The ecolodge [ desert stay ] and the desert interpretation centre.

1.Public & Locals
2.Staying guests
3.Passersby guests
Privacy is a concern, hence there are three different types of circulation catering to three different needs [ experiential, discrete for the guests, and efficiency for functioning]

The zoning is designed with the linearity of the structure with the public spaces arranged at the beginning and then the semi-public spaces and the private spaces like the cottages are at the very end for privacy

Circulation is divided into three distinct types since its a public as well as a private building. They are categorised into three based on privacy, performance and experience.

EFFICIENT- For functioning
DISCRETE – For the guests

The eco-lodge is programmed to provide accommodation for
80-120 ppl utilising 40 Accommodation units [Cottages].The cottages are categorised into three types based on the unit size and accommodation capacity and location. There are nits on the super terrain as well as the subterranean. Since the units are arranged linearly they offer the same comparable experience and climatic response.

The desert eco-lodge offers a unique
experience to the guests. They are arranged in linear and acts as a bridge between the sun terrain and super terrain
The views they offer are uniquely framed views of the beauty of the desert
Classification of cottages based on size
> Presidential cottages
> Premium cottages
> Delux cottages

The tectonics is a direct response to the desert terrain of dunes
and the harsh climatic conditions of the desert. The building is
placed like a mirage among the dunes. The subterranean part acts
as a collective sanctum collecting tangible elements like water and
intangibles like culture, and heritage.
The super terrain parts act as a resistive sanctuary protecting and
shielding the structure from harsh desert conditions such as
heatwaves and desert storms. Thus tectonics of the project is a
dichotomy of the vulnerability and survival instincts of the people
against their environment.
The desert here owing to the harsh conditions that it presents is
the antagonist and our structure that seeks to resist and protect it
from the desert conditions is the protagonist. Hence it is analogous
to a constant battle in the desert. Battleplan is metaphorically
drafted on the sun path diagram to draw tactics. The Architectural
notion of stereotomy and tectonics are given military treatment,
with poetics of assembly translated into actionable intel.
The structure embodies the ancient water management system of
the Thar desert called vavs or step-wells and also the indigenous
passive climate response systems utilising wind towers. It’s also a
light harvester that ornaments the raw stone of the building in a
dynamic way mimicking jewellery.
— Santhosh Narayanan