Tradicional House

Tradicional House

Goa [Velha Goa/Old Goa], Goa, India


The traditional Goan house, as we identify it today, built by the Hindu, Catholic and Muslim rural communities, will have arisen as a specific identity with the respective models repeated in the typologies, proportions, formal expressions and building technologies during a relatively recent period, perhaps from the 17th and 18th century on. But its ancestral roots, profoundly associated to formation of the territories known as the Old and New Conquests, blend socio-political and socio-religious specificities whose cultural manifestations conveyed influences necessarily close to the origin of those miscegenetic communities, by means of a long experience of coexistence before and after the Portuguese arrived.

In the territory of the Old Conquests and bordering areas, basically comprising islands, age-old cultures came into contact and coexisted, with memories of this occurrence overshadowing the alternating economic, political and cultural cycles. The introduction of yet another cultural identity on European lines was accompanied by a new social organisation, new habits, new religion and new material manifestations, parallel to the permanence of the old cultures. Many currently identified models are probably syntheses resulting from the three communities' complex system of social organisation, especially that of the Hindus, which was in turn arranged in sub-systems. The specific nature of the rural landscape as we know it today derives from new policies introduced at the turn of the 18th century, which led to reorganisation of the fields, mainly by introducing rice cultivation. This new situation not only influenced the psychological profile of the communities but also configured major changes in the production of handicrafts and other implements, and consequently new typologies for houses and associated constructions. The socio-cultural reorganisation around religious life and the different confessions' respective celebrations is fundamental for understanding the soul of the Goan house as geometric place of the household, as well as its position in the clustered whole.

Some of the current landscape where villages are located results from draining marshes, reconfiguring canals and the streams which feed larger rivers such as the Tiracol, Chapora, Mandovi and Zuari or other smaller ones. A new economic upturn enabled a new rural reality to emerge, configured by vast rice paddies surrounded by coconut palm groves which determined the choice spots for settlements, solar protection and consolidation of the respective platforms and elevations.

Along with the introduction of large areas of cashew cultivation, this cycle assured a new and lasting economic stability which made nearly all other rural activities its subsidiaries throughout most of Goa's territory, despite the different geographies of a small territory whose surface geology mainly comprises lateritic soils.

Ordinary houses are generally single-family and very elementary, meeting the basic needs of the rural economic framework. The villages are essentially rural, comprising individual homes spread among dense stands of trees which protect against the weather and supply fruit and other indispensable material for daily life. Situations of houses abutting each other to form bands, also called chalés, are quite rare.

The economy was organised around rural production or, in villages by the sea, around the ocean or rivers. It was also supported by the cohesive knowledge of craftsmen maintaining the age-old activity of making agricultural implements and household instruments of wood and vegetable fibre, curiously quite similar to the construction of wooden boats and respective equipment.

Despite some innovations meanwhile introduced, tradition upholds even today the identity and expression of Goan rural architecture. The traditional mats known as olas, made from interwoven coconut palm leaves, along with radial ploughs and harrows used to break up rice paddy soil, and carpentry work for houses and domestic furniture acquired from makeshift roadside workshops, reveal the mastery of the diverse occupations linked to the construction of houses, temples and boats. These identifying traits are still alive, even though some materials are disappearing from the building process, such as rammed-earth [taipa], adobe and solutions using woven vegetal fibres coated with earth and dung. Laterite is still used, however, along with wood to a certain extent. But in the major centres cement has been gaining ground, especially for the construction of temples and also new houses. The wood used to build boats, a notable age-old art still present in riverbank shipyards, is also giving way to steel for large ships, and more recently to fibreglass for smaller vessels.

The traditional Goan small or middling house is often strongly associated to urban architecture, especially in the territory of the Old Conquests. The borderline is vague, with respect to placement and sometimes formal constructive or even typological relationships, even though in the latter the sizes and proportions are different. Some of the models covered by our survey serve to explain this interaction, for in many cases, even the most elementary ones, we see manifestations of that cross-contamination. This is especially true in the larger towns and villages, where in the vaguely defined areas between centre and outskirts or, generally speaking, between zones whose clusters form physical units or socio-religious specificities, this reality is more evident.

As a consequence, as our intention is to establish the typological framework for the traditional Goan rural house, we also consider the urban, town and city models, neither without rejecting intermediate types or those which relate to tradition.

We are nevertheless alert to the fact that the apparently simple group typologies for the Goan rural house result mainly from the aim of establishing bases for their identification. Some result from old models conveying a specific socio-religious genesis. These are influential cases deriving from a potential evolving lineage, and are generally of middle or large size, mostly in laterite stone ashlars and some adobe, or using both. The roof frames are the distinctive element, due to the complexity and quality of the assemblages, which in some cases interconnect a common beam to a structure of wooden columns independent of the ashlars. The extended roof frames form long eaves and porches protecting the balconies almost always associated to the entrance - the reception and social space.

In this group we identified the longitudinally-planned house (block-house), the house with central plan and the patio-house. While the first is based on a succession of compartments, the second results from a central compartment giving access to all the others around it. Both have variants, especially as regards the roofs and respective porches/balconies. The house with central plan is characterised by elevation of the central structure, which sometimes takes the form of an inhabitable turret with inside access via stairs, or is only slightly elevated to regulate the house's ventilation and temperature.

The patio-house groups rooms around an open space, traditionally square. But sometimes we find an axial patio surrounded by walls and sheds in which the house is organised in right angles or forming a linear block, sometimes doubled, set in a single quadrant.

These three typologies arise from a row of elementary houses at construction level, spacious and formal, and can become very complex and large, whether they have just one floor or an upper floor as well.

We also highlight a second group of houses whose features are based on less lasting structures such as mixed frameworks of vegetal fibre and wood with palm-leaf roofs, sometimes mixing in clay with straw and/or cow dung. In this group we include the straw storehouses for sugarcane and rice, or even their technological evolution to roofs made of artificial fibres and plastic. Due to the elementary nature of these typologies, virtually all with just one room or smaller spaces divided by fibre lattices, we include in this group the now rare houses excavated from the laterite.

The Goan rural house reveals a great diversity, wealth of expression, specific spatial arrangements and technologies, and remains uncorrupted mainly due to the staying power of the socio-economic and socio-religious framework of the communities supported by various lines of craftsmen who ensure continuity of their cultural heritage.