Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Elements of the Goan home

Startling colours of an exterior wall and window from a Margao house. 
Dream like, yet elemental, Goan homes preside over a lush green paradise. The warm and humid climate blurs the distinction between indoors and the outdoors.  Shaping in response to the fecund tropical conditions and long years of colonial rule,   Goan domestic architecture is enriched by the European experience, yet rooted deeply in the local culture.
Ranging from simple mud houses, to grand mansions displaying an agglomeration of Mannerist, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic influences, Goan homes are a palimpsest of architectural styles and influences.
In home after home, one will encounter delightfully syncretic architecture and elaborate interiors that blend pre-existing Hindu and Maratha motifs with European styles introduced by the colonizing Portuguese in the 16th Century.

The broad elements of Goan houses result form a mixture of Indian and Portuguese styles. Homes that are Portuguese in origin are usually two-storeyed and façade oriented. Whereas those of Indian origin are single-storeyed with a traditional courtyard based orientation.
Between the two also, there is wonderful mixing and marrying of ideas, resulting in nuanced, hybrid architecture that is both impressive and inspiring- for example the two-storeyed house in which the top story is functional while the ground floor is merely ornamental. It was Portuguese custom to segregate the lower storey of the house for the household staff and retainers.  Since in the Hindu home the servant quarters were typically located at the back of the house, this bottom storey became shorter, until it reduced to an ornamental high-platform in time,  adorned with decorative arches, pilasters and colonettes.
For a better understanding of the Goan eclectic idiom of house building one may firstly, look at ways in which the local population adopted styles and precedents set by the Portuguese. And secondly, the ways in which the local identity asserted itself in shaping and adapting the influences passed on by the colonial masters.
As they grew in power and rank within the Portuguese administration, the upper class Goan aristocrats sought to emulate and even surpass the grandeur of the residences of their Portuguese counterparts: The examples of this trend are many- The practice of building grand staircases in the entrance halls, many windowed facades- like at the Braganza home in Chandor- busts of classical Renaissance figures in the pediments of façade windows, grand dance halls as a focal point of the home.
In an assertion of the local Goan identity, the erection of a columned porch with seats built into its two sides, called bollcaum, also became commonplace in the 19th century. In time the bollcaum was extended to include the façade of the entire house effectively screening it from rain and the hottest midday sun.  Where on the one hand the covered porch with built in seating confirmed to the Indian ideas of decorum, it did so by extending the house into the public space- adapting to ` open-minded’ western mores. It is an interesting vantage point to observe life go by the house, a feature used frequently by the lady of the house.
Other interesting and unique aspects of the houses one will encounter in the state are the use of locally available building material such as laterite stone in place of brick and lime plaster, which make for sturdy and durable structures.  Additionally, in many homes, readily available mother-of-pearl is used to line window shutters.
The window shutters are particularly enchanting. The shiny iridescent patina of the shell lends luminosity to the spaces that glass shutters – used to replace shell increasingly- are not able to replicate.
Something has to be said about the bright colouring and unabashed love for pigment here.  In the early days of Portuguese rule, only churches and other religious structures were permitted to use white to color their exteriors. The domestic residential structures automatically adopted bold and sensational colors subsequently achieved with the use of vegetable and natural dyes in the past.

A corridor linking two different parts of the house at the Braganza home in Chandor, which seamlessly introduces the outdoors into the house.

Baroque style staircase at the Braganza and Menezes family home in Chandor.

Hindu style Jaali motifs beautifying the exteriors of newer  bunglow style homes in Candolim.

House with a high-seat, Abade Faria Road, Margao

The  Bollocum.

Window shutters lined with pearlescent  capiz shells.


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