Building back better

Breathing life into abandoned structures, three architects are painting Kozhikode green with their adaptive reuse design philosophy.

Published: 18th September 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th September 2022 03:44 PM   |  A+A-

(From left) Faheem M Faisal, Muhammed Noufal and Sheeha Hameed

(From left) Faheem M Faisal, Muhammed Noufal and Sheeha Hameed

A team that celebrates together, slays together—on the work front. That seems to be the spirit behind the ‘Oru Adipoli Onam (One Fantastic Onam)’ video celebrating the opening of a new office in June by the youngsters at Dome of Thoughts (DOT) in Kozhikode, Kerala. The group of 15 youngsters, aged between 22 and 35, could easily be mistaken for a new-age startup discussing analytics and metrics at weekly meetings.

In reality, they are brainstorming rudimentary but fundamental aspects of their creative process: buffalo grass as a design element? Rat-trap bond masonry or conventional bricks? Terracotta tiles for the gable roof? 

Founded by 28-year-olds Sheeha Hameed, Faheem M Faisal and Muhammed Noufal, DOT Architects 
is a design firm whose philosophy is rooted in adaptive reuse of structures—an architectural approach to reduce, recycle and repurpose existing structures for cost-efficiency and durability using local resources and manpower. “We remain faithful to the original structure, keep things close to nature and blend it with design aesthetics,” says Faisal.

Passionate about breathing life into abandoned, old structures rather than building anew, the three classmates of the National Institute of Technology in Calicut formed DOT Architects in 2019—the year they graduated. Going by the projects they have handled so far—the Yellow  House (an abandoned warehouse turned into a co-working space), the House of Mirrors (a 2,200 sq-ft-old house turned into a 3BHK in Malappuram), the White Lounge (a 40-year-old bungalow turned into a restaurant in Nilambur)—and three others in progress, DOT’s philosophy of recycling and conversion is gaining ground in Kerala. This month, they are marshalling their ideas to work on a 5,500-sq-ft dilapidated house in Sultan Bathery on the national highway in Wayanad. 

Faisal is taking inspiration from vernacular architecture for the project. He is using the rat-trap bond masonry style—incidentally introduced by architect Laurie Baker in 1970 in Kerala— a complex network of bricks placed vertically instead of in the conventional horizontal manner, thus creating a cavity. It is a popular local style that ensures natural thermal insulation while reducing material usage by 30 per cent. Many builders don’t have the skilled manpower for this and compromise by using regular brick construction. DOT also relies on locally sourced materials for construction. Says Faisal: “We use buffalo grass for some design elements since one can just pick up a big bale of it from the roadside.”

It was the Yellow House project—the firm’s first—on the south beach part of the city, which made people sit up and take notice. A thriving co-working space today, the 60-year-old building was a nondescript 5,000-sq-ft warehouse, with scaffolding jutting out. “The warehouse was stuffy, suffered from terrible lighting and ventilation, and had poor space management. Our brief from the owner was to resolve these issues, and give it a new look, yet not tear apart the structure. We replaced the old straight roof with a gable one to deflect the heat from the sun in the already-humid Calicut. We used Mangalore tiles, arched the windows, and built a cantilevered balcony to bring the outdoor element into the structure,” Faisal explains about the co-working space, which was completed in 2021.

The room with the best views of the Arabian Sea was turned into a conference room with a long vertical yellow table as the centrepiece, and French windows opening into the horizon. They took old wooden beams and red stones from the warehouse to their new office to be reused for a fresh project. These architects are building a better future, one brick at a time.

––with Krishna PS

India Matters


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