The amphitheatre on the roof of the music hub.
The amphitheatre on the roof of the music hub.

Carnatic singers create eco-friendly music hub in Kerala

Carnatic singer couple Vishnudev KS and Lakshmi V’s home in Karukutty, Kerala, is a centre for the arts.

Home is where the past is. For Carnatic singers Vishnudev KS and his wife Lakshmi V, it was certainly not Chennai. They wished their house to be part of the natural environment. The couple returned to Vishnudev’s ancestral place in Karukutty, 46 km from Kochi, where he had inherited a plot of land. They wanted architects who specialise in using mud as construction material.

The obvious choice was Vinu Daniel, who had made it to TIME magazine’s list of 100 influential leaders of 2023. “Vinu has an experimental mindset,” explains Vishnudev. The architect and his colleague Oshin Mariam Varughese inspected the land and liked what they saw. “I knew we should incorporate rural concepts in the building, which is why we settled on traditional mud architecture,” Vinu says.

The construction began in 2020 and lasted three years. The roof has been made with traditional terracotta tiles, but the ceiling is poly-jute cloth. Wire mesh stretches from one end of the main hall to the other. These constructs open the house to nature. On some days, a steady breeze would blow in.

“Glass panes would have heated up the hall,” says Vinu, who invented the Shuttered Debris Wall Technique that mixes mud with leftover cement, inorganic waste and coconut shells to build the house’s resilient 25-27-ft-high walls that cool the interior. “Just two walls in the hall bear the entire weight of a cantilever studio,” says Vinu.

Vishnudev KS and Lakshmi V
Vishnudev KS and Lakshmi VFile Photo

Vishnudas’s next instruction was to make a space to perform and teach music; “visitors should feel the house is built for musicians,” he told Vinu. Result: the 2,200 sqft hall is devoid of furniture. Vishnudas and Lakshmi were ambitious; they asked for space to hold concerts. Vinu measured the angle of the roof and matched it with angle of an amphitheatre, turning the roof itself into an amphitheatre.

On one side of the house had been planned an elongated swimming pool. Vinu covered part of it with wooden planks and removed tiles at different levels of the roof and filled the empty spaces with 34 glass seats. The Carnatic couple named their house the Nisarga Art Hub. “Nisarga in Sanskrit means ‘natural state.’ When somebody comes here, they can be themselves. An artiste can express his truest self here,” says Vishnudev.

Leading Dhrupad vocalist Niloy Ahsan inaugurated the hub with a recital at the amphitheatre. The images went viral with over nine million views on Instagram and YouTube. Vinu hopes the buzz would help promote the place as an artistes’ residency. Vishnudev plans to make a separate building with rooms for visiting artistes to stay. Nisarga has become the perfect marriage between form and function.

The New Indian Express