Back to Basics with Vault Construction

The projects completed by Earthscape Studio are discernible and easy to identify by now; the solutions are all naturally shaped structures with minimum manmade interventions and humble materials found alongside the site. We look at one of their low-cost, sustainable structures that answers all the needs of the client while being easy on the pocket for construction and maintenance.

In most cases for Earthscape Studio, the site and its specification set the parameters for their architectural solutions. In the bowl-shaped contour site at Permade, Kerala, with a level difference of about 1m to 4 m which continues down to a deep valley, set the tone for the intervention of an animal shelter by the architects.

The natural landscape adds beauty to the site and the climate of the site is mostly misty with rains for around nine months a year continuously. A small drain runs through the site which also helps in directing the natural flow of rain water down.

“Experimenting with solutions in architecture gives us a thrill and helps in learning better. This experimental quality is inspired from my architectural mentor, Ar.Vinu Daniel. This structure is the experimental Timbrel vaulting structure done for the cowshed at a contour site. The Timbrel Vault technique has been followed as per my mentor, Ar.Senthil Kumar Doss’s Catenary based vault structure. He is known as the Indian Father of the Timbrel Vault,” says Petchimuthu Kennedy, lead architect of Earthscape Studio.

The idea of proposing a vault for a cowshed is to make it economically low cost says Kennedy and we ask him about his fascination for this shape, since this is his second site where he has used the same shape as an architectural solution.

He says, “As an architect we do not want to spend money and use expensive materials for the animal shelter. We wanted to reduce the construction cost by using economically sustainable materials and we do not to use any steel or concrete in our building. This Timbrel vault structure is achieved as per the existing natural environment. We did not want to disturb any natural environment and the structure has been placed accordingly.”

The architects explain the process of construction and the materials used in this simple doe like structure.

Recycled rods, casuarinas and bamboo has been used for the supports during construction. Locating the flat land in the site, four anchor points for the vault has been located at different levels of 0m, 0.70m and 2.1m. Four different catenary arches at varying heights creates an eternal experience inside the vault. Three layers of 25mm thick ”Sithu kal” (small bricks) has been used, which is locally available near site around 40kms radius. The maximum span of the catenary arch is 6.6m and the maximum height of the vault is 3m. This fully compression structure where the footing has been designed according to the transfer of forces from the structure making it stable. The shape of the structure follows the natural landform leaving the natural landscape and trees undisturbed where it camouflages with them.

None of the natural landform has been removed and the structure has been built accordingly considering the slope and surroundings. Also considering the heavy wind flow and rainfall at site, openings in the structure has been designed which helps in directing the rain water flow towards the deep valley. The structure has been derived from the Kangaroo physics engine, considering the site surface and applying loads giving us the maximum elasticity of the surface making it a stable compression structure. The existing drain has been allowed to run through the structure which has been used as waste water disposal. Total duration of the construction periods is 3 months despite all the challenges during the heavy rainy days with the deep contour.

We try to understand the philosophy of this architectural group and ask them about their ethos. They say, “Our main ideology towards architecture is, “Buildings should breathe from inside and outside”. And we decide on the materials and the structure based on the site location and the features available on site and the surrounding site characteristics. We wanted to make a sustainable building which creates no harm to the existing environment.”

But what if they were approached by a client who wants to build a luxurious home?

“If we got an opportunity to build a luxury home, we will do that with eco-friendly materials which also makes a building sustainable,” they reiterate.


Project Name: Haven – The Eternal Experience Pavilion

Office Name: Earthscape Studio

Firm Location: Coimbatore, India

Completion Year: 2022

Gross Built Area (m2/ ft2):  600Sq.ft

Project Location: Peermade, Kerala, India

Program / Use / Building Function: Animal Shelter (Cowshed)

Lead Architect: Petchimuthu Kennedy

Team: Petchimuthu Kennedy, Rigesh Niganth, Jeffril J Kumar, Shivani Saran S K


Photo Credits: Althaf AR ; Associate Photographers : Faheem Ismail, Anson Babu