Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Athangudi tiles

I had an opportunity to visit the village of Attangudi, near Madurai where traditional artisans continue to make colourful floor tiles that are similar to the red oxide floor but with geometrical and floral motifs. The tiles looked beautiful. As you watch the tiles being made, and go back and forth from looking at the process to the finished product, you know that this is something you want to use, simply because the colours, the designs and the sheen look great.

The question is “Would this only work in a traditional house plan?” Many of us are keen on a contemporary house and you wonder if a beige vitrified tile floor would be more in tune with your non-ethnic tastes? Luckily for us, there are immense possibilities, if we do decide to go with the attangudi tile floor. Its possible to order tiles with just a single colour and no motifs; its possible to order floor tiles that are plain and skirting tiles that have a simple geometric design, with colours that complement each other. Besides, I do believe that its possible to include elements with traditional motifs in a contemporary setting. Its just about knowing how much of the traditional and how much of the modern.

Here is a YouTube film on the making of Athangudi tiles :

Source :

Most of us in the cities would buy tiles for our house from the biggest brands in ceramic tiles such as Kajaria or Johnson tiles. Kajaria Ceramics which is a 700 crore company has a European collection. They import tiles from Italy and Spain for the Indian market. While we source from Europe, can we also source from a village in Tamil Nadu? Kajaria has a distribution network of about 600 dealers and about 6000 sub-dealers all over the country. What if the display division of the marketing department at Kajaria or Johnson focused on promoting Athangudi tiles as well?

If the curricula in architecture schools in India would encourage its students to document vernacular ways of building and traditional building materials and their processes, we could create a database that Kajaria could use. If the curricula in management schools would encourage its students to document the supply-chain systems in rural economies and analyse how these could be made more efficient, we could perhaps make it attractive for Kajaria to seek out and support the artisan of Athangudi while making great profits in their business.

In the meanwhile, if you want to khow how to visit the Athangudi village, you can contact Karthick Gopal at He is part of the DHAN foundation, an NGO that works in several villages of Tamil Nadu. Here are their contact details : DHAN Foundation, 18, Pillaiyar Koil Street, S.S. Colony, Madurai - 625 016, Tamil Nadu.
Tel: +91-452-2610794, 2610805 and the link to their website :

In case you would just like to order the tiles, you can still contact DHAN since they know the artisans well and will be able to give you their contact details. Here is a link to their blog: Explore Chettinad

Thursday, January 21, 2010

City Design in India

It may be useful to establish a Research unit to support a Municipal Corporation or Urban Development Authority in every Indian city.

This unit is required to develop further design concepts that will benefit the city in the long-term. There would be research activities conducted here (both by the Unit Staff & external Consultants) without the pressures of time and the urgency of constantly executing projects and “making a visible difference”. Projects would be allowed time from 6 months to 2 years before implementation takes place. Short-term deadlines and handling of the day-to-day problems of the city would be carried out by the other departments of Municipal Corporation or UDA. A Research unit of this kind will maintain consistency of vision for the city’s development over the years.

The following projects may be initiated at the Research Unit for City Design (RUCD) :
- Socio-economic and physical surveys of specific areas within the city
- Documentation of Streets & Public spaces
- How to utilise Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Infrastructure planning, such as water supply, telephone cables, sewerage system, drainage system, etc.
- Developing Urban Design guidelines
- Development of Urban spaces – squares /plazas and spaces between buildings -Improving Traffic sense and Civic sense amongst the Public (through awareness campaigns & educational packages for schools)
- Renewable energy systems – implications for the city, e.g. solar energy for street lighting
- Street design & Art in Public plazas
- Exploring the use of Rain-water harvesting on the city scale
- Environmental planning
- Fellowship programme for design & planning studies
- Exposure lectures / programs/ visits for the town planning staff
- Maintaining a network of Resource persons / professionals for projects to be undertaken
- Evaluating Building & Planning norms and making them more realistic and designed to make a better city
- Evolving strategies for the sustenance and future development of old, historic parts of the city
- Building and maintaining a Public library of City Design & Planning (with books on Urban architecture, Street development, Landscape Planning, Squares & Plazas, Lighting, Outdoor Environment, City Planning, etc.)
- Questionnaire Survey of Residents in the city regarding the day-to-day problems and facilities required.
- Questionnaire Survey of Visitors to the city (this may be carried out particularly at Professionals’Conferences being held in the city)