Goan Architecture Houses and Features

profile tradtional goan home Goa 34

Goa is located on the west coast of India in the Konkan region, has the state of Maharashtra to the north, and Karnataka to the east and south, and with the Arabian Sea on the western coast. It is also one of India’s smallest state in terms of area and population. Goa was a Portuguese colony from the early 16th century, until it was liberated and annexed by India in 1961. Goa is an international and domestic tourist destination renowned for its beaches, places of worship and world heritage architecture.

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Goan architecture is a combination of Indian, Islamic and Portuguese styles. The Portuguese influence developed over the long colonial Portuguese India era and most of the historic houses still standing were built between the 18th century and the early part of the 20th century. The Portuguese, first made churches with no embellishments, however classical elements crept in later and uptill the middle of the 18th century the religious buildings advertised the style of secular architecture. Double storied houses which were a throwback of the double storeyed mansions as prevalent in Portugal, with a small opening on the ground floor and large windows on the first floor, were prevalent. However, double storeyed houses which were constructed later show the varied designs that were used for decorating the house. By the turn of the 18th century, another style in building construction evolved, namely the single-storeyed house inspired by the Hindu courtyard house.

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The evolution of the Goan identity, metamorphised houses with important elements to inhouse designs features like porch and veranda. The facade of Goan houses began to reveal Italian classical features. The houses of Goa have a story to tell, unravelling the unique blend of Hindu and Christian homes, with the mingling of architecture designs that is known as the Indo- Portuguese style.

Shankhwalker architects featured on Prismma

Shankhwalker architects featured on Prismma

No one coloured his house all white as a mark of respect to Churches and crosses which were painted white. This practice was due to an unwritten rule during the Portuguese occupation of Goa that no private house or building could be painted in white. It is understandable that Goan Christians followed this rule, as white was associated with the virtues of purity and chastity , but, surprisingly, Goan Hindus also respected this practice. As a result of this code, an interesting and aesthetically pleasing trend developed,with the use of dramatic and startling colour, initially achieved with vegetable and natural dyes, which plays an important role in Goan architecture. Colour was decorative and used purely to create a sensation. However, this was not completely a matter of individual choice, since during Portuguese rule the owner of the house could be fined if his house was not painted. Very few buildings are coloured exactly alike and solid colours are used for front facades, interiors are usually in paler colours.

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Social customs left an important mark on the traditional pre-Portuguese Hindu homes, which were inward-looking with small windows, this reflected the secluded role of women as they were not allowed to move freely outside, so the inside of the house was her domain. . The houses opened into courtyards, and rarely opened onto streets. A traditional Hindu house was normally rectangular in plan and single storied, with a central courtyard called as rajangan, where a tulsi vrindavan is seen and the central entrance has a verandah with a space called chowki, where family activities take place. The rooms are arranged around a central pillared courtyard. Deva kood was a room for prayers and ther rituals. A kitchen with a door was called ranchi kood, and a space called soppo, for relaxing. Saal, a hall, and balantin kood, which is a room for pregnant women and kothar a store room for nursing mothers. The dining hall was called Vasri and manne, bathrooms located next to the well. Goan Hindu houses do not show any Portuguese influence.

entrance seating goa home Chandan goa2

The Catholic houses built or refurbished between the middle of the 18th and the 20th centuries were more outward looking and ornamental, with balcoes (covered porches) and verandas facing the street. The large balcoes had built-in seating, open to the street, where men and women could sit together and chat with their neighbours, or just enjoy the evening breeze. These balcoes are bordered by ornamental columns that sometimes continued along the steps and added to the stature of the house. The houses of rich landlords had high plinths with grand staircases leading to the front door or balcoe. With the passage of time it evolved with elaborate Western style detail and the stairs began to assume various shapes and the sizes wherein the single curvature railing was replaced by the multiple curvatures Baroque railing. The seats that were earlier restricted to the floor of the balcao started appearing on the stairs and gradually took the different forms and extended to the entire stairway.

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Most houses were symmetrical with the entrance door occupying the place of honour. Typically this front door lead to a foyer which then either lead to the sala (the main hall ) or the sala de visita (a smaller hall ) and in some cases the chappel in the house. From here one could also directly enter the rest of the house, which usually revolved around a courtyard. Typically the master bedroom opened into the sala or is close to it. The dining room was usually perpendicular to these rooms, the bedrooms flanked the courtyard, and the kitchens and service areas were at the rear of the house. In the case of two-story houses, a staircase, either from the foyer or the dining room, lead to more bedrooms.

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The primary material used to build a house in those days was mud as it’s potential as a building material must have been apparent at an early stage of human development. Usually wet mud was used directly, mixed with cow dung and perhaps to give more body chopped straw, gravel or stone was added. A wall was built up in courses about a foot high, each left to dry until it could bear the next layer.

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Factors that influenced residential architectural design in Goa :

  • Protection from fierce seasonal monsoons.
  • During the Portuguese occupation of Goa, the Portuguese Empire rules allowed Goan people to travel abroad and on their return, brought with them ideas and influences from other countries, which the Goan master builders executed, using local building materials, making the Goan house a mixture and adaptation of design elements and influences from other cultures.
  • The traditional Baroque architecture style of Portuguese-built churches.
    Newly converted Goan Catholics were encouraged to adopt European lifestyle to separate them from their cultural roots, which they did but did not cut themselves off from their Indian roots completely, and resulting cultural fusion affected house design.

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Steps involved in building a Goan House :

There are various steps involved in building a Goan house which are very scientific and practical because of the weather conditions of Goa which makes it very special and unique in the world.

  • The first step involved digging of the well. In other words the houses were built around wells. Once the location of the house was decided, the water diviner was consulted, and it was only after the well has been dug and the presence of an abundant supply of water confirmed that the house owner would put his building plans into action.
  • Second step involved in the construction was the selection of the right material to build the house. Red laterite found below the ground level and is is available in plenty in Goa was the most favoured material for the house building. It could be cut and dressed with ease and became hardened on weathering thus improving with age. The other materials used for construction included wood, iron and in limited amount, marble. The Goans had developed considerable skills in working wrought iron.
  • The third step involved the making of the roof of a Goan house for which the material had to be selected carefully. Goa’s forests offered its house builders bamboo, coconut palm and hardwoods that gave rise to technically unique roof system, basically simple thatched roofs made from palm fronds and bamboo frames, but due to the fierce monsoons of Goa, gave way to the roofs covered with hand crafted country tiles. A hardwood framework covered by country tiles was a perfect alternative to palm fronds to withstand these conditions.
  • For tiles, clay was excavated from the banks of the rivers and mixed with water to form viscous dough, which was then split into two halves which are then used as an individual tile to cover the roof.
  • Finally for the plasters of the walls crystalline limestone was used which is rich in magnesium, which was first ground and then mixed in right proportions with water and sand and plastered on the walls for the final finish.

traditional goan concrete seating Chandan goa8

Major features of the typical Indo-Portuguese houses:

  • Front doors: In Goa the front doors provide an opportunity for embellishment. They serve to divide spaces, to add to the character of the building and to exhibit the tastes and preferences of the owner. The front doors were flanked by columns or pilasters. They were simple in design, wider and larger than internal doors and, large planks fitted with battens served the purpose reasonably well. Gothic arches over the doors were another feature that served to exaggerate posture.
  • Gateways to the houses were lofty and elegant in the 18th century later they were replaced by towering gateways. Gateways consisted of elaborately carved compound walls on either side of the gate posts.
  • The windows were of an imaginative style that is yet another contribution from Goa to the architecture of the world. Large ornamental windows with stucco mouldings opened into verandas. These may appear purely decorative, but were actually the devices to help sailors identify their homes at a distance as they sailed in. Windows gradually became more decorative, ornate, and expressive as using glass or window coverings made from the materials like silk, velvet, or lace were not practical to use due to the humid climate of Goa instead they used windowpane shells, these provided the privacy and elegance to the local people.
  • Railings were the most intricate embellishment in a Goan house, cast iron railings were direct imports from British India. Ornamental railing often combined Greek key and Gothic motifs to make up some of the most exclusive railings designs in the world. Floral motifs were added on it at the intersection of the wooden strips. The wooden railings with turned bolsters were executed by Goan craftsmen who often copied motifs from Hindu temples.
  • Eaves boards are the gable ends and eaves of timber roofs decorated with carved timber fascias, and were used on the verge of gables where the coverings of roof extended over the wall. The plain edge was just nailed to the roof on the rafters. The planks are first sawn, an organic or geometric design drawn on the plank and then the pattern is drawn out. Goan Catholics often used motifs and symbols from temples in their domestic architecture.
  • Floor tiles are a unique feature of Goan houses and are a perfect blend of Portuguese and Italian tiles that still look as glowingly fresh as when they were first installed, with elaborate patterns made with tiles imported from Europe.
  • A typical red Mangalore tile was used for the roofing of traditional built Goan Catholic houses. Country tiles used as a corbel are a feature peculiar to Goa. The effect achieved is aesthetically pleasing, giving the roof projection a solid, moulded appearance.
  • To protect the house from wind and air drafts and to cover the tiled roof false ceilings were used and they gained popularity in the 1700’s with typical false ceiling which was intricately carved by the Goan carpenters. Almost all Goan houses have a false ceiling of wood.


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