Exploring New Cultures: Vernacular Heritage of Jaisalmer

Overlooking the city
The Jaisalmer Fort Overlooking the City

2150.9 Miles (3461.6 Kilometers)from Beirut, Lebanon to Jaisalmer, India �with an approximate travel time of 4 hrs, 28 min; these cities stand out in contrast to each other.

The city in the middle of the Thar Desert is an architectural destination that survived years of worldwide urbanization. Jaisalmer, a world heritage site in the Indian state of Rajasthan, known for being called “The Golden city”, and located on the west of the capital Jaipur is hugged by the Pakistani borders from the West and South-West, crowned by a fortress, with several temples and a palace.It’s architecture is finely sculptured in yellow sandstone. Located in a deserted region, Jaisalmer, is prey to extreme differences of temperature during seasons. Throughout summer the maximum can reach 49��C and the minimum in winter is usually 5�C.

Jaisalmer is famous for its fort that stands atop a hill overlooking a rural community where colorful medieval architecture co-exists �with dull small town dwellings. �From a distance, the fort seems like a sand castle, standing on top of a mound. �The sandy ambiance makes you wonder about the structural composition that survived years of weather alterations. Seven Jain temples are to be found within the Jaisalmer fort. Among these temples, the biggest one called The Paraswanath Temple and has the most striking features; others such as Chandraprabhu temple, Rishabdev temple, Shitalnath Temple, Kunthunath Temple, and Shantinath Temple come second in terms of size and beauty. Known for their exquisite work of art and architecture that was predominant in the medieval era the temples are also built out of yellow sandstone and have intricate engravings on them.

The fortress, has been described �as an architectural phenomenon by specialists in the domain. The orientation of its gates face the Northeast , however the Western parts are higher and thicker, helping the wind circulate, regenerating fresh air inside. �Suspended balconies are extended beyond the facades in order to acquire breeze from the streets. Most of the materials used are local: the wood ceilings are made of muram, which is a natural deflecting material of heat. Since the weather is one of the most important reasons the architecture is implemented in that matter, we realize how the climate plays a very important role in determining spaces, by generating indoor and outdoor units since some outdoor Indian activities� acquire a certain significance.

Charles Correa, a famous architect believes that, “form follows climate”. This reflection of his thoughts suggests that a built environment �cooperates with climate in a positive matter. Traditionally, most buildings necessarily responded to climate. Before the invention of heating and cooling techniques, architecture depended on natural resources in order to maintain reasonable temperature inside the dwellings depending on the exterior weather conditions. �The articulation of the spaces comes to life with the glorious history hidden underneath the structures. Since I have never been to India,� my knowledge derives from the history of architecture courses I took at the university. Indian architecture embraces different features such as pavilions, courtyards, mosques, tombs and temples as well as signature entrances. In addition to that, the domestic architecture plays an important role of the instrumental ambiance of Indian architecture. The construction depends on different physical constraints.

Yellow Sandstone construction
Yellow Sandstone Construction

In Jaisalmer, the layout of the town is planned in order to abide by the harsh climate. The streets of the village follow a certain orientation rule (WNW-ESE) that ensures the shading of the facades specially for the ones oriented towards the south, (basically exposed to sun more than the others). Each street is studied according to the sun position. The width �of the road varies accordingly with the height of the buildings adjacent that are used as sunshade for other structures.

Basically air flow provides human thermal comfort, but in Jaisalmer this matter has to be designed carefully in order to create this comfort. Natural air movement through a building is caused either by wind or by temperature variations between the inside and the outside. When buildings are built adjacent to each other, wind doesn’t get into the rooms easily and temperature differences prevents natural ventilation unless special features are designed in the dwellings. Due to tremendous sand storms that happen to occur several times a year, successful ventilation ensures adequate air movement through all the units, reducing dust particles. Vertical shafts are also used for ventilation and the courtyard effect takes place as well in order to deflect wind down staircases and into the house.

Balconies extended outside the facades and over the streets
Balconies extended outside the facades and over the streets

Many of Jaisalmer houses have a basement, units that are used to hide valuables. Since the temperature underground remains almost the same throughout the year due to the absence of heat load and fast decomposition of temperature wave in the soil. These rooms are barely ventilated or lighted, so they are not used as living space. Some of the benefits of sub-surface edifices are, however, available in the lower ground of the taller buildings, which remains much cooler than the upper floors of the same buildings.

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