Pillaichavady Kuppam Community Center

Project Outcome:

Pillaichavady kuppam, a village located on the East Coast Road, 160 km south of Chennai, was devastated by the tsunami. While there was no loss of life due to the tsunami, there was extensive damage to housing and property, and a significant loss of livelihood. 40 houses and public toilets (8 stalls) were destroyed, 10 fiberglass boats and 35 catamarans were lost and fishing nets were damaged. Many NGO’s, including League for Education and Development (LEAD), assisted the villagers in replacing their boats and nets. LEAD helped rebuild 23 damaged thatch and mud homes.

Using the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) method, and hands-on design workshops, Architecture for Humanity (AFH) and LEAD assisted the community in identifying their needs, evaluating the grants available through AFH, and in creating a program for design. With the guidance of the design team, a final program was developed, outlining the need for a multi-purpose indoor Community Hall for cultural and communal events, a Women’s Self Help Group (WSHG) office, a combined Youth and Children’s room with library, an additional office/storage space for festival related items, and toilets. In lieu of building new toilets, it was proposed that the existing, tsunami damaged and unusable, public toilet block, be renovated and rendered usable again. This would provide the community with 8 toilet units as opposed to the one or 2 at the new community center site.

The project, as it stands today, includes 2 buildings, a Multi-Purpose Community Hall; and a building housing the WHSG office and a Youth/Children’s room; and the renovated public toilet block about a 100 meters from the Community Center. The interior spaces of the 2 building add up to 1,350SF.

As the first public building for the community, the center serves as a focal point of celebration and learning for the community.

LEAD will continue its relationship with the community by monitoring and supporting the WSHGs and the micro lending programs.

Some of the challenges faced along the way included:

project delays due to inclement weather; high inflation; shortage of materials (bricks,cement); shortage of labor; unreliability of labor and the contractor; and having on the team non-local contractors who could not ensure continous work delivery. A considerable amount of money was lost as the primary contractor walked off the project at 75% completion.

The construction team lacked the ability to accurately interpret the drawings. That, along with the primary contractor’s tendency to make on-site design decisions without consultation with the architect, resulted in several design deviations, especially in the details. However, overall, the built project reflects the central design concepts.

Description of structure/project

The central ideas behind the design concept include

1. a desire to continue to maintain the link between the main street on the south side of the site and the volley ball court on the north,

2. to create informal spaces for people to relax such as verandahs

3. to provide the building users with views to the various activities in the area

The concept has been realized with the provision of 2 buildings, facing each other, each with a front tinnai (vernadah) running north-south; and a path between the 2 buildings running north-south. The space between the 2 buildings is a soothing space, shaded by a bamboo trellis, a place to pause, to interact, to relax…

Building 1, on the west, is the Meeting/Ceremony Hall with its main doors opening on the east side to address the community’s need to open eastwards toward the ocean for ceremonial events such as ear-piercing, 1st birthday rituals, coming of age celebrations etc. The space near the west wall will be used for the performance of rituals.

Building 2, on the east, has 2 rooms including a WSHG office/Library and a Children/Youth room.
The public toilets have been renovated by repairing the existing plumbing system, installing new toilet fixtures, installing new doors, installing a new water tank, a new ferro cement roof and painting the structure as needed. Existing parts reminescent of the older structure were left as is, hinting at the structure’s past history.

As the community center is located near the seashore, the structures were designed for extreme weather conditions including tsunamis. Materials are permanent in nature, such as RCC (reinforced cement concrete) used for footings, columns; bricks for walls, filler mangalore tile used in the RCC roof slab.

Traditional materials such as terracotta “jaali” tiles or screen tiles were used in lieu of windows, in selected locations. A bamboo trellis has been used to create a shaded space connecting the 2 buildings.

Other considerations were maintenance related. Wooden shutters, instead of wood and glass shutters, were used where needed to avoid frequent glass pane replacements due to breakage.


(Reported by LEAD) Pillaichavadikuppam community centre will be used for various purposes like organizing panchayat meetings, meetings for SHGs, meetings for people with disability and for family functions. As the people are waiting for the house warming ceremony to take place, the community centre at present is put into use for organizing monthly meetings of the panchayat leaders, SHGs and people with disability.

The traditional panchayat consists of 19 people and all are men, however people from dalit, fisher and other caste group participate in the meeting. Three SHGs meet regularly in this centre and at present 130 women members make use of the building and they belong to dalit, fishers and other caste group. The building will be used regularly by the community for any family and community function. The fishers by sale of fish earn Rs.120 per day and the dalits usually work as wage labourers and earn Rs.90 per day. The community centre will become a tuition centre for children and nearly 25 children above the age of 12 years will benefit out of this centre.

Village population: 4000 people, including fishermen caste, Dalits, and Backward caste.

7 WSHG’s (Women’s Self Help Groups), each with approximately 20 women member participants

Although the buildings are for the community at large, in a move to empower the women of the community, they will assume charge of the community center.

Design Innovations

Some important design features include:

1. A Wave/Curved wall with small, playful, circular openings on the south side to view the ocean, provide light and ventilation to the interiors and to minimize impact due to tsunami.

2. “Tinnais” or Verandahs, providing shaded, comfortable spaces for the relaxation and interaction of the community members at any time.

3. A bamboo trellis connecting the 2 entrance tinnais enhancing the spatial quality, and providing dappled, lively shade and shadows.

4. “Jaalis” i.e. terracotta screens, used extensively in the Multi-Purpose Community Hall, facilitating ventilation and ambient daylight.

5. The filler tile roof slab, used because it was an econmical solution, and keeps the interiors cooler than if RCC was used.

6. A vibrant paint pallete including colors such as yellow, orange, brick red, green, selected to reflect the vibrancy of the community.

7. A new ferro cement, cast-on-site, channel roof over the toilet block, replacing the previous tsunami-damaged roof.

Other design considerations were use of small openings on the west side to reduce impact of the afternoon sun, painting of the roof in white to reduce heat impact by reflecting the sunlight.

As a cost savings as well as an environmetally sensible measure, the existing toilet structure was reused as far as possible. Only required elements were added and/or replaced. This helped reduce debris, and limited the use of new materials which come with embodied energy.

Another environmentally sensitive measure was the full reuse, and implied diversion from the waste stream, of materials that had been used in the temporary government structure at the project site prior to the start of the new building construction. The reused materials include precast concrete panels, steel pipes and a sheet roof. The community used these materials to enhance their existing temple hall.

Occupant Feedback

(Reported by LEAD) Madhavi, a group leader of a Self help group said, this community centre will be useful for all family functions and for our SHG meetings. As we are poor, we need a place at a very nominal rent to organize family functions. This community centre will meet our need and it is very useful to our village. She also said, Auroville is planning to bring a toy making programme for the benefit of our village women. We hope to use the building for that purpose and we will be able to earn more income. Arani, panchayat leader also said, the community centre will be useful for the benefit of school children, as they could use it as a group study centre and learn and clarify their doubts from their peers.

Project Partners/end users

Mr.Arani, the panchayat leader, Mr.Selvam, a local youth, Mrs.Poorani and Mrs.Padmavathi, leaders of women group and Ms.Rajalakshmi, Mr.Ajith, Ms.Saritha and Mr.Gowtham children from Pillaichavadi participated in the programme in realizing the community centre. The community is considered the most important partner in this project.


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