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Pol houses (residential cluster)
Ahmedabad, India
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A self-sustaining community based settlement.

image: architexturez | © all rights reserved
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Category:
meeting place
Phase:
in use
Design:
unknown
Updated:
16 December 2014
introduction

The historic city of Ahmadabad is characterised by an urban pattern, consist of three scales of community based settlement: the neighborhood 'Pur', the sub neighborhood 'Pol' and a house. Pol houses is considered as a primary housing typology built for more than 300 years in the city of Ahmadabad. The pol settlement pattern has a rural origin prevalent in the villages of North Gujarat.

Ahmadabad has a rich heritage of settlement patterns in its historic old town, which was populated by a large merchant community in various community settlements following different religions. Following the communal riots of 1714 and the civil disorder of the 18th century, the houses built in the city were organised in dense clusters consisitng of a set of dead end streets entered through a single gateway. The residents of each cluster tended to belong to not only the same religion but also the same caste, or occupation group. The gate into each cluster could be closed. These clusters are called 'Pol'.

A combination of several of such settlements Pol formef a neighborhood, and these neighborhoods again constituted the entire fortified historic city. These neighborhoods have their own urban structure which is self sufficient for the communities, where each 'Pol' is also a self sufficient unit. As the individual Pol is an entity by itself, the neighborhood is also an entity at a larger scale. So the progression goes further, which gives the city an urban pattern consistong of these neighborhoods that downscale to a house.

Each Pol was socially and architecturally homogenous and provided a territory for the interaction, co-operation and interdependence. This enhanced the formation of a cohesive and self-sustaining community whose physical boundaries were set by the day-to-day interactions of its inhabitants. Some Pols were also places of work, where artisans sold their wares on the thoroughfares outside of the pols.

Conceptual drawing of the street heirarchy

image: Adapted from Solanki _1986) | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Plan of a pol

image: Drawing by Jon Lang | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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pol entrance1

image: unknown | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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pol entrance 2

image: unknown | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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intricatelly carved balconies

image: public domain
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Chabutaro

image: public domain
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A pol entry with window for watch over it.

image: public domain
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Visitors sightseeing a renovated pol house

image: public domain
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a sketch showing a typical afternoon in a pol

image: public domain
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The Otla

image: public domain
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Over the courtyard of a house.

image: public domain
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Narrow lanes with varying house scales

image: public domain
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External facade of Mangaldas Ni Haveli

image: public domain
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cultural and social context

Within a Pol, everybody knew each other. Each family had a set of obligations to participate in Pol councils, and the weddings and funerals of other families. The social sytem demanded an adherence to behavioural norms and in return, the families recieved a sense of social and physical security, a sense of belonging and a sense of place in the broader society.

The essence of the social nature of Pols lies in the Otlas. While The street comes alive right through the day break with washing, cleaning and water filling activities taking place on the front otla and street edges, where chowkdi (wash places), water taps and drainage connections are provided. Ottas get occupied by women washing clothes and utensils, filling water, while men are brushing teeth, reading newspaper or drinking tea … Occasionally young children are found playing on otlas.

During festivals and weddings, neighbourhood otlas are richly decorated with rangoli (sandpainting) and symbolic decorations, many of which are considered to be auspicious. The otla establishes a coherent social character for a neighbourhood and mitigates harsh climactic effects. The otla is one of the most comfortable urban areas due to the high degree of shade on it throughout the day.The shade comes from the narrow nature of the streets.

Activity in an otla

image: Tabitha Antony | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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materials and building techniques

Houses are mainly multi-story, usually made of brick and mortar. Massive walls are supported with timber structures.; many of them are ornamented with wooden carving. A tacit system is employed in the planning of the house that is based on the degrees of privacy which determines who can enter the house, how far one can past the courtyard or up the steep flight of steps.

The construction of the houses in the pols is like a one which is found in the towns of north Gujarat. The houses have peculiar construction with entrances and the open space.There is an otla outside the house. At the main gate, there is some open space inside which is used to put things like traditional cots etc. Then there is a space open to sky called chowk. The rainwater falls in the chowk. The chowk and parsal are the peculiarities of the houses of the pol. There is a central hall which has a place where the housewife can cook in sitting position. There is a provision for chimney over the fireplace (Chulha) as an outlet for smoke of the kitchen. Then there is a big room with two small ventilators.

In the houses of rich people. There are beautiful engravings on the wooden frames and the shutters of the cupboards as well as the door panels. Each door frame has a todla, a large wooden peg driven into the wall, and a recess in the wall beside it. The small recesses or holes in the wall were used for placing lamps. The big recesses in the wall in the inside hall were used to keep things, clothes etc.

 

wood engravings on a pol house facade

image: Dhruvil Pandya | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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A courtyard inside the pol house

image: Dhruvil Pandya | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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earth and climate

The city is considered to have summer all the year round. It can be described as a hot climate with average outdoor temperatures between 20°C and 34° C. May is the hottest month with peak temperatures rising up to an intolerable 42°C and January the coldest with an average day temperature of 20°C. The city really never faces winters except a few months (December, January) when the night time temperatures reach as low as 10-14°C. For most part of the year Ahmedabad is hot and dry, with tropical rains for only three months from August to September. Mild season (November to February) is within the comfort zone for most parts of the day.Gujarat is also prone to severe earthquake.

Narrow streets shaded

image: Tarkik Patel | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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image gallery
A bird feeder or Chabutaro

image: unknown | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Narrow lanes of a pol

image: public domain
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External facade of Mangaldas Ni Haveli

image: public domain
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Intricate woodwork over the courtyard of a house

image: public domain
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Different uses of an Otla

image: public domain
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Different uses of an Otla(2)

image: public domain
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Intricate woodwork on external facade of house

image: public domain
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A typical gate of a Pol with cabin on top for security guard

image: public domain
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Narrow, shaded lanes of a pol street

image: public domain
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Otla of desolate house still being used for shade and rest.

image: public domain
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Location
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