Once upon a time, in Mangalore (Karnataka, India), there was a thriving tile industry. Roofing tile, that is.

Mangalore house

Typical tile roof

Tiles

Typical underside decorative tile

The tiles were used throughout India and they were known as “Mangalore Tiles”.
This was true in the not so distant past, just three decades ago, when there were still about 42 factories. Today only about 12 of them are surviving and are producing at a much lower capacity than in the preceding golden years.
The decline in this thriving industry is of course due to many factors and reflects the shift in habits and culture that has been rippling throughout the great subcontinent for decades now.
Like in the west, in fact, construction materials have changed and along with housing preferences have moved away from traditional ways, favoring apartment and condominium living.

New Mangalore housing

New complex under construction

Some of the major developers in the area proudly boast having “changed Mangalore’s skyline” and change it indeed they have.

New Mangalore housing

New addition in the Mangalore skyline

Anywhere you walk in Mangalore you can see multiple skyscrapers under construction.

New Mangalore housing

New complex under construction

New Mangalore housing

New complex under construction

And amongst these endless noisy job-sites however, nestled amidst luscious and sometimes overgrown tropical vegetation some “old treasures” can still be found.

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Some families have managed to hold onto their land, even those surrounded by enormous developments, some others proudly save their homes and even dare restore them to their old grandeur.

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Mangalore house

Why did I start from the tile industry when what I am going to talk about is old homes?
Well, Mangalorean homes all have very defined characters, one of them being a large expanse of steeply pitched roofs, showcasing fine Mangalore tiles. Something that none of the new sky-scraping developments can really claim. So once the use of the tiles declined, so did the tile industry of the area.
Many of the typical features of the architecture of Mangalore are directly linked to the local climate and culture.

  •   Pitched clay roofs to protect from the monsoon rains
  •   Covered exterior verandas protect from the scorching sun and provide a cooling spot during rainy season
  •   Use of locally sourced laterite stone blocks are the most suitable material as it is strong, hard and highly resistant to moisture.
Laterite stone block

Laterite stone block

  •  Wood and bamboo lattices provide additional shade and screening from the hot sun
  •   Lime plaster finish is again locally sourced and was abundant

All of these elements require ongoing and regular maintenance, especially in the tropical climate so rich in moisture and salt. Clay roofs had to be checked and tiles require replacement if broken. Most of the houses were also surrounded by coconut palm trees and it was not so unusual for stray coconuts to brake a few tiles  in one go. This is most likely one of the main driving elements to desiring a more “hands off” approach that apartments and condominiums provide.
One of the higher concentrations of these traditional homes was found around the main Railway station, where offices and personnel housing is located.

Railway housing

Railway housing

Railway housing

Railway housing

Railway housing

Railway housing

Railway housing

Railway housing

Another good example was provided by local schools and the Government College.

Mangalore school

Mangalore school

Mangalore Government College

Mangalore Government College

Mangalore Government College

Mangalore Government College

Mangalore Government College

Mangalore Government College

And these are examples of the new construction that is replacing the traditional housing architecture at a ratio of hundreds on units to one or two.
The units are of course being marketed heavily through newspapers and at the mall and it simply brought two questions to the forefront: “Are there really that many families moving into the area?”, and “At those prices how can people afford them?”.

New Mangalore housing

Advertising poster at local Mall

Ultimately only time will tell how all the thousands of new units will be filled and how the city of Mangalore will grow and develop.

As I was preparing to share my observations about Mangalore’s residential architecture I ran into the website for a local architect (N I R E N J A I N – Architect, Mangalore) and I was relieved to find that he still offered traditional design and construction of residences. I was also inspired to see that there are still people interested in commissioning them and living in such special spaces.