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2006 Honourable Mention

Arakkal Kettu

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Project TitleArakkal Kettu

LocationAiykkara, Kannur, Kerala, India

Size1,010 square metres

CostUS$ 197,100

Responsible PartyDepartment of Tourism, Directorate of Archaeology

Heritage ArchitectRavindra Gundu Rao

ContractorRavindra Gundu Rao

Date of Completion30 July 2005


Project Synopsis

Built over 400 years ago, the Arakkal Kettu complex originally served as the royal palace of the Arrakal family and the seat of the only Muslim dynasty of Kerala. Even today, one of the family members retains the title of Sultan given under British rule. At one stage, the whole town of Aiykkara, in which the complex is located, was owned by the family.

The Arakkul Kettu complex consists of buildings for administrative, religious and other functions, along with prayer courtyards and ablution tanks. The administrative building of the Arrakal Kettu was built in the local tradition from laterite blocks plastered with lime mortar, with a clay-tiled sloping roof. It also features large timber doors and polished timber floors. 

Prior to the restoration, the administration building was in a state of serious dilapidation as a result of termite infestation, proximity to the sea and improper maintenance. The upper floor was uninhabitable, with a decayed roof, stairs, windows and doors. While the ground floor had been rented to traders, it too was in poor condition, with the original timber floors covered over with laterite blocks. 

The project to restore and reuse the administration building was conceived as a model conservation project to influence private and government attitudes to conservation in the area, and to revive traditional building techniques and materials.

With the involvement of the Arrakal family heirs, the Kerala Department of Tourism and the Directorate of Archaeology and Museum, the restoration project resulted in the sensitive restoration of the building and its transformation into a museum of the Arakkal royal family. 

Highlights of the Conservation Approach

In accordance with international conservation norms, the intention of the restoration project was to retain the original building elements and materials to the maximum extent possible, while ensuring that the restoration techniques and materials used were fully compatible with the historic fabric. 

Preparatory and exploratory work in the preliminary phase included the removal of plaster from the entire building, with stone lintels placed at various points to prevent cracking and help strengthen the structure.

A major technical challenge was the salvage and, where possible, reuse of laterite blocks and timber. When this was not possible, replacement laterite blocks were sourced from old dismantled buildings nearby. As for the timber, samples of wood were removed for testing to determine the appropriate type to be used for the repairs. These tests showed that it was all of one type, known as irul, which the project team managed to locate with some difficulty for use where the original timber could not be reused. 

Timber restoration work was carried out using traditional techniques, which eschew the use of metal nails in favour of wooden nails, and exquisite timber joinery techniques. The original timber fixtures were removed, repaired then reinstalled. The polished timber flooring on the ground floor, concealed for some time under laterite, was revealed and restored. Much of the timber post construction of the original building had been replaced in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century by load-bearing walls when the original timber had decayed, but two original decorated timber pillars were discovered during the restoration process. These were exposed, repaired and retained in situ. The building’s historic wooden furniture was also carefully restored to its former appearance, and is now displayed in the new museum.

Missing wall sections and the staircase were rebuilt. A laterite drainage apron was laid around the building to mitigate the effects of heavy monsoon rains. The tiled roof was discovered to be in extremely poor condition, with a mix of tiling styles. The restoration required the reconstruction of the roof structure using traditional timber joinery, the installation of concealed aluminium sheeting beneath the rafters for greater weather protection, and retiling with half round country tiles. 

The conservation approach attempted to address a widespread scepticism in the use of traditional materials, particularly with regard to the use of lime. Cement was introduced in the region in the 1920s and used widely, to the extent that by the 1970s use of lime mortar had almost completely ceased. Specialist craftsmen were tracked down to slake, mix and apply lime mortar on site, thereby restoring a significant component of the building’s original fabric.

Conservation and the Community

The restoration of Arakkal Kettu has resulted in a reconnection of members of the community with traditional craft techniques, which had risked fading into distant memory.  It has also supported the growing heritage tourism market in Kerala by providing a significant attraction for visitors in terms of the newly-restored historic building as well the collection of objects in the museum it houses. 

The involvement of senior members of government reflects a heightened appreciation and awareness for good conservation work. This is expected to influence government policy and the quality of conservation work performed in the public sphere, thus yielding a more positive outcome for heritage conservation in the province as a whole.

Quote from the Project Team

“The defunct, precarious but precious heritage building has been rendered fit for proud re-use.”