Concrete labyrinths in the clouds

Maskeliya town, Sri Lanka

I’m fascinated by the ramshackle, non-plan concrete dwellings that you can find in the Hill Country. These are the houses of very poor people, most likely Tamil workers in the tea plantations. Often they are single rooms, with a corrugated iron or blue tarpaulin roof. But what strikes me so much is the way they relate to and exist with their neighbours: they join together, side by side or on top of each other, squashed into tiny spaces or into the sides of steep hills, with facades of different pastel shades. The result I find strangely uplifting and fascinating. A bric-a-brac community of dwellings.

I was struck, too, by the tea workers’ housing in Tamil Nadu’s Western Ghats range, around Ooty.

There are obvious reasons for their appearance, such as community, topography, and economy. But there are more, non-quantifiable aspects that give these settlements charm.

One day I’d like to research the architecture and identity of South Asian tea plantations.


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