The Gaudy South Indian Houses That Inspired Ettore Sottsass

Jun 2, 2015 4 comments

Tiruvannamalai, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is a small town of 144,000-odd people with a strange taste in architecture. The houses here are painted in a bizarre mismatch of bright colors with outer facades decorated with asymmetrical shapes. When French photographer Vincent Leroux visited Tiruvannamalai, he found an astonishing resemblance in the town’s architecture with an old Italian art movement called Memphis, founded by the Italian architect Ettore Sottsass in 1980 in response to ambient minimalism and functionalism. Vincent started photographing these creations and “began to look for systematically, identifying them as nuggets amid the confusion of Indian cities, their suburbs or even the countryside.”


Photo credit: Vincent Leroux

Tiruvannamalai is built around the Annamalaiyar Temple, the most prominent landmark of the town and a major pilgrimage center in Tamil Nadu. The town has a long history that goes back to the ninth century, but the houses that stand here today were constructed quite recently, with the oldest houses dating from the 1940s. These houses are primarily the work of the family who live in them. They are responsible for the design, the shape and the colors.

The Italian architect and sculptor Ettore Sottsass is known to have made many trips to Southern India for much of the 1960s and 1970s, and Vincent Leroux believes that Scottass drew inspiration from the design of these bold structures. Some of Scottass’s writings seem to attest this theory. In 1988, he wrote in the first issue of Terrazzo, the magazine he founded: "It was clear that in every place I visited, there were people who saw the houses, with great care. [...] I regularly listen to these Indian voice. [...] We can sometimes experience this determination without logic when we designed and built a house." In the same issue, Ettore Sottsass publishes four photos of these architectures, dating from 1977.

It must be kept in mind that although the exterior of the buildings in Turinamavalai are purely for aesthetic provocation, the interiors are traditional and completely functional.


Photo credit: Vincent Leroux


Photo credit: Vincent Leroux


Photo credit: Vincent Leroux


Photo credit: Vincent Leroux


Photo credit: Vincent Leroux


Photo credit: Vincent Leroux


Photo credit: Vincent Leroux


Photo credit: Vincent Leroux

Sources: Architectural Digest / Konbini


  1. Wow, strikingly beautiful. Reminds me of Art Deco. I wonder how their style evolved, considering simple geometric motifs are not typical of that part of the world.

  2. Turns out Sottsass was actually inspired by older Bauhaus Art School artists & the Suprematism art movement of the 1910s.


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