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Deccan Herald » DH Realty » Detailed Story
Buildings with enticing red
The use of red laterite stone in construction is cost effective as well as giving an aesthetic look, writes MICHAEL PATRAO.
RED laterite stone has been used as a locally available building material in parts of Karnataka, Viz: Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts and in the mainland areas of Kerala, where it is found abundantly. In fact, laterite is found in places all over South India from one coast to the other.

The stone is locally known as “vettukallu” in Kerala and “moorakallu” in Karnataka. It is obtained from hundreds of small quarries where the stone is cut and dressed.

Geologists find the origin of laterite very obscure. According to the Manual of the Geology in India, “The origin is regarded as being modified volcanic matter; but the matter is too complex for brief statement.”

Laterite is a red or brown stone and is rich in iron and is found in many tropical regions, especially in India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Central and West Africa and Central America. It is the residual weathering product of certain rocks containing silicates such as basalt, granite and slates.

Easy to quarry and dress, the stone is aired for a few days before use as it oxidises and hardens. Freshly quarried laterite stone is soft and porous. If left exposed through oxidisation, a dark crust is formed, which protects it from weathering. Thus it becomes tough material. Therefore, it is always desirable that these stones are quarried sufficiently ahead of use.

A Scottish scholar, Dr Francis Buchanan, conducted studies in and around the region of Angadipuram in Malappuram district in 1800 AD and who named the porous rock ‘laterite’ from Latin “lateritis’, which means brick stone.

In India laterite stone continues to be used along the southern coast of the country. Exposed laterite buildings have in recent times actually become fashionable, giving the building an antique look. Laterite stone masonry has been incorporated in the Schedule of Rates of both Karnataka and Kerala.


The cost of laterite masonry is approximately half the cost of conventional brick masonry. The appearance of exposed laterite masonry imparts uniqueness and neutrality to buildings.

Porosity of laterite stones is more than bricks and comprehensive strength is normally less than 45 kg/ sq cms. Thus load bearing structure of laterite masonry cannot be more than double storey. Exposed laterite masonry when subject to excessive rain splashes can lead to dampness in building.

There are many examples of the use of laterite in monuments in the coastal region. The Bekal Fort in Kerala is the most recognised example. Others example include laterite wall enclosures of traditional Kerala temple known as Gajaprishtam, Tippu’s fort in Tellicherry, Fort St Agnelo in Kannur. In Goa the Basilica of Bom Jesus is a famous example.

The Central Public Works Department has used laterite stone in many buildings such as academic and administrative building for Kannur University at Palayad in Kannur and administrative building and quarters for CRPF at Peringom in Payyanur.


Certain specifications have been recommended for laterite stones: laterite stones must be hard and durable, close in grain and free from clay and large cavities. They shall be of deep brown red colour.

The laterite shall be quarried by using a quarrying tool, which is an axe with a short wooden handle and a steel cutting edge at the end. These days the quarrying and cutting work is also done by machines. Stones of any size suited to the work may be quarried. The dimensions of natural building stones stipulated in IS:1127 - 3.111 may be referred to in choosing the required size.

However, it may be ensured that for all load bearing walls, a minimum breadth of stone of 29 cms (thickness of walling) is adopted. The size of the stone quarried shall be more in length, breadth and thickness by about 2 cms than the finished size required so as to enable neat dressing of all the faces. In no case shall stones of different dimensions be used in the same item of work. The freshly cut stones shall be kept exposed to air and allowed to weather for as long a period as possible before use so that they become covered with a hard hydrated oxide which protects the stones from decay.

For the exposed work all the stone face shall have uniform size and all the edge cut with machine tools to a neat and rectangular sharp edge. The exposed surface shall be neatly ground with machine to have smooth surface without undulations. Materials of different quarries shall not be used in the exposed work and also the colour shall be almost to that of brick red.
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