The Earth House in Gujarat, India, advocates for local ingenuity with rammed earth
by Jerry ElengicalAug 04, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Jul 15, 2022
Aporia - a state of internal contradiction or logical disjunction - serves as a foundational concept in a residential design venture for a weekend home in Kerala, India, by local firm NO Architects Designers and Social Artists. Nestled into one of the terraces of a hill on Ashtamudi Lake in the city of Kollam, the house's form repurposes parts of a dilapidated structure that had previously occupied the site, channelling extremes in spatial vocabulary to explore liminal states. In this vein, the designers aimed to avoid conforming to any of the binary perspectives that could apply to an architectural design problem of this nature, blending a naturalistic vocabulary and palette with drastic transitions between geometric and organic spatial volumes.
Revealing little to the outside world, the relatively introverted exterior of the building is dressed in roof tiles that were recovered from the existing structure, with a grand doorway at the centre of the front façade design. The tiles themselves have been angled to create rhythmic protrusions, flanked by columns made up of crushed concrete chips that were recycled from the floor slabs of the preceding structure. Patches of landscape design have been deftly incorporated around the building's footprint, concealing it within the foliage of tropical vegetation selected due to their ability to flourish in the local climate and allow for easy maintenance - due to the building's purpose as a weekend home. As relayed by the architects in a statement: "During the summers, tropical fruit trees produce different varieties of mangoes, jackfruit, rose apples, and many other berries, creating a food forest that invites birds and squirrels to the home."
With its unique fusion of adaptive reuse and upcycling, the 123 sqm residence intends to reflect the tropical character of its context, repurposing some of the existing structure's traditional architectural features to better embed the new building into its surroundings. "Architecture as with any other art, is torn between binary terms, which often leads to certain approaches gaining precedence over others. In this house, we are trying to create a permanently oscillating typology of spaces, without favouring one over the other,” states the design team.
To this end, the project retained and extended much of the existing structural grid from the older building, demolishing and refurbishing sections and adding curved walls to conserve trees present on the site. In doing so, the design team managed to mould organic spaces that flow along a course determined by nature itself, ensuring a minimal carbon footprint that adheres to the project’s sustainable design goals. At a time when climate change is a major concern throughout the construction industry, "we strived to create permeable built spaces, through a careful understanding of the local winds, orientation and topography. The materiality and breathability of built volumes were considered as two separate entities, and dealt accordingly, with respect to sustainability,” notes the firm.
Winding around functional areas, the walls leave behind pockets of negative space in the building’s shell, which constitute the embodiment of the "in between" under the program. Drawing from the concept of différance, as espoused by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, the sinuous walls are replete with punctures and fenestrations that open into these intermediary spaces. Further perforations in the external envelope provided by the tile assembly, creates avenues for cross-ventilation throughout both the layers of the residence’s skin. Trees within these zones infuse life and vibrancy, transforming their nature into those of mini-courtyards littered throughout the plan.
The disparity in geometry between the inner and outer shells is a defining aspect of this investigation into the “in between", where dramatic movements from linear to curved volumes serve to reinforce this idea. A floating roof crowns the curved wall layout, settled atop rows of clerestory windows that are supported by I-sections. The billowing profile of the roof forms the essence of the home’s name, resembling a cloud when viewed from above. Wooden slats screen the internal surfaces of the clerestories, complementing the light, earthy palette of the interior design. In order to eschew the use of tiles or stone for flooring in the common spaces, the architects resorted to polishing the base floor layer, resulting in a matte textured finish that harmoniously fits into the composition of the interior scheme.
On the first floor, the layout accommodates a car porch linked by a ramp that flows into the main road along the rear, forging a new route of entry. The structural frame of the car porch was assembled with the assistance of upcycled material sourced from a local scrap dealer. Inside the home, communal sections of the program such as the kitchen, living, and dining areas are laid out along the curved sections of the plan, connected to a deck overlooking the neighbouring backwaters. While the larger of the home's two bedrooms - which also contains a home theatre - has a rectilinear plan as per the layout of the older structure, the other one has been realised as a circular volume leading into another deck along the water’s edge.
Built using structural members recovered from the stairs of the demolished building, the residence’s spiral staircase design has been placed within the plan to act as a ventilation shaft, to collect hot air from the interior and expel it through a lift system. Furthermore, the role of this section is inverted during the colder monsoon months, where it plays the role of a wind scoop. The sinuous trajectories of the enclosing walls also aid in smooth air movement, representing another vital aspect of this sustainable architectural intervention.
The design team reflects: “We believe that society is transitioning from binary extremities, to a more mature narration of the ‘in betweens', and our architecture represents this cultural shift and reinterpretation of existing structure. This experimental house has widened our understanding of residential typologies to include a multitude of possibilities, often questioning the established while being in a constant state of aporia.”
Name: Cloud House
Location: Kollam, Kerala, India
Year of Completion: 2021
Area: 123 sqm
Architect: NO Architects Designers and Social Artists
Partners: Harikrishnan Sasidharan, Neenu Elizabeth
Design Team: Harikrishnan Sasidharan, Neenu Elizabeth, Anson.S.Watson, Babin Babu, Mayuresh Muley, Jasmin Khatun, Sonali Nath, Robin Joseph, Aagam Mundhava, Abhishek Madhu, Abhina.A, Vijesh Kumar, Dravid. D,
PHE & Electrical Engineering: Educe Consultants Pvt Ltd
Structural Design: Urban Hive
Landscape Design: Neenu Elizabeth, NO Landscapes
Visualisation: Flex Tangles
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