by Pooja Suresh HollannavarNov 11, 2023
An integral part of traditional Indian houses, courtyards serve as a central public space for various activities. In addition to facilitating natural ventilation and light—thus providing a cooling mechanism that helps regulate the temperature inside the house—courtyards are also an essential space for socialising. Additionally, they serve as a buffer between public and private spaces, providing an open, yet enclosed space. Designed by Lonavala-based Studio Anhad, Deep Mahal celebrates the courtyard as a central public space in the house.
Located on the outskirts of the town in Kamshet in Maharashtra, India, Deep Mahal is a nearly 500 sqm second home that enables the home owners to escape the busy city. Indian architects Gaurav and Aishwarya Bhangre—involved in the project since the site selection process—have conceptualised the house as a reaction to the site—a corner plot opening to a stream to its south, and flanked by adjacent plots on the remaining sides. An introverted plan emerges as a means to obstruct any visual connectivity to unremarkable future developments in the surrounding plots. A stone composite wall envelops a central courtyard, which overlooks a nine metre wide green zone, created to accommodate the Highest Flood Level (HFL) of the stream in its vicinity.
The spatial organisation typifies the Manduva Logili courtyard house of Andhra Pradesh—assembled around a central open space, extending to accommodate a verandah, which opens up to rooms on all sides—the roof for which is supported on wooden pillars. A central pit under the opening in the roof lets in rainwater. Emulating this spatial organisation, the plan for Deep Mahal emerges around a courtyard, with spaces spilling into it from the north, east and west. The courtyard itself is a formalised public space, reproduced from the image of a kund (stepped tank), with steps creating staggered masses on the ground plane.
Culminating at a stage, this amphitheatre of sorts is flanked by exposed brick walls on three sides. Characterised by niches and arched openings, the walls enclose the courtyard to create a space, which although public—owing to its scale and formality—fails to allow intimacy.
A filler slab supported on wooden columns covers the verandah, and continues into the spaces beyond. Composed of circular profiles, the soffit of the light-weight ceiling houses lights, thus eliminating the need for a false ceiling, while brick corbels and extrusions from the wall accommodate spotlights. A composition of filler slabs, brick wall, niches, steps, column bases, flooring, and ornamental corbels results in a melange of textures and extrusions, which defines the courtyard design.
Oriented east-west, the house can be entered from the north, through a porch, leading to an entrance lobby on the interior. On the ground floor, two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a double height living and dining area envelop the courtyard. On the west (bedroom), small arched openings ensure a lower admission of light as well as rainwater, while on the south, balconies protect the interiors from harsh light and rainwater. On the east, a kitchen garden is accessed from the living area, while a lotus pond abuts the compound wall on the north.
The first floor, accessed via a flight of stairs from the entrance lobby, accommodates a family room on the north, which overlooks the double height living space, allowing a visual dialogue between the public spaces in the house. On the west, a pavilion structure confronts the courtyard below, creating a space similar in scale and formality, to the one below.
A courtyard house, by its design, responds to the micro-climate. At the Deep Mahal, while the courtyard facilitates natural ventilation, a sloping roof diverts rainwater to a rainwater harvesting tank, through a collection tank with a sedimentary filter. Additionally, louvres on the courtyard walls and small water bodies sprawled across the house regulate the temperature. Furthermore, use of natural materials like locally available stone (on the external wall) and brick (for the internal walls) reduces the carbon footprint of the building. The landscape is designed to boost the local ecology and therefore integrates indigenous plant species.
The roof—partly sloping and partly flat—is constructed in a fabricated steel frame with a cement fibre board cladding. The varying pitches, and excessively deep eaves result in a clumsy eave detail, with supports projecting down beyond the roof line.
Deep Mahal thus embodies a courtyard house through an integration of traditional elements and a climate responsive design strategy.