by Anmol AhujaJul 15, 2021
On the verge of developing into a new sub-typology altogether in suburban Indian architecture, from what started as an isolated trend of building away from urban nexuses, the weekend home is here to stay. Escalated by the ongoing pandemic to a greater degree, this move, however, makes some economic sense as well. While every successive weekend home we see is more elaborate - bigger, better, and boisterous than the last one, it also becomes increasingly clear that compared to the widely adapted plotted, bungalow, or apartment typology of residential architecture in these cities, the weekend home boasts somewhat of a more defined architectural character: ever the front runner for a magazine cover. While it would be colloquial to ascribe it all to ‘space’, essentially, that’s all it is: space. Not only do these suburban paradises offer a semblance of an escape, a distance from choked up city centres, they offer cleaner air (especially the ones abutting Delhi), economical land resources, and fairly large pockets to build upon. This translates into space for the architect-designer to innovate, further propounded by the lack of a significant context to draw from. It’s a proliferation similar to the one from a blank canvas. This weekend retreat designed by Delhi-based Studio Lotus builds on the same spirit, but with a dash of style.
Nicknamed the 'Earth and Glass House', a peculiar yet strongly divergent combination of materials, the alternate residence anchors itself in the southern half of a two acre rectangular site. Typical of the currently emergent farmhouse typology as well, the other half is reserved for hosting events. A particularly remarkable feature that coalesces into the rest of the design is a 15m high compound wall, constructed along its entire eastern edge for privacy and security, virtually warding off contact with a dense residential settlement on the fringe. A hint of landscape design emanating from the wall, designed as a buffer, became the starting point for the rest of the design scheme as well, developing into the elaborate northern court.
Designed as an extension to the living areas of the house, the court is extensively landscaped with both arboreal and built features to hint towards living amid nature, while accommodating multiple recreational activities. Soil excavated during construction of these landscape design features, including a circular sit-out space carved within the ground, is used to form a rammed earth wall that serves a backdrop to the sinuous pool. A line of silver oak trees along the site periphery has been retained, marked with shaded walkways assembled in light metalwork, extending into ancillary spaces including a DJ deck, a small pool house, and a treehouse like machan.
A direct line of sight and a seamless connect is established between the court at the front, and a smaller court scooped out along the north, along which the habitable spaces of the development occur. Entrance to the house is marked by a 10m cantilevered volume protruding from the upper floor while doubling up as a shaded porch on the ground. Enveloped in timber louvres, the protruding volume rests upon a load bearing rammed earth wall and a pair of V-shaped columns. The entryway is impressively marked with a quiet energy; its double height skylit court activated by the spiral staircase and a curious sculpture at its feet. The staircase’s railing is cast in brass to mimic twigs and branches, while the installation-like curved timber door sculpture by Indian artist-architect Martand Khosla follows its lead and motion, completing the sculptural ensemble. The entryway grants access to a striking living area, designed akin to a pavilion. Featuring panoramic glazing to ensure natural light in interior spaces, the space is rounded out by a jenga-inspired bar in concrete and brass, along with a tastefully designed dining area, extending into the kitchen and utility spaces.
A definitive material statement in metal, timber, and stone highlights the house, imparting a distinct tactility that invites patrons to explore it for themselves, translating by itself into a curiously guided spatial experience. The materiality also carries over to the private resting quarters of the home on the upper floor. The warmth of the material palette used in the house’s interior design is also reflected on the exterior, becoming the most distinctive, definitive element of the house’s facade design and identity. The cantilevered block is wrapped in a set of warmly tinted cedar louvres, each manually adjustable to ensure a desired level of shade, ventilation, and privacy.
Carefully designed bespoke furniture, in collaboration with Mangrove Collective, is used to lend a requisite notion of ‘Indian’ness to the decidedly modernistic features of the building. While furniture fashioned in cane and wood lines the living space, furniture complementing the timber floors bearing beautiful Indian motifs enliven the bedrooms. Through Studio Lotus' signature notion of craft injected into them, a particular standout is an oakwood cabinet in the master bedroom, elaborately carved in naqashi relief to depict a heron and the bakul tree, heralding the spring season.
More about the house’s innate design philosophy is revealed in this insightful conversation with Studio Lotus principal, Sidhartha Talwar.
Anmol Ahuja (AA): What do you have to say about the recently observed trend of a number of weekend retreats popping up in the suburbs of multiple tier-I cities?
Sidhartha Talwar (ST): Weekend homes/ retreats are an escape from city life. Given the curfews over the past few years, people are probably seeing a larger need for this escape into nature. City dwellers in India’s metropolitan centres have been escaping to the relatively quieter, leafier suburbs in droves to spend weekends, away from maddening crowds, jam-packed streets, and air pollution, a trend further accelerated by the pandemic. There is a renewed focus on leading a self-contained life. Suburban neighbourhoods, therefore, are witnessing the proliferation of private farmhouses and bungalows - second homes where residents can spend time with their families, entertain guests, and reconnect with nature.
AA: The above-mentioned phenomenon obviously creates an increased pressure on resources. Does the building attempt anything to offset that?
ST: The design attempts to have a controlled impact on the environment. The rammed earth walls, for instance, that are a characteristic feature of the home and landscape are made from the earth excavated from site during the construction and levelling of the structure. Since it is situated in Delhi, a series of connected rainwater reservoirs have been incorporated into the landscape to ensure the site is self-reliant on water needs.
AA: From the client brief, what do you think was the toughest item to execute, and what was the point of instant synergy between client and architect?
ST: The cantilevered porch was probably the most challenging aspect to execute. The building cantilevers by 10 meters - the largest span we have designed to date. The client wanted the home to feel like a large verandah - and the living pavilion was the point of instant connection between their brief and our interpretation in design.
AA: Revealing the materiality of the building components seems intrinsic to the design vocabulary at the house. Why is that so? How does that revelation become intrinsic to the house’s design communication?
ST: The overall spatial experience conveys luxury through the authenticity of material usage and richness of spatial expression, using colours, textures, and patterns. The home invites you to explore the tactility of the surfaces that populate the space. A combination of rammed earth, metal, stone, timber, and glass are used for their contrast and are primarily left exposed, highlighting the raw yet welcoming quality of the space.
This overarching material narrative is further reinforced through the decor and pockets of furniture. Fashioned out of natural materials such as cane and wood, the custom-made furniture articles express the client’s eclectic tastes and introduce a warm, earthy tonality into the interiors whereas well-crafted details evoke a sense of richness. Through the use of these elements, the design conveys the idea of living in harmony with nature.
AA: What kind of overall spatiality in the house did you aim for with the interconnected volumes and intersecting linear planes?
ST: The overall spatiality of the house was determined by its relationship with the landscape. Cantilevered volumes, double-height skylit courts, and a pavilion-like living area are all design gestures utilised to integrate the house with the verdant landscape of the site. The planning of the structure is kept linear and free-flowing through spaces that are well lit, featuring large glazed envelopes that overlook the landscape. A large winter court lets in the south sun and opens the living area to the landscape, facilitating a seamless line of sight—from the winter court to the lawns on the north. The private spaces flank the living room and are connected by a terrace garden and a shaded bridge on the upper level.
AA: The site seems to form its own microcosm and is increasingly inward-looking. The house, on the other hand, looks to the site for its “natural connection”. What do you think about this relation being specific and applicable only to this site? Did this prove to be a planning advantage?
ST: The site surely was an introverted experience. It lies tucked away at the far end of a plotted farmland with the eastern fringe abutted by an urban village. This enhanced our entire narrative of a weekend retreat being its own microcosm with nature. The building and the landscape lend to each other seamlessly—with the architecture expanding on the idea of a pavilion/ verandah and the landscape weaving through the two acres, creating distinct zones for recreation/ entertainment/ solitude/ farming, etc. The entire design brief was set to respond to this nature of the context.
AA: The louvres seem to be the most distinctive element in the facade. Were they designed to be so? How well do you think they assume that identity?
ST: Designed as a shading device with each panel individually operable, the brise soleil can be controlled to grant the desired degree of shade, ventilation and privacy to the residents. Although the louvre system was primarily introduced for its functionality, it forms a striking feature in the home’s elevation. While the elevation speaks of a bare contemporary aesthetic, the tactile quality and colour of the louvres, constructed in Western red cedar, bring in a touch of warmth to the experience.
AA: The house has an underlying feel of luxury, but in understated terms. What element of the house do you think brings that out?
ST: The entry foyer with the primary staircase; here we only picked one element to highlight, which was the focus of the entire space—the handcrafted brass handrail. The surrounding palette was kept minimal—bare even, to provide the stark balance. Deliberate attention was paid in choosing stone and colours that would enhance the earthiness of the space such that only the glint of the brass and the detail in the handrail brought the space to life.