Vinu Daniel on camouflage architecture in ‘The Ledge’ by Wallmakers in India
by Jerry ElengicalDec 09, 2021
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Zohra KhanPublished on : Oct 21, 2022
When techies Abhishek Ubale and Sunena from Bengaluru, India, found themselves living the protracted uncertainty of the COVID pandemic, the couple decided to shift base 70km away from the city to live close to nature. The two bought themselves a piece of land near Shoolagiri village of Tamil Nadu; the site being a naturally blessed landscape belonging to a farming community named Sanctity Ferme.
Desiring a two-bed cottage, the couple reached out to Indian architect Fawaz Thengilan with the hope of a home that could help them live a stress-free, sustainable life. Thus began the journey of Flintstone6, a humble abode nestled within a mango grove, and designed with a seemingly invisible footprint. The idea of building sensibly in the virgin landscape added to the vision of Sanctity Ferme, which was already planning sustainable model houses for its residents.
Deriving inspiration from camouflaging techniques of animals escaping predators, Kerala-based Thengilan of studio Mitti conceived this residential design in a materiality and form that seamlessly blends into its landscape. “From the first visit to the site, we were clear about camouflaging the building into its surroundings,” the architect tells STIR, adding that it became a necessary treatment to avoid projecting the house as “an eyesore in the scenic landscape of the farm”.
Materiality was a key concern for the project owing to the COVID-placed restrictions on the availability of raw materials being sourced from the city. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, this constraint allowed Thengilan to focus on scouting materials that could be extracted from the context itself. The search for indigenous materiality paved the way for the architect and his team to devise a building technique called Debris Wall Construction that beautifully anchored the built form in its place. Using available soil and waste from the farmland, the technique afforded a warm and earthen spatiality to the home.
Elaborating on its composition, Thengilan tells STIR, "PEDW or Poured Earth Debris Wall technique is composed of three per cent of cement, 40 per cent of debris comprising quarry waste and others, and 57 per cent earth. The ratio depends on a lot of factors and is tailor made for each project. PEDW helped in camouflaging the building perfectly.”
The cottage sits before a large patio that features a landscape marked by rocky boulders, cactus plants and mango trees. The path leading upto the house is paved with rough granite stones brought in from a nearby quarry. The heart of this house is a light-filled multi-purpose hall, a permeable nest hosting the family’s open kitchen, living area and an inverted stair-room. “The Interiors were planned very minimally and subtly toned down to not steal the thunder of the Debris Walls using a neutral material palette,” adds Thengilan.
Pronounced touches of the outdoor landscape reflect in the way rocky boulders and mango trees harmonise with the interior’s contemporary spatiality. The space basks in filtered daylight coming in through its casuarina wood roof, the geometric reflections painting every wall and surface in a rhythmic cloak of brilliance. The living area opens up to a path leading to the family’s private den. The two nestled bedrooms with attached semi-open bath area, include a tiny pocket of green space brushing the cottage’s boundary wall. The walls of the cottage have a rough earthen tactility to them, which according to Thengilan, mimic the characteristics of the rocky mountains of the Cauvery basin region.
An ingenious use of the materials employed outdoors is seen in the domestic spaces. This includes the rock bed in the master bedroom which is made of reclaimed quarry waste, basins that have been carved out of granite boulders picked from landfills, and a few furniture pieces in reclaimed wood.
Within the architectural scheme, Thengilan placed special emphasis on accommodating all spaces within the defined footprint. Adding another storey was particularly avoided, to not obstruct the neighbour’s view of the farm and avoid the resulting pronounced visual presence of the cottage peeking from above the mango grove, an aspect that was avoided since the project’s initiation.The design intervention from this approach led to the creation of the inverted stair room in the living space that is placed behind the open kitchen in a glazed enclosure. The room leading to the terrace allows abundant natural light inside and also imparts a sense of movement and transience to the interior design.
The abstraction in the living space by natural light is beautifully realised by the exposed casuarina wood ceiling topped with a low energy glass roof. Logs of linearly arranged timber filter sunlight through the gaps, manifesting a dance of lights and shadows below. In bedrooms, casuarina – a local hardwood used widely for scaffolding - is combined with a ferrocement roof.
When asked about the significant challenges he encountered through the project’s journey, Thengilan responds with a note of optimism. “Challenges were the drive for the pursuit of a larger cause,” he says, adding that some of the constraints that he faced along the way included uncertainty of cost, unavailability of materials and skilled labour, protection budget of trying a new technology, and the looming COVID restrictions.”
Thengilan attributes the innovation of the Debris Wall Construction technique to his mentor - architect Vinu Daniel of studio Wallmakers, who was the project’s Alternative Technology Consultant. Additionally, the idea of using casuarina wood and ferrocement for the roofing were cues drawn from Daniel’s sustainable construction of the Ledge House in Peerumedu, Kerala, India.
"We allowed certain elements to be solved at the site as execution progressed. This helped us to discover a lot of things at the site and the sundial roof was one of them. It also helped us find innovative solutions that you can otherwise miss in the planning and details," Thengilan concludes. Described as "a modern building with a sustainable flair," Flintstone6 is a distinguished example of a building that sits one with its context, one that is born from the land where it’s anchored.
Location: Sanctity Ferme, Shoolagiri, Tamil Nadu, India
Architect: Fawaz Thengilan
Area: 180 sqm
Site Architect: Rajesh Khanna
Landscape Architect: Art.la Architects
Structural Engineers: TriAngle Engineers
Alternative Technology Consultant: Vinu Daniel, Wallmakers
Contractors: Mitti Eco-friendly Construction
Civil Contractor: Shivranjani Constructions
Carpenter: Prasad and team
Fabrication: J.K. Engineering
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