House of Concrete Experiments in Alibaug rises as a meandering sculptural mass
by Anmol AhujaJul 15, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Aug 31, 2021
Notwithstanding the recent surge in instances of “revenge travel” reported from semi-urban pockets abutting major urban centres that were worst hit by the pandemic’s second wave in India, the equally paced, upward trend in the number of second homes and weekend retreats that have sprung up in such pockets is a rather prudent observation. These, in my opinion, may primarily be ascribed to the altered notions of “home” itself as a conceptual as well as physical entity - from a place simply for rest and reprieve, to now reflecting, connecting, growing with their users intrinsically. The purpose of the residence is now magnified, elevated to serve as centres for a more holistic recuperation, and in many cases, as literal veils and the only “safe” spots to nurture this man-nature relationship that has rekindled in the wake of the age of zero-contact. While the perfect site in this case, for pitching one’s camp, may be a hard find, what I believe is a harder find is the correct design language, an ideality in design to reflect this rather transformed, evolved perspective, and a dynamic set of needs in a post-pandemic world. Mirador, perched atop a contoured setting in Karjat, Maharashtra , and designed by Mumbai-based architecture practice SHROFFLEóN, attempts to answer these questions through interesting instances of its solidity and transparency: more particularly, the iterative gaps they occur in, to frame what lies ‘outside’, for the beholder ‘inside’.
Mirador as a residence seems to work on instantaneous connections: the connection that the built mass bears with the site and the relative physicality of both, and the sense of connection between the great outdoors and its minimalistic indoors. Designed to mimic the natural rusticity of its surroundings, Mirador is conceived as a second home for a family “eagerly in search of a change of pace, far from any vestige of civilisation”. With a definitive mission statement of blending in, Mirador’s architectural character is reflective of the untamed wilderness of Karjat, amid which the house finds its roots. Aiming to achieve “a state of solitude and ageing character”, and supposed longevity, nestled in an expansive, well-cultivated farm, the structure of Mirador is laid bare in the sun with a materiality strictly adhering to a coarse aesthetic, and left to age and weather gracefully.
The aptly chosen name for the residence, Mirador, is Spanish for a viewing platform attached to a building, facilitating extensive views from that vantage. The location for the house on the site proves an interesting analogy to that definition, with the structure perched atop the almost central, highest point of the rugged farmscape, “to frame and capture as much of the sceneries as possible, from where they are most plentifully served”. By extension of its literal meaning, an interpretative stance on ‘Mirador’ may also be to ascribe the status of the primary structure to the site itself, while the house itself subsumes a secondary nature in an attempt to blend and to blur.
Enviously guarded by distant hills in one direction, a cascading waterfall from a local river nearby in another, and its own mango tree plantations, paddy fields and vegetable patches, Mirador mines these views galore. An exterior concrete shell frames these vantages, forming its almost monolithic enclosure, a direct manifestation of a skin-and-bones architecture. The sanctum of the house is ensconced within this dual concrete shell, harbouring a portico between the exterior exposed concrete columns and the glass enclosing the inner mass, acting as the only buffer between the interiors of the house and the farm and glorious views outside. The peripheral buffer between the glass veil and the almost rhythmic pairing of concrete columns is intended to create an "idyllic cue for man to try and engage with nature", almost as if calling on and fostering a pining for the sheltered being. An infinity pool pitched along the edge of the portico then acts as a fluid extension of the house’s unyielding cuboidal form, yet being a literal reflection of its architecture.
“Minimalism is the protagonist of the building’s design narration,” as is aptly stated in an official release by SHROFFLEóN, equally represented in the transition from the exterior to the interior. The glass edifices surrounding the central communal living space, one’s first encounter upon entering Mirador, intend to instil the area with a “town-square like vibe”. Partly accomplished by the area being animated by activity, the glass further facilitates that vibe by animating the space with the motion of the sun across the horizon. The portico ensures the sunlight’s diffusion, as opposed to harsh glare entering the interior spaces.
While the house maintains a relatively limited material palette, the designers at SHROFFLEóN state a hint of material exploration to only begin once one enters the living quarters of the house, flanked on the east and west ends of the structures. A segregative materiality is applied to both horizontal and vertical surfaces: while the horizontally expansive ones are dressed in the concrete that seeps in the interior spaces too, along with yellow sandstone, hints of timber, and kadappafor the floors, the vertical ones are mostly glass and ‘render’ themselves animated according to the scenery projected outside. Furthermore, a hint of accented natural stone on walls acts as opaque verticals to break the transparency of the built. The theatrics of the house truly come alive both across a day, and across months as the concrete would begin to show signs of ageing, despite a somewhat constricted, muted sense of material expression. Much akin to the classic Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe, the only spaces that are nearly completely opaque are the service areas. Impressively enough, the house was constructed in all of five months during the pandemic, with much of the labour locally sourced from nearby villages.
“The site, honestly, is everything. That is partly why we have glass everywhere. Because when you are inside, we don’t want you to look inside, we want you to look out. That's how we came up with the name of the house,” states Kayzad Shroff, co-founder and principal architect at SHROFFLEóN, on the design intent and decisions pertaining to the same for Mirador, in an exclusive conversation with STIR. “We were very clear about the super manicured landscape. You feel at home within a natural context. Things just blend in much more sensitively than within a super manicured landscape. Cultivated wilderness, that's what we call it,” Shroff continues on why the team didn’t give in to the very obvious temptation of landscaping such an extensive, natural site.
In the sense a true refuge functions, the house too gives in to diurnal cycles, as the lull of twilight takes over the concrete-and-glass edifice with the sound of the Ulhas River gurgling nearby, and of crickets chirping as the day would fall. “The residence aims to engage all senses in a way,” concludes Shroff.
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