Building future for a billion voices: the best of Indian architecture in 2022
by Jerry ElengicalDec 30, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jincy IypePublished on : Dec 01, 2022
At their core, good, perceived architecture are often built interventions responding directly to a site’s climate, geography, vegetation, and prevalent culture. Well-designed, utility-led structures take utmost care to devise themselves to respect microclimatic elements, shifting seasons, as well as the vernacular-built fabric of the locality it calls home, apart from the client’s directions. A similar interventive and solution-led belief carries the deftly effective and pleasing design narrative for the Cool House, designed by Samira Rathod Design Atelier (SRDA)—which responds sensitively and intelligently to the dry, arid heat of the city of Bharuch in Gujarat, India, where it takes residence. SRDA's formal exploration and driving concept delves into natural routes and passive design strategies to bring down the ambient temperature of the dwelling, and maintain a relaxed interior, without relying on artificial cooling methods.
"When designing a house, it is imperative to be cognisant of the many practical parameters of comfort, and for this house in Bharuch, it was primarily about tackling the summer heat. The name 'Cool House' has come from the way the house has been conceived, as a respite in the summer, akin to a tree’s shade under the scorching sun. The house is like a funnel that channels all of Bharuch's wind within itself, making it a cool, comfortable haven to live in,” shares Samira Rathod—principal and lead architect of her eponymous firm based in Mumbai, India—known for crafting clever, experimental spatial programmes within sculptural, solid masses, that come alive with meandering and surprising interstitial areas.
Located in a tight row house fabric within the Indian town, the boxy residential design unveils itself gently yet dramatically, with rooms and spaces placed on either side of a track that centrally runs through its rather 'inward-looking' volume. The Cool House is strategically punctured on its vertical form, to channel a cool breeze and diffuse the sharp sunlight hitting its facades, accompanied by two petite courtyards on either side of the focal corridor.
These courtyards begin from the first floor of the brick architecture, and frame views of the sky from the house which features multiple bedrooms and guest rooms, a living, dining and kitchen area, a terrace, lounges, parking spaces, a gymnasium, and a jacuzzi.
Sans openings, the south facade is kept fairly empty as it receives the most heat, with the local wind being allowed to pass from the southwest courtyards and escape from the northeast one, ventilating the entire house in one go. One of the courtyards features a shallow, petite waterbody that aids in cooling the incoming wind before permeating the residence. The home is replete with comfortable pockets of intentionally created microclimates such as this one—rendering and breathing life into the rather introverted design. It is also fitted with a jaali (a perforated, latticed screen) that directs the incoming wind to be channelled "like a whiff of cool breeze on a summer afternoon", cooling down the living and dining areas of the house.
Trees bloom in the other courtyard on the first floor, creating a context for the house from within, infusing it with a green hue and a calm ambience, as well as allowing the windows inside a faint view of the tree crowns. "Although inward-looking, there is a constant choreography of movement between the inside and outside, where one encounters the courtyards, and can step out into them from the central track,” elaborates Rathod.
The Cool House is a context-responsive, conscious, serene, and personal home that allows three generations of a family to grow and thrive together. - Samira Rathod, Principal Architect, SRDA
The courtyards' design, besides being spatial and structural interventions, also birth the form of the Cool House, articulated as a box split in the middle, and stitched back through slender openings, thin wooden windows, and open slits, resulting in a seemingly simple and unadorned façade with subtle, and calculated details.
Upping the cool quotient
The thick external walls along with the cool, soothing interior done in lime chuna help beat the heat further and cool rooms from within, adding onto the natural, passive design strategies employed for the residential architecture. Rathod elaborates by saying—"the house is an example of contemporary architecture that relies heavily on our innate knowledge of climate and materials that work in such harsh climatic regions. The house, like a box from the outside, has unique materiality, one painted black and the other very tactile, using small custom-made Siporex bricks. This semantic makes the logic of a track corridor and volumes on either side quite evident. Small pockets have been identified within the mass that punctures it, while the greens are allowed to grow from within."
But isn’t using black counterproductive, in their intent to keep the ambient temperature down, for comfortable residing? According to Rathod, while black heats up the space, it also leads to hot air rising up, resulting in the formation of low-pressure areas below that become conduits for the breeze to rush in, and aid in the primal propensity of the residential design to cool itself.
The studio shares that although the clients belong to the small town of Bharuch, they revealed a refined taste, wishing for a house that did not rely on air conditioning for comfort, given the site’s conditions. "He was very clear that he wanted to use traditional materials with a contemporary aesthetic," says Rathod. They requested a 'breezy' house that would seamlessly accommodate the various lifestyles of its inhabitants. “They have parents who are pious and religious and are themselves, a young, modern couple with children who live a modern lifestyle. So we had to meld these generations into the programme of one home, which is why we provided two separate floors,” she continues.
In tandem, the Indian architects were not permitted to install lawns in the courtyards owing to religious beliefs of the clients—only a flowering tree was allowed to be planted. “So, we ensured that this tree was planted straight into the ground (rather than on a podium), and had plenty of space to stand tall, flower, grow, and flourish,” Rathod adds.
The most modern route of cooling, or realising a glass box architecture is by means of floor-to-ceiling windows, but in a place like Bharuch, installing glass is almost suicidal, as the influx of direct sunlight would turn the home into a balmy, uncomfortable, blistering chamber. Hence, smaller windows are adequately and strategically placed for a better, much-preferred alternative for ventilation. Natural light and wind are also filtered in through these slight perforations, along with that coming in from the courtyards and installed skylights, all carefully punctuated, creating a successful Venturi effect within the dwelling.
“We saw no sense in providing large windows to look outside since the view only opens into neighbouring homes and backyards. Instead, the house is introverted and highlights its courtyard within,” shares Rathod, explaining the lack of visible, prominent windows of the home that plays with light and shadow for added dynamism, along with a push and pull of variably sized architectural volumes, as witnessed on the plain grey façade design.
The terrace crowning the thoughtfully crafted Indian architecture was designed to mimic the sense of a courtyard and become a platform to watch the shifting sky, as there is not much to look at outside, towards the street or the town. Samira Rathod Design Atelier arranged the walls as well as the line of vision to a certain height, to draw focus away from the buildings in Bharuch, and instead, onto the sky above and verdant trees growing beyond.
Moreover, the terrace is planned to be used primarily during evenings, since daytime is sweltering hot, irrespective of the season, and especially extreme during summers. Therefore, the architects designed it to reference the shaded hues of night—black floors, black IPS, blue pool, and tall grasses, the latter used to create soft partitions and dedicated spaces without any built features. It is also fitted with solar panels to translate into energy, from the ample daylight it receives.
The simple materiality of the project is realised with terrazzo, lime plaster, bespoke Siporex grey bricks, wood, SHERA board, and Indian marble. The furniture design employed is without accents, as the client preferred spartan. “At SRDA, our whole approach to interior designing is not necessarily through accessorising and styling, which most people confuse interior designers with. We believe that interior design is always tied to architecture, and neither of them exists in a vacuum. Therefore, the architecture itself lends the spatial qualities (of the walls) to the interior designer; all we need is functional furniture that fits well into our designs,” Rathod explains.
She also goes on to relay that the artwork is also kept minimal, providing a certain ascetic expression for the homeowners, while being flexible enough to evolve, according to their tastes and needs over the years. “If we were to fill the space with our choices, it’s the end of the story. But as the clients move, evolve, and understand art differently, they would want to add or change the artwork. There is plenty of wall space by default, because of the nature of the building, which we expect, facilitates growth. Sometimes, the architecture is conceived in a way that doesn’t require any art at all, because that itself is the feature,” she continues.
The nature of the materials employed for the contextual architecture ensued a muted colour palette, for instance, lime mortar, that infuses the Cool House with an earthy, calming quality. Slight inclusion of softer, more vivid colours pops up in certain sections, to highlight the artwork around the house and add character. “We felt that just as you’d hang a painting somewhere, the long, lime-plastered corridor and big doors demanded something more. The blue landscape artwork done on it was by architects Jay Shah and Samira Rathod and is intentionally simple because that’s all we know since we are not artists. It reflects a sense of simplicity and the modest lifestyle of Bharuch,” shares the design team.
The architects deem the powder blue rendering in the living room, a “serendipitous find", after rounds of experimenting with shades of blue, and how it reacts with the lime, lining the contextual design. SRDA mentions that they tried about 120 different combinations, before stumbling onto this "perfect", and soothing shade of blue that seems to further cool the interior.
Intimate and simple, the Cool House is imbued with the distinct lifestyles and personalities of the owners, as much as the refined design sensibilities and vigour of the firm that conceived the space, as a structure that respects its local climate instead of rejecting it. The inquisitive sensibility and sculptural rigour of the residential building in Gujarat is soothing and responsive at the same time, revealing a quiet power in its reserved being. Rathod and Jay Shah (project architect), conclude by saying, “The Cool House in Bharuch has been a surprise for us all. Although everything has been consciously designed within the house, the breeze in the house at the peak of summer has really blown us away, literally and figuratively.”
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