Spasm Design brings Rajasthani stepwells to an educational building in Mumbai
by Devanshi ShahOct 07, 2021
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Meghna MehtaPublished on : Feb 20, 2020
The Parikrama House by Mumbai-based SPASM Design Architects was developed around the idea of tracing a parikrama, a circumambulatory path, mostly visible in traditional Indian architecture. The house was conceived with an approach to create a circular path while moving through spaces and still being in contact with the surroundings.
“We wished to design the house while always looping one’s movements – either in a figure of eight or a zero. The house could thus be designed as a series, as a linear design, or like a donut. We wanted to subtly manoeuvre the user to encounter framed views; sporadically witnessing what is around whenever one moves. Reminiscent of the Stonehenge, the house consciously frames choreographed views,” say Sanjeev Panjabi and Sangeeta Merchant, principals at SPASM Design Architects. The idea of the parikrama further allows one to go around the house in multifarious ways to experience renewed scenes through the day.
Designing for a friend who works with the brand Panoramah, a producer of modern windows in Portugal, the architect duo were tasked with creating a ‘case study home’, steering away from designing it as a regular courtyard or holiday home – “We were given the task of developing a sort of case-study home in the Murud region in the midst of a coconut grove. The windows were expected to be extremely high-tech and modern in their appearance; however, these were meant to disappear against the verdant view,” shares Merchant, indicating that the idea subconsciously paved the way for a rather modern approach.
The architects were also clear that they would adhere to responsible architecture in times of the grave climate crisis. “In the 21st century, whatever action we take through architecture will affect the environment over the years. Whatever we use, the substance with which we build, defines the spaces it holds.” Their approach, therefore, was to keep in mind the larger environs as well. “When you are in this house, you will keep walking through this linear Stonehenge. You cannot see the form of the house when you are there. One should wish to express the grove, not the home.”
Panjabi and Merchant have kept the surroundings in mind by avoiding the cutting down of any vegetation and making sure that the house sits in line with the natural row of trees at the site. “It (the house) almost becomes a tree hugger. The story for us is always about how one amplifies the density of the surrounding context in which the house occupies the site,” says Panjabi.
The plan evolved like a two-headed worm, with the main living and dining spaces flanking the opposite ends, and the bedrooms or guestrooms in the middle as a series, much like the body of a worm. “Setting up this Parikrama (path or passage), we consciously ended up looping the house. The window was the protagonist – as a singular track. The granite was the second protagonist; and the plan was organised around these elements,” explains Merchant. The roof became an omnipresent element, distinguished at different spaces with a distinct sense of hierarchy with nine feet tall bedrooms under it.
Stone was one of the primary materials used for the construction, and the house was built using the 'tilt-up technique'. This technique, a method that is assumed to have been used to construct the Stonehenge (c. 3000 BC), involves site-casting the concrete walls on a separate casting bed and further tilting, lifting and placing them into position using cranes. Having applied this methodology to the 40 mm thick and 3350 mm high granite slabs, this allowed the windows to jut into cavity walls.
“Stone has the aspect of time built into it and is a material with a lot of gravitas, like the grandfather of all building materials. Once all else decays, the stone will still stand,” says Panjabi.
A modern-meets-ancient design sensibility is evident in the construct of giant panels of glass against huge stone slabs. The stone gives visual and physical strength with a sense of gravity; however the windows attempt to provide a feeling of openness with clear visibility and a low-key appearance. While granite is a rigid and heavy material, it is not supported by any other backing or plywood. The roof of the house has been constructed with a grid-like system, designed like an airplane wing, completely recyclable with insulation included in the soffit beam. These elements, which were the focus of the entire design and construction process, not only counter the monsoons and winds but propose an elegant solution to heating and cooling requirements of the building. The structure, thus, acquires freedom through the glass and enclosure through the use of granite.
The house was thus designed to honour the tropical climate of the region and make it part of the landscape surrounded by coconut groves. Laid out as a single row of narrow spaces placed longitudinally, it acts as a filter to the monsoon breezes. The short spaces in the middle of the layout, like the bathrooms, are automatically isolated while the bigger spaces that exist towards the edges are more open to the environs. To conclude, shares Merchant, “The house keeps the rain away, and keeps you cool. The architecture here becomes the simplest expression of occupation in a tropic.”
Project: The Parikrama House
Site area: 2.75 acres
Client: Durall systems India Pvt. Ltd.
Location: Murud, India
Architects: SPASM Design
Principal architects: Sanjeev Panjabi and Sangeeta Merchant
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