by Jerry ElengicalJan 14, 2023
Tamil Nadu-based Studio Context Architects has conceptualised the interiors and architecture of a 3,500-square-feet home in Chennai, called the Urban Courtyard House. The aptly titled dwelling, showcasing a marriage of traditional architecture with contemporary interiors, has been planned around a nucleus—its courtyard, which is evocative of the traditional South Indian mutram. All the spaces in the home are connected to this courtyard, either physically or visually. The living room, kitchen, dining room and bedrooms all overlook the tiled courtyard. Furthermore, as the home has been built in a relatively low lying area, which is prone to flooding, the architects designed the structure on stilts.
“Our clients—a young family of three—wanted an open yet secure home for their daughter to grow up in. The brief was to design the home keeping in mind a modern aesthetic woven intricately together with the concepts of a traditional regional house. Akin to the verandahs of yore, the family’s life revolves around their courtyard. This is where the daughter spends most of her time playing, either with her friends or grandparents, under the rain or the sun. Moreover, we have designed most of the spaces to overlook the courtyard. The parents can keep an eye on their daughter from the kitchen as she plays in the open – just like a window looking into the street. Our client is also a fantastic Bharatanatyam dancer, and the courtyard under the early morning sun is a great place to practice. Therefore, the courtyard dons multiple roles and the family’s life revolves around this space,” mentions Raghuveer Ramesh, co-founder of Studio Context Architects.
The Urban Courtyard House is located behind the clients’ parents’ home and is surrounded by apartment buildings in the heart of south Indian city Chennai in Tamil Nadu. “Given that the surroundings were rather unremarkable, the essence of the home had to come from within the house itself. The added challenge of bringing in plenty of natural light and ventilation without creating too many openings facing outside made it abundantly clear to us to design a home focusing on the experience from within. Architecturarlly, the house is an abstract composition of masses. The façade of the house was intentionally kept minimal and bare, considering that there are no accessible exterior views. The only visible façade of the house is the portion with the exterior staircase. A large cantilevered mass at the entrance floating above the staircase brings in the dynamism,” adds Sharanya Srinivasan, also a co-founder of Studio Context Architects.
The residential design features minimal colour scheme and material palette. The unfinished concrete ceilings and exposed cement accent walls contrast beautifully with the smooth white-plastered walls. Cement finish vitrified floor tiles flow throughout the house, tying all the spaces together. The monotony of the house is broken by pops of colour like the blue in the dining and kitchen area, accents of copper and brass, geometric pattern tiles, and colourful paintings that are strategically placed throughout the house.
The Urban Courtyard House’s living room has been designed as a bright and welcoming space, just off the central courtyard. When the living room’s sliding doors are opened, a jhula swings out into the walkway. A prayerroom in one corner, facing east, is hidden behind white perforated shutters. The living room features stark white walls, an exposed concrete ceiling, muted furnishings, colourful artwork and striking decor accents. “This home is all about its rich experiential quality. Our intention is to design a comfortable and a grounded (metaphorically speaking) dwelling for our clients to live and thrive in. The residential architecture has shaped the lifestyle of the young family and vice versa,” states Srinivasan.
Opposite the living room, across the courtyard, is the kitchen and dining area in an open layout, making it ideal for hosting. Dark blue cabinets and white counter tops in the kitchen and dining area perfectly complement the exposed concrete ceiling and the wooden dining table.
The well-lit master bedroom has a neutral palette with subtle yet charming brown undertones and contemporary furnishings. It features a cosy work area with wood panelled flooring and ceiling. This bedroom comprises cherished family memorabilia such as two framed maps of Chennai and San Francisco, two cities the family has lived in. A folding louvered window opens up the master bedroom to the courtyard.
Lastly, the family room is a fun and vibrant space with a home theatre, bright furniture and eye-catching pop art. It’s a truly personal space filled with elements that evoke emotions of familiarity for the clients. For instance, there is a bright orange couch reminiscent of the sofa on the popular sitcom Friends and a larger-than-life portrait of popular Indian actor Rajnikanth on one of the walls.
“We have always wanted to be contextually and climatically accurate in whatever we design. Our ancestors have designed houses using principles of vernacular architecture that have stood the test of time. Our philosophy has always been to build on that and make it relevant for modern times. The courtyard as a space is considered a luxury in a tight urban setting. But we believe, through right planning, the space adds a lot of value, just like it does in the Urban Courtyard House,” concludes Raghuveer.