by Zohra KhanMar 31, 2022
When the inhabitants of a 40-year-old bungalow in Ahmedabad found themselves yearning for an independent lounge area to entertain friends and family - in exchange of a makeshift space that felt more like a dreary entrance lobby - they reached out to Studio Sangath for a solution. The family was clear on one thing: they would neither move out nor completely rebuild the home. After analysing the architecture that lay tucked behind a veil of lush trees in a dense urban landscape, Khushnu Panthaki Hoof and Sönke Hoof of the Indian studio decided to realise the family’s wish by adding a sculpturesque annex to the property. Thus, Black Perch was born. A strange dark cube reaching into the thicket of trees, a new volume defined as more than just an archetypal extension to a home.
I speak with Sönke Hoof to discover more about this project.
(Following are the edited excerpts from the conversation)
Zohra Khan: Why is the house referred to as Black Perch?
Sönke Hoof: This project is rather peculiar was already clear during construction, when people passing by stopped their vehicles to inspect this oddity: a strange black box sitting on the top of an older bungalow, as if it just landed there from the sky. A black alien perched there, maybe ready to lift off at any moment. The name wasn’t planned from the beginning, but it seemed to fit and then it got stuck. There is also no relation to the freshwater fish of the same name.
Zohra: Who were the project's clients? What was their brief to you?
Sönke: The clients are a family of five: the couple, their two sons (now studying abroad) and the paternal grandmother. They are industrialists running the business of their father. They are very social people with a close-knit circle of friends who meet often. The old house didn’t have a living room or a lounge area large enough for this. Besides this, the existing living room felt more like an entrance lobby, with the entrance door opening straight into it. The new lounge should be a more private location and should have a better connection to an outside area. Ideally a pantry/kitchenette should be part of it. They further required a study room which could double up as guest room. These additions were the main requirement. Along with that we were to give a makeover to the existing house, redoing the living room, bedrooms, and most bathrooms.
Zohra: What was the starting point of the design?
Sönke: It started with finding a spot to actually add all of the extra area.
There wasn’t any free area on the plot, which was already covered to all margin lines by the existing house. The large, mostly unused basement didn’t seem suitable. The roof wasn’t all flat, having a slope on one side of the split-level house and the flat part wasn’t large enough for the program.
But what if the extension would just rest on the flat part and cantilever out over the slope? The sloped roof could just fall down underneath. And there could be a courtyard stepping down the slope. Like that, one thing led to another…
Zohra: Any particular design inspiration that you may wish to highlight…
Sönke: The most striking element of Black Perch are the louvers which were blackened following Shou Sugi Ban, an old Japanese technique for preserving wood, by charring it with fire. Once charred, the wood resists further burning, water, sun, or pests. The black louvers are also an homage to the old wooden havelis and pol houses of the old city of Ahmedabad, which have darkened black with age.
Zohra: Could you walk us through the spatial zoning of the project?
Sönke: The extension is sitting on the second floor all the way on top of the existing split-level house. It is at the end of a journey criss-crossing the house on the way up. Due to structural constraints, we could not extend the existing staircase to the extension and had to modify the arrangement of rooms on the upper floor to create a passage to the new spiral stair up. This adds to the spatial complexity and the surprise when one finally enters the new lounge overlooking the sun-filled stepped courtyard.
Zohra: What materials or construction typology has been used in the extension's development?
Sönke: The construction is a lightweight steel structure to keep the additional load to the existing building as low as possible. All walls are drywalls and double up as storage. The louvers surrounding the building on all sides were blackened following Shou Sugi Ban. Contrasting with the black facade, white oak is used for the courtyard decking and the flooring, ceiling and furniture of the interior.
Zohra: Any significant challenge through the project's journey that you could tell us.
Sönke: Once the design solution was found, there were no significant challenges.
Zohra: What, for you, has been the most special aspect about this piece of architecture?
Sönke: I think this project shows that especially difficult conditions lead to the most wondrous outcomes. Seeing it all come together during construction was definitely special. So was the trust of my client in letting us do this.
What also makes Black Perch special is depending on the way you look at it and the way sunlight hits it - the charred wood louvers do not always appear jet black, as one would expect. They actually have a silvery reflective top layer which reflects the colour and mood of daytime and weather, changing with the colour of the sunlight throughout the day and seasons - and tints the shutters in a golden glow during sun sets.