by Anmol AhujaAug 31, 2021
Sites such as these that lie ensconced in the literal lap of nature – overlooking a sizeable water body, a bonafide tourist spot for Punekars, resting along the rich contours of the Western Ghats - invite romanticised interventions by their very being. The temptation at the hand of the designer is a palpable one. More so, when the residence under question is a weekend retreat with the rather signature brief: for the client to escape from the hustle of city life and seek respite from the toll of urbanity; how then, does understatement begin to define an architectural narrative that easily invites at least spatial extravagance? This has been a rather pedagogical dichotomy that is at the very heart of the expanding "vacation-home-culture" in Indian architecture, and impressively so, many Indian architects have passed on that temptation to create residences that truly belong to the soil. The Cove House by Pune-based Red Brick Studio is exactly the kind of judicious residential design that is content with revelling in an already rich, lustrous context. So much so, that the house’s zenith barely rises over the elevation of the hill that holds it.
As with a lot of modern residence designs in the Indian subcontinent, innovation here too stems in the face of limitation. Despite a tight constructible area, the client wished to have a taste of open living amid nature, and a number of open ancillary spaces which could be integrated with the house to be able to host gatherings for friends and family. This was achieved by the designers using an interesting interplay of spaces on-ground, choosing to build along the natural topography of the land, as opposed to utilising the flat part for construction, allowing majority of the “built” portion of the house to be tucked away from the view of the entrance and approach to the “cove”. Much of the house is thus partly ‘submerged’ into the land itself it emerges from.
The feature that perhaps stands out the most, however, is the eponymous cove spanning the residence along its longitudinal side. The inverted curved profile of the mono-roof propped against a pair of V-columns at either end of the house lend it a structural aesthetic of being 'perched' atop the hillock. The concave surface of the roof is realised in ferro-cement, lending it an impressively slim profile of only 50mm thickness. An additional layer of levity, apart from the roof profile, is rendered through the clerestory windows sandwiched between the walled mass of the house and its roof. These windows run contiguously along all edges of the house, and are strategically placed at the level one would enter the house, providing the visitor an instantaneous visual connection with the valley across the house, on the other side. This entrance too is planned rather discreetly, sunk at the edge of an open courtyard abutting the house. The steps emulate the levelled play of an ancient Indian kund, complete with a water body by its side, along with boulders and vegetation found at the site itself.
Inside, the upside down curvature of the roof is complemented by gently curved archways that frame the grit lined walls of the house, providing access to its innards through its central living area. Open, spacious, and populated by natural light animating its bare materiality, the living area is the heart of the house, flanked on either side by the bedrooms and the kitchen, and a connected deck that offers expansive views of the dam backwaters and the valley across. The doors providing access to this space were custom built with folded metal sheets, sliding seamlessly between the cavity walls, opening to reveal the full extent of the space, while closing to cordon it off into a more intimate arrangement.
The coarse materiality of the house complements the rugged terrain and natural ember hues of the ghats. Externally, the house dons a ferrous, deep red pigment over a skin done entirely in grit-finished plaster, while internally, all walls are finished in a combination of white and coloured polished oxide. Apart from being immensely mindful of its natural context, the house’s features allow it to successfully adapt to the region’s climatology. The coarse finish provides for good weather resistance in the face of Maharashtra’s extreme rains and summers. Additionally, the inverted profile of the roof allows the house to harvest rain water, which is further channelled and stored in a series of water bodies for drier months ahead.
"The reason we believe the project is unique is because it primarily breaks the notion of how a house is typically expected to be. It attempts to be more of a non-building, much in contrast to the conventional ways of looking at architecture," state the principals and co-founders at Red Brick Studio, Anil Poduval and Ankur Kothari, on their intent behind the design of Cove House. “It aims to respond to the rich site and surrounds it is nestled within, with a lot of sensitivity. It allows for the client to take advantage of the location but at no point does it interfere with the larger environmental fabric around it".