by Jincy IypeNov 01, 2022
"A common, ordinary brick wants to be something more than it is," exclaimed American actor Woody Harrelson in his 1993 film Indecent Proposal, where he plays an architect. This dialogue is infamously known to cite something a real architect once said, serving as the monologue’s inspiration—Louis Isadore Kahn, who posed his now legendary question in the early 1970s—“What do you want, brick?” His ensuing answer, that the brick desires to be an arch, and not merely be cladding sans a structural role, was a petition to employ this material in construction sensibly, and not merely as an afterthought.
The felicitous composition of brick masonry has remained a timeless classic in the history of architecture. Across the world, architects have advocated for its value, raw aesthetics, and exposed resilience, from Louis I Kahn to Frank Lloyd Wright, who created notable brick buildings. Closer home, architect Laurie Baker and Joseph Allen Stein defined parts of Indian towns, and inspired new-age architects such as Vinu Daniel, to explore and uphold its quiet power through the ages, fashioning buildings that exude discipline and warmth through this humble material.
The Purple Ink Studio tapped into the influence and modesty of the baked material to articulate their recent project, The Brick House. Situated within a dense urban sprawl in the coastal town of Mangalore, in southern Karnataka, India, the residential architecture cites the inimitable, timeless landscape of the south Indian city, a melting pot of cultures dotted with heritage buildings lingering in its older parts, while also lamenting a loss of its clear urban character over the years.
A celebration of Indian craftsmanship essays the heart of the project, according to The Purple Ink Studio, who cite primary inspirations of the timelessness of the rich culture of the region as well as the distinct aesthetic of brick architecture, which was explored with a process that was extremely layered and curated. “In this project, the material vocabulary infused with the adopted design ideologies became emblematic of the past, to age gracefully into the future,” the design team told STIR.
"Having moved to Saudi Arabia, the client’s aspiration was to have a family and holiday home close to his provenance, going back to his ancestral roots in the coastal Karnataka region. The design brief for the house had stories from his formative years walking past the old brick factories with chimneys poking above the coconut trees, and those of red-oxide flooring and lime-plaster-finished walls which kept houses refreshingly cool. Hence, they envisioned their family house as one that would evoke these memories while keeping the design unique and aesthetically modern," explained Akshay Heranjal, co-founder and principal architect of The Purple Ink Studio based in Bengaluru.
With an 'inward-looking' plan, The Brick House stays nestled on a corner plot between neighbouring buildings, with a sole view of existing trees and glimpses of the adjacent street. After including the necessary setbacks, the dwelling was designed in and across several layers—the two bottom-most levels were planned with semi-private programming, while the levels above were given complete privacy, to become independent. These layers are given dimensionality through a playful yet planned intersection of courts. The sloping topography of the abutting road creates access to The Brick House at two different levels, with the lower ground fitted with parking, alongside an 'Entertainment Den a.k.a. Majalis,' while the upper level became the main entrance, apart from hosting the formal living and dining areas. “The entry opens under a triple-height skylight ascending from the land and opening into the sky, the Indian architects relay.
The residential design also derives some of its character from a Thotti Mane (Courtyard House), with varied courtyards intercepted across multiple levels and volumes. "With an inward-looking plan, the courtyards responded to the qualities of the sky, with natural light filtering through the brick screens and allowing a soft breeze to pass through. The staggering of the courts also allowed all the inhabitants to either enjoy an extended court outside the private areas or open into it. The subtly sun-lit staircase connecting all the levels is sculptural and experiential with each elevation, adding dynamism to the home,” Heranjal continues.
Because Mangalore enjoys a tropical climate, replete with hot summer days and heavy to moderate rainfall most of the year, passive design strategies and planning principles were introduced into the design to ensure uninterrupted cross-ventilation. The building's distinct brick-wall skin is constructed in layers 'akin to the composition of earth,' guaranteeing that the innermost ones, that is, the inside of the abode, remains cool and insulated.
Likewise, all the rooms have triple-layered walls, with laterite masonry sandwiched between a brick jaali from the outside, and thick brick sections from the inside. "These layers provide necessary insulation from the extreme summer and control seepages from the rain. The courts and decks open out to brick jaalis which filter in sunlight and create a visual boundary,” he adds.
The residential building spread approximately over 1,254 sqm, features windows that open onto a deck, or a jaali, allowing one to observe fragmented glimpses of the outside. The pleasantly textured, iron-red facade design is laid with bricks arranged in a pattern "creating an expression of its own while helping reduce the building scale," says Heranjal. Characteristics of traditional tiled sloping roofs were reinterpreted in these brick arrangements, making it seem as though "the building is in motion as one walked by."
The dwelling is designed 'outside-in'—with the facade's materiality reflected in the interiors swathed in hues of calming greys and browns, the harmony of the spaces is cohesive and evident. With some sections carved via the interplay of light and shadow, interiors were planned with the facade, making it true to its form and essence. The angled windows are planned around the wind and sun studies also ensuring the connection with the outside, while also providing necessary screening from the adjoining developments.
Involving local craftsmen and employing locally available materials as well as materials that stay true to their form, enhance the Indian architecture's sustainability credentials, and became the guiding design principles. "We cannot emphasise more the use of local materials and craftsmen. We as a country are truly blessed to have a unique landscape, climate, and stories influencing many forms of art in every region. The materials, which are regional have not only stood the test of time but are also a testimony to carry forward to our future generations,” the Indian architect relayed to STIR.
"The experiential qualities of exposed brick masonry, and brick articulating the primary materiality, were part of our early client conversations. We loved his passion towards local materials, apart from his eye for detail. These nascent chats led us to explore the various forms of brick's materiality. The facade is layered course by course as every single of them had a different angle, making it truly handcrafted. Internal walls are kept bare, devoid of any paint, to experience the originality of brick,” he added.
The employment of natural materials finds routes within the sophisticated yet earthy interior design as well, where a combination of black limestone and grey tandur stone became the canvas for the plaster-finished walls. The addition of drapes, mostly of cotton and jute, helps to soften the angularity of the home. The employed artwork was conceptualised and commissioned by the project architect, continuing the design philosophy through its curation.
"The experience of movement and a celebration of craftsmanship was explored further with multiple plaster finishes done in situ with the site contractors. The client was a constant part of the design process and was passionately involved in its interpretation on-site. He took the idea ahead by allowing us to not use paint in the interiors, elevating the timelessness of the space,” he explains.
Heranjal elaborates on the studio's name and guiding design ethos by telling STIR—"All of us have a keen interest towards music. The idea of setting a studio name that did not reflect our own literally was inspired by the 1960s band Led Zeppelin. At some point in their career, the band felt that, instead of their music, it was their name that was selling albums. So, they proceeded to release one of their albums (‘Album IV’) anonymously, where each band member identified with a graphic. This untitled album became one of their best-selling ones, with one of their most known songs, Stairway to Heaven. This inspired us to identify with our work and not our name right from the beginning. Our design process is highly contextual and actively engages multiple layers that revolve around designing and the idea of 'storytelling.' We strive to experiment and explore alternate solutions with each project, regardless of varying building typologies and scales, to create structures that are timeless and at the same time, future-ready. We believe in redefining paradigms of architecture and envisaging change, project-by-project.”
Name: The Brick House
Location: Mangaluru, Karnataka, India
Gross Area: 1,254.191 sqm
Year of completion:
Architect and Interior Design: The Purple Ink Studio
Design team: Akshay Heranjal, Aditi Pai, Siddharth Waze, Jaikumar, Amal
Structural Consultant: Ashok Associates
MEP Consultant: Ceecon Engineers
Civil Contractor: NGC Constructions, Mangalore
Interior Contractor: MM Interiors Mumbai