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Upto the Sea by Matharoo Associates pays homage to stepwells

Combining traditional building values and contemporary spatial planning, the Ahmedabad-based architects created a residence with a unique central feature comprising 150 steps.

by Pooja Suresh HollannavarPublished on : Jun 17, 2023

Surat, a bustling Indian metropolis known for its diamond and textile industries, has recently witnessed the rapid growth of various sectors, including oil, shipping, and metallurgy. This remarkable expansion has transformed the city in western India into one of the country's wealthiest and most vibrant cities. Amidst this thriving urban landscape lies the coastal town of Dumas, situated a mere 20 km away from Surat, Gujarat. Once renowned for its opulent havelis (mansions) for the Nawabs, Dumas now entices residents with its tranquil setting. Nestled just minutes from the coast, a plot of land became the canvas for the house of a jeweller couple and their son's family.

Up to the Sea is located in an idyllic setting, minutes away from the coast| Up to the Sea | Matharoo Associates | STIRworld
Upto the Sea is located in an idyllic setting, minutes away from the coast Image: Dinesh Mehta

Designed by Ahmedabad-based Matharoo Associates, the residence harmoniously amalgamates traditional Indian architectural principles and contemporary aesthetics. Embracing the vaastu guidelines, which prescribe fixed locations for various spaces and elements based on cardinal directions, the planning of the house adheres to a strict set of principles rooted in tradition. This integration of vaastu principles laid the foundation for the spatial arrangement and layout of the house. Additionally, the design draws inspiration from two prominent elements—an ancient baori or stepwell, discovered on site and the breathtaking views of the Arabian Sea.

Site Plan showing the location of the naori on-site | Up to the Sea | Matharoo Associates | STIRworld
Site Plan showing the location of the baori on site Image: Courtesy of Matharoo Associates

To encapsulate the essence of the past, a stone masonry enclosure reminiscent of historical structures stands tall, acting as both a visual and acoustic barrier from the bustling roadside. This massive stone base provides a sense of solidity and permanence, serving as a counterpoint to the more fluid and dynamic design elements. Stacked concrete tubes, carefully arranged to frame captivating vistas of the surrounding landscape, ascend from this sturdy foundation. Within this interplay of forms, a void emerges as the focal point—a snaking volume that seamlessly connects the five floors, creating a sense of continuity and flow.

  • A bedroom| Up to the Sea | Matharoo Associates | STIRworld
    One of the bedrooms at Upto the Sea by Matharoo Associates Image: Dinesh Mehta
  • The living roomconnected to the outside through sliding doors| Up to the Sea | Matharoo Associates | STIRworld
    The living room connected to the outside through sliding doors Image: Dinesh Mehta

The upper floors of the private residence house suites for the members of the multi-generational family, while the common spaces, including living areas, a temple, an entrance vestibule, and a kitchen, are nestled beneath them. The family and formal living areas, along with the dining space, extend into a semi-open verandah positioned at the corner of the house. Adjacent to this verandah lies a swimming pool and a carefully crafted landscape, forming the nucleus of the residence design. With the primary bedroom's sit-out and the children's lounge on the first floor overlooking this space, it becomes the heart of the house—a meeting point between the baori's depths and the void's ethereal openness.

The dining area| Up to the Sea | Matharoo Associates | STIRworld
The dining areaImage: Dinesh Mehta

Inspired by the architectural typology of ancient Indian stepwells, a captivating staircase design takes centre stage in this design. Symbolising a connection between the earthly and the celestial, the staircase starts at the base of the stepwell, winds along the interior, and wraps around the sunlit void. As one ascends this enchanting stairway, it unifies the various spaces, creating a seamless journey towards the pinnacle with an awe-inspiring view of the Arabian Sea. This ascent comprises 150 steps and offers a metaphorical and literal progression towards a higher perspective.

  • The steps are the focal point of the house| Up to the Sea | Matharoo Associates | STIRworld
    The steps are the focal point of the house Image: Dinesh Mehta
  • The steps lead up from the baori| Up to the Sea | Matharoo Associates | STIRworld
    The steps lead up from the baori Image: Dinesh Mehta

The Jewellers' House stands as a testament to the fusion of tradition and contemporary design in Dumas, Surat. By embracing vaastu principles and integrating elements of the stepwell and breathtaking sea views, the Indian architects have created a residence that embodies both the cultural heritage and the aspirations of its inhabitants. The interplay of stone masonry, stacked concrete tubes, and snaking volumes form a captivating architectural ensemble that evokes a sense of timelessness and serenity. In conversation with STIR, Trisha Patel, senior architect at Matharoo Associates, expands on the design process of the home.

Pooja Suresh Hollannavar: What was the brief for the project and the concept behind the design?

Trisha Patel: Located only 20 km away from the hustle and bustle of the city is the coastal town of Dumas, marked once by its numerous havelis (mansions) for the Nawabs (noblemen of the kings), now its peaceful setting is the reason people opt to move here from the city. The site for the house of a jeweller couple and the family of their son lies minutes away from the coast and required only some elevation over the palms, to be able to afford breathtaking views of the Arabian Sea. An old baori was found on site, a rare find in the coastal regions—and the joining of these two glasses of water and weaving them through the house became the driving force of the design. The design intent was the revocation of colonial style haveli that once stood on the same land, there must have existed lofty volumes, grand staircases and wide passageways, there must have existed life with people and stories. It was the presence of what once was on the land that became the starting point for the conception of the house.

Pooja: The house is a true medley of materials. How did you go about choosing the different materials?

Trisha: The project draws its inspiration from the design language of the old havelis. Fragments of the past are manifested in a stone masonry enclosure for the house, high on the roadside to form a visual and sound barrier, and open on the serene internal sides of the site. Thin concrete tubes are stacked up on this massive stone base, pushed in and pulled out to frame views of the expansive landscape all around. This play leaves behind a void within that emerges as the protagonist—a snaking volume that constricts and dilates, entwining each of the five floors into a seamless continuum.

The home features a varied material palette| Up to the Sea | Matharoo Associates | STIRworld
The home features a varied material palette Image: Dinesh Mehta

Pooja: The central staircase is one of the most visually interesting features of the house. Was this intentionally designed to be this way or was it a product of the overall planning and design?

Trisha: Inspired by the now-extinct typology of the ancient Indian stepwell, a long flight of steps that give access to an ever-fluctuating table of water—the stair starts from the base of the well, rings along the inside and wraps around the sunlit void, connecting all of the spaces as one rises to the top—a walk 150 steps up to the sea. The upside-down fully functional staircase connects all the usable spaces within the house. There is no dead space under or over the stairs, smaller spaces are hidden inside functions such as powder room, discreet house safe, shoe vestibule, and passages underneath.

The central staircase fulfils functional and aesthetic requirements| Up to the Sea | Matharoo Associates | STIRworld
The central staircase fulfils functional and aesthetic requirements Image: Dinesh Mehta

Pooja: Does the design do anything to mitigate the extreme summer heat experienced in Surat?

Trisha: Surat has a tropical coastal climate where the temperature doesn’t soar very high but the humidity is extreme. The breeze from the sea is a boon in open-ended structures and, if the spaces are not conditioned, they need to be ventilated. The design for the house is conceived in tubes open on opposite sides. All rooms are cross ventilated with a minimum of two large windows and the exhaust at the centre. The central volume aids the draft of the air upwards and the thick stone walls on the ground floor allow the heat to pass through.

Pooja: What was your favourite part of the design process for this house?

Trisha: The design compliance to vaastu—the traditional guidelines that specify locations of each area of the house, pool, and kitchen, down to the direction of the water closets comes in the way of approaching a design problem. Here the attempt is to use vaastu to get around the problem and achieve spaces that are not otherwise possible under their strict discipline. The southwest master suite makes a through-and-through spatial and visual connection to the family living on the pool outside. On the other hand, the temple on the compulsory east opens to the dining space on the west towards the landscape and beyond. The necessary opening to the sky, in the centre of the house becomes the source of light that reaches the basement as well. The light animates the staircase through different seasons and during the day. The essential lowest point on the north (the well) makes a spatial connection to the mandatory southwest highest point of the built-in composition through a series of winding 150 steps 'Upto the Sea.'

The central staircase is the most interesting part of the design Video: Courtesy of Matharoo Associates

Project Details

Name: Upto the Sea
Location: Surat, Gujarat, India
Site Area: 5780 sq. m
Built Up Area: 380 sq. m.
Year of completion:2021
Design Firm:Matharoo Associates
Design Team:Gurjit Singh Matharoo, Krishna Mistry (Project Architect), Daksh Sharma (trainee), Vinita Mhatre (trainee)
Structural engineer(s):Rushabh Consultants, Ahmedabad
Mechanical engineer(s):HVAC-Pankaj Dharkar Associates, Ahmedabad
Electrical: JIT Engineering Services Consultant, Ahmedabad
Plumbing: Bharat Chauhan Plumbing Consultants, Ahmedabad
Interior designer(s):Matharoo Associates
Landscape architect(s):VagishNaganur, Bangalore
General contractor: RIVA Constructions & Consultancy, Surat

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