Vinu Daniel on camouflage architecture in ‘The Ledge’ by Wallmakers in India

Speaking with STIR, the Kerala-based architect explains the innovative design of his latest project, while sharing his views on sustainability and extruding buildings from their context.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Dec 09, 2021

Jutting out from the sloping landscape of Peerumedu - a hill station in Kerala, India, ‘The Ledge’ is the latest residential project by Kochi-based firm Wallmakers, headed by award-winning architect Vinu Daniel. Known for their imaginative applications of mud and waste materials as the chief components of their projects, the firm’s ethos is rooted in the exploration of sustainable architectural practices through a combination of traditional techniques, eco-friendly material innovations, and immaculate detailing, as seen in projects such as the Pirouette House and Tease Me Café. These principles are at the heart of the architecture of The Ledge, whose angular form, enveloped in layers of treated casuarina poles, resembles a jagged outcrop of rock protruding from the side of the hilly terrain it is nestled into. In conversation with STIR, Daniel illuminates the unique parameters that moulded the final form of the residential design project, and how it reflects his own idea of ‘camouflage architecture’.

The residence’s design is based on a dream sequence of walking till the edge of a ridge or cliff | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
The residence’s design is based on a dream sequence of walking till the edge of a ridge or cliff Image: Syam Sreesylam

Jerry Elengical (JE): Where did the idea for the home’s cliff edge-like form and concept originate?

Vinu Daniel (VD): The Ledge is a residence that is designed based on a dream sequence. The inquisition that leads one to walk till the edge of a ridge, or a child-like whim to jump from the top of a cliff can be attributed to a human desire to walk ahead into the clouds even after the mountain is over. The client had a very simple brief of just a two-bedroom vacation home in a hill station called Peerumedu. Hence, the building has been designed as a shard that seems to be protruding as an extension of the mountain into the air. But the crux of this home still revolves around creating a living space that gives the best of both, living inside a mountain, and on a roof ledge that is up in the clouds.

Treated casuarina poles were used to create the roof and external walls surrounding the concealed entryway | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
Treated casuarina poles were used to create the roof and external walls surrounding the concealed entryway Image: Syam Sreesylam

JE: Could you take us through the home’s spatial choreography?

VD: Camouflaged within the natural landscape, the roof and the external walls are made out of treated casuarina poles. The entry to the house is concealed and opens up into a large living space overlooking the valley, extending into an open kitchen and dining near the central courtyard. Both the bedrooms have been strategically placed with maximum views of the valley on two different floors.

Daniel’s decision to use casuarina was motivated by a desire to utilise a local material that was a fast-growing tree | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
Daniel’s decision to use casuarina was motivated by a desire to utilise a local material that was a fast-growing tree Image: Syam Sreesylam

JE: What motivated you to use ferrocement and casuarina poles for the exterior envelope? How were they treated to create an impermeable external layer?

VD: The idea of using casuarina came along with the need to utilise a local material that was a fast-growing tree, whose wood is often considered as a waste material employed only for scaffolding and fencing. This idea was further developed to make a sandwiched ferrocement-casuarina composite roof, which could also double up as a partial façade for privacy or as an outdoor party area with treated casuarina poles for tables and benches.

  • The vast living space offers sweeping views of the valley | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    The vast living space offers sweeping views of the valley Image: Syam Sreesylam
  • The main living area at night | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    The main living area at night Image: Syam Sreesylam

JE: Why did you resolve to create permanent interior structural supports with a material used primarily for scaffolding?

VD: Because it is important that we use fast growing trees and grasses like casuarina and bamboo more in construction to reduce the amount of timber and concrete used. With proper treatment, the lifespan of such materials can be increased such that they can be used extensively for permanent constructions.

Casuarina poles have been used as structural supports in the courtyard space | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
Casuarina poles have been used as structural supports in the courtyard space Image: Syam Sreesylam

JE: Could you elaborate on how you devised the new type of shuttered debris wall used in the project? What other materials were used in the fittings, walls, and floor finishes?

VD: Finding huge quantities of small loose stones during the excavation process for the foundation led to an improvisation in the SHOBRI wall (Shuttered Debris Wall). These stones were inserted into the debris mix in the shutters as alternating bands and utilised in the walls. Since the site is located in a hill station, most of the openings have been designed in glass to retain the heat and take in the splendid views of the valley. Cut pieces of salvaged wood have been assembled together to form the flooring of the house, while the grilles are a collage of scrap cable trays. All the materials for this project were sourced within a five-mile radius.

  • The kitchen and dining space with the shuttered debris wall in the backdrop | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    The kitchen and dining space with the shuttered debris wall in the backdrop Image: Syam Sreesylam
  • Detail of the shuttered debris wall | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Detail of the shuttered debris wall Image: Syam Sreesylam

JE: Would you describe this as your version of ‘building with the earth’ rather than ‘on’ it?

VD: Yes, we feel that there is a need to stress on the necessity of ‘camouflage architecture’. It's important that we understand that every building we make as architects is always a blotch on any natural landscape. So, it is up to us to camouflage it best within the setting it grows from.

It's important that we understand that every building we make as architects is always a blotch on any natural landscape. So, it is up to us to camouflage it best within the setting it grows from. – Vinu Daniel
Conceptual sketch of The Ledge | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
Conceptual sketch of The Ledge Image: Courtesy of Wallmakers

JE: What aspect of the project are you most proud of?

VD: I would say, the entire process of seeing the design evolve over the period of construction. The new wall system was developed when we got huge quantities of loose stones during excavation. The entry to the house, the courtyard, all of these elements evolved over time, in accordance with what the site had to offer us.

  • Most of the openings have been designed in glass to retain heat and provide views of the context | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Most of the openings have been designed in glass to retain heat and provide views of the context Image: Syam Sreesylam
  • The casuarina ceilings and debris wall create an earthy ambience within the bedrooms | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    The casuarina ceilings and debris wall create an earthy ambience within the bedrooms Image: Syam Sreesylam
  • Bedrooms on both levels have been arranged to take in views of the surrounding valley | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Bedrooms on both levels have been arranged to take in views of the surrounding valley Image: Syam Sreesylam

JE: Do you view each project as an opportunity for a sustainable ‘total design’ intervention, since you fashion most of the furnishings and fittings yourself?

VD: Sustainability cannot come in parts. It is important that we carry this idea forward to even the smallest level of our intervention. We try to design our own furnishings, but some of the pieces here have been store-bought. From people who share a common approach, of course.

The ground floor toilet features a jacuzzi with views of the nearby landscape | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
The ground floor toilet features a jacuzzi with views of the nearby landscape Image: Syam Sreesylam

JE: Are you always pursuing avenues for material and structural innovations in each of your projects? Or is it a product of the context and climate?

VD: The project is always a child of the site and developed entirely from what the site demands. I just try to keep my eyes open and not carry any preconceived notions or ideas while approaching a project.

  • Basement Floor Plan | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Basement Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of Wallmakers
  • Ground Floor Plan | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Ground Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of Wallmakers

JE: Do you believe that we could eventually see complex structures at large scales being built in the public domain of contemporary India with sustainable materials and indigenous building practices? What would it take for this shift to occur?

VD: This is the fundamental idea behind our line of practice. That sustainability shouldn't compromise on aesthetics, innovation, or structural complexity. Currently we are working on various large-scale projects across the country, which will prove that eco-friendly materials can definitely replace conventional materials in every way.

Elevation | The Ledge | Wallmakers | STIRworld
Elevation Image: Courtesy of Wallmakers

Project Details

Name: The Ledge
Location: Peerumedu, Kerala, India
Gross Built Area: 178 sqm
Client: George Manu
Architect: Wallmakers
Year of completion: 2021
Project Team: Vinu Daniel, Petchimuthu K., Ayush Nair, Yash Sukhwani, Jaison Joy,  Pinak Bhapkar, Pratika Bandiwadekar, Niha Ann, Akshay Sarath
Contractor: Johnson N. and team
Fabricators: Kunjumon James and team
MEP: Dhanaraj K.N. and team

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