Wallmakers design Pirouette House in Trivandrum as an ode to Laurie Baker

The Ernakulam-based studio sculpts free-flowing brick walls in this ‘inward-looking’ home whose design revives a construction technique that has faded in the sands of time.

by Zohra Khan Published on : Oct 14, 2020

A series of slanting walls dancing left and right meticulously drape a two-storey house in a crowded residential neighbourhood of Trivandrum in Kerala, India. The building, aptly titled Pirouette House, is designed by Wallmakers studio as an ode to the architecture of the late British-born Indian architect Laurie Baker, whose low cost, energy-efficient and context-sensitive buildings still grace the city’s skyline in its humble, free-flowing folds.

04 mins watch A walk-through of the Pirouette House designed by Wallmakers in Kerala, India | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
A walk-through of the Pirouette House designed by Wallmakers studio in Trivandrum, Kerala Video: Shri JM

The site - a small plot of land surrounded by residential buildings from all sides – when inspected by the Ernakulam-based studio, revealed no possibility for soil excavation and thus for making mud blocks. Turning constraints into opportunity, Wallmakers decided to use fired bricks and modified one of Baker’s signature construction techniques to sculpt an inward-looking house with all its spaces opening into a funneling central courtyard.

Central courtyard | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
The central courtyard of the Pirouette House Image: Jino Sam

The walls were built following the Rat trap bond, a modular masonry style in which bricks are laid vertically instead of the conventional horizontal position. Its advantage over other wall construction methods is that the cavity that forms within the walls reduces not only the material and energy consumption but also provides valuable insulation and space for concealing structural members and service ducts.

  • Laying of the Rat Trap bond | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Laying of the Rat Trap bond Image: Courtesy of Wallmakers
  • One wall with staggering | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    One wall with staggering Image: Courtesy of Wallmakers
  • Cleaning of the bricks | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Cleaning of the bricks Image: Courtesy of Wallmakers
  • Pirouette House’s front elevation during construction | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Pirouette House’s front elevation during construction Image: Courtesy of Wallmakers

Swirling walls have been constructed using the “Last of the Mohicans” fired bricks; their exposed simplicity and beautiful geometric patterns echo Baker’s values that deemed ‘bricks as faces’ and avoided any external treatment to ‘adorn’ walls. The choice of these bricks expresses the studio’s effort in promoting the dying industry of brick kilns, which has over the years been overshadowed by wire-cut machine-made brick production.

  • The main entrance of the Pirouette House | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    The main entrance of the Pirouette House Image: Jino Sam
  • View above the courtyard | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    View above the courtyard Image: Jino Sam

The free-flowing walls twist and turn through the space, only converging to support the ferrocement shell roof. Concerning the space limitations, the Wallmakers studio tailor-made each wall and its required degree of curves to allow large volumes as well as pockets of intimate spaces to open up within the Pirouette House.

  • The lounge | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Pirouette House - The lounge Image: Jino Sam
  • Dining area | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Pirouette House - Dining area Image: Jino Sam
  • Bedroom | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Pirouette House - Bedroom Image: Jino Sam
  • Central staircase | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Pirouette House - Central staircase Image: Jino Sam

Punctuating the homogeneity of brick, other materials used within the house follow the philosophy of discarding nothing as waste and keeping things raw and tasteful. Scrap scaffolding pipes left off the construction are welded to form the central staircase and grillwork; cut wooden pieces have been joined to create flooring in the living area; cane obtained from the neighbourhood is treated on the grillwork to create window screens and furniture pieces.

  • Pirouette House revives a distinguished architectural feature that faded in the sands of time | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Pirouette House revives a distinguished architectural feature that faded in the sands of time Image: Jino Sam
  • Ground Floor Plan | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Ground Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of Wallmakers
  • First Floor Plan | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    First Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of Wallmakers
  • Section | Pirouette House | Wallmakers | STIRworld
    Section Image: Courtesy of Wallmakers

Architect Vinu Daniel, the founder of Wallmakers Architectural Consultancy, who led the design of the Pirouette House, recollects his fascination for Laurie Baker and shares that it was seeing the late architect’s iconic fired brick buildings during his studying years in Trivandrum that made him stay. Things, however, unfolded differently when he stepped onto the field. “The fired brick was still alien to me when I started my practice; Laurie Baker and the magical city ‘Trivandrum’ faded into background,” he says. It is with Pirouette House that Daniel along with his team brings alive a distinguished architectural feature that faded in the sands of time.

Project Details

Name: Pirouette House
Location: Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Client: Mr. Kiran
Gross Built Area: 196sqm
Architect: Wallmakers
Lead Architect: Vinu Daniel
Design Team: Oshin Mariam Varughese, J.M.Srivarshini, Gayatri Maithani, Swathi Raj, Keerthi Kausalya, Shiuly Roy, Neeraj S. Murali, Dhawal Dasari, Nihaal Gafoor, Smit Zalavadia, Apoorva Goutam, Harshita G Tophakhane, Manav Muralee, Rohith Krishna, Bharati Gupta, Yash Sukhwani, Neeraj Viswam
Engineering: Adcons Infrastructure Pvt Ltd
Fabrication team: Kunjumon James and team - J.K Steels
Carpenters: Sarath Prasad and team, Shivadas
Masons: Ezhil and team, Deepu and team
Completion: 2020

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