by Vinu DanielApr 01, 2022
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Name: Pirouette House
Location: Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Client: Mr. Kiran
Gross Built Area: 196sqm
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