The house, Arjun Machan, is just a 20-minute drive from their home and office in Ahmedabad. “What you need from a weekend retreat is a place to unwind; where you can be one with the outdoors,” says Rajeev Kathpalia.
To build something elevated and keep it cool without air conditioning, the architects drew inspiration from a neem tree. They drew up a plan for a house that was based on the principles of passive cooling. They used locally available bricks to create a double wall on the southern side, much like the ones seen in old forts. The wall encompasses the stairway and kitchen, and acts as a thermal barrier for the northern section, which holds the deck (on the cooler side). The deck itself is a steel structure that also uses glass and stone. Kota stone flooring is placed directly on the steel base and there is adequate cross-ventilation from the numerous openings in the walls. “It’s much like the traditional houses in Rajasthan, where wooden sections were inset with stone,” says Kathpalia. “Here we have substituted wood for steel,” he adds.
The design of the large, double-curved roof uses a smart material—ferrocement. “Bending a roof in two directions is a challenge,” says Kathpalia. “Creating a steel structure with insulation would have been very difficult. So, we created a chicken-wire mesh and hand-applied plaster as shuttering would have proved extremely expensive,” he says.
The house has been designed to stay cool throughout the year. In the summer, the sloping walls and roof keep the sunlight out for the better part of the day. Even during the latter half of the day, the slanting roof and curved walls deflect the light. The east and west walls have shorter spans to reduce solar exposure. The ground floor is mostly a veranda with a guest room that was added later on. The main living space and the bedroom are on the first level.
Cool concept: Architects Rajeev and Radhika Kathpalia
Nothing here is at right angles or symmetrical. Aesthetically, the asymmetry helps deceive the eye and “expand” space. “When you can’t measure things, it seems huge,” says Kathpalia. Within the house, the bathrooms and the kitchen are placed at extreme ends, all spaces in between being multifunctional. The galley kitchen is along one long double wall and is a space in which one or two people can work easily. However, Rajeev’s plan for an open air bathroom didn’t go down too well with the rest of the family.
The external form of the building, which cost Rs21 lakh to build, extends into the landscape. A 16.5m lap pool doubles up as an irrigation tank. A drip-irrigation system allows untreated water to travel with the force of gravity into the system from where it is used to water plants. Excavated earth has been made into mounds for the kitchen garden. Water from the neighbouring property goes into the recharge pond. “If you borrow from the earth, it is only fair to give it back,” says Rajeev.
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1. Furniture in the living room is made from sal and mango wood. The decor has been kept simple, with personal touches such as the huge bamboo-and-paper lamp designed by Radhika and created by local craftsmen. She has also designed some of the furniture, such as a long centre table carved out of a single piece of a dead mango tree.
2. The external form of the building blends into the landscape. Funnels or mini telescopes with polycarbonate covers line the ridge of the roof. This is an innovation of a traditional ventilation concept (roshandaan). Applying the basic principles of convection, the funnels facilitate the escape of hot air through the roof. They are also an inlet for natural light, a view of the sky and the sound of rain. A steel mesh keeps out pests.
4. The zero-glare glass facade makes up the northern front of the house.
5. Informal nooks like this one are scattered throughout the property.
Photographs courtesy the architects
Text: Gretchen Ferrao
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