Nisha Mathew Ghosh and Soumitro Ghosh (Mathew & Ghosh Architects Pvt. Ltd or MGA) are known for taking apart conventional architectural forms and putting them back in very different ways. They designed a home for Soumitro’s parents on a typical Bangalore plot of 40x80 ft, and also integrated, above it, an office for their growing practice. Himanshu Burte pays a visit and concludes that ‘architects often build best for themselves’

Light on a tight site

Houses in Bangalore—even with two or more storeys—are usually built up really close to the plot boundary on all sides.

Most buildings look to a deep enough open space only on the front, being hemmed in by other houses on every other side. Given Bangalore’s cloudy climate, and the fact that most buildings are designed without any special consideration for this, indoor spaces often have to be lit artificially even by day. In contrast, the 1,400 sq. ft MGA office above and the 2,200 sq. ft home below have ample daylight coming in. The dramatic effects of lighting are related to the way in which the home and office are kept independent but within a single physical envelope.

The external form

The external form conveys some of the complexity of the interior space, it also puts a faintly nautical spin on the composition with the white railings, billowing steel roof, and the rising spiral staircase.

The dramatic exterior view, with the exposed concrete ‘box’ resting on slender steel columns. Approximate cost: A little over Rs40 lakh for the whole building, exclusive of land cost.

The exposed concrete ‘box’ of the office appears to hover over the impossibly slender steel columns that it rests on. The void under it—a covered terrace for a guest bedroom on the first floor of the house—is the space the home below makes for the office above. The parental home is the rooted base, upon which the younger office form above stands, poised for flight.

Looking at windows

The basic principle has been to rethink the dependence on windows, and indeed the design of windows themselves. Given the difficulty of getting in light from the sides without compromising privacy, the architects have turned to the sky. A relay of skylights lets light penetrate the three levels of the building without compromising privacy: a glazed opening in the roof of the top floor lets light on to a work counter below which is a running panel of frosted glass, which in turn conveys this light further down into the house below. Glass doesn’t let sound through, and the frosting ensures that you can’t see through into the house below.

There are other ways in which the window is transformed as a design element. A window typically lets in light and ventilation, and enables outside views. Here these functions are separated. Their own personal studio in the office is a deceptively spacious room built in exposed concrete with only a single window placed very low to one side. Continuous slits on the end wall let the sunlight wash the concrete texture from all sides.

Two staircases

The usual way of putting homes and offices in the same building is to keep each on a single floor and connect the floors with a common peripheral staircase. The architects play it differently. The house extends upwards on to the first floor with its internal staircase (lit from top by the relay of skylights mentioned earlier), but leaves an opaque corner free for the external spiral staircase leading up to the office. Large parts of the external walls are glazed (and grilled, for safety) in the living spaces on the ground floor. By opening more to the sides and stepping back from the public front of the building, the house ensures its own privacy while enjoying a suggestive contact with the outdoors.

Also see following photographs (Courtesy: MGA)

1. The transparent quality of the interiors, achieved by pitting various natural light sources together.

2. Another front view, but more to one side, showing the billowing steel roof, white railings and the spiral staircase.

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