Functionality, affordability and personality are the mantras of good design, says Anuradha N. Rao
A client came to us asking for something unique—a window to his childhood. At his farmhouse we were building near Pondicherry, he wanted to recreate his early memories of bathing under the pump in the fields. So we designed a bathing area that was open to the sky, and water gushed in from a large pipe.
Another client wanted to recreate his memories of having an oil bath in a large bathroom with hot water coming from a firewood boiler. We designed the house so that the ground-floor bathroom looked traditional (complete with the boiler); the other bathrooms in the house were contemporary, to suit the rest of the family.
It’s not just bathrooms — though a surprising number of people seem to have childhood memories of the bathing area! People want their houses to reflect their characters and their dreams. A technology buff (and a party animal) wanted to be able to get to his bedroom quickly after a night out, without disturbing the household. So, for his house, we installed automated gates and shutters, as well as a lift directly to his room.
Some years ago, these requests would have been from the immensely wealthy; everyone else had to be content with a cookie-cutter house. “Architect designed” was strictly for the rich, and owning or renting such a house was a status symbol. Thankfully, that has changed, and architects and clients both realise the importance of a custom designed home.
Most people are well travelled and see how houses are designed in other parts of the world. They have experienced the comfort of small luxuries in many places and want to replicate them in their homes. Many of them also want environmental-friendly design. Homes can be designed to be open to visitors, or closed — affording privacy even from overnight guests. They can be designed with right ventilation to perform homams or they can be designed to hold all night long dance parties.
The bottomline is that people want their homes to be distinct, reflecting themselves, even if it is a typical apartment in a large complex. All spaces exude a personality. Some are grand and intimidating while some others are intimate. We’ve all been to restaurants that “feel” friendly and encourage conversation; and we’ve also been to those where even the clink of cutlery makes you cringe. Creating the right personality for the space is the challenge a designer faces while creating an ideal design.
The job of the architect is to ensure that the three basics of space and design are met: functionality, affordability, personality. Efficient control of these factors spells success for the final design. We’ve already spoken of the importance of understanding personality.
Functionality is a matter of ensuring that the basic requirements of the client are met. Of course, it’s never as simple. There are cases where a client will want the home designed to ensure the safety and comfort of the elderly, so elements of a hospital will have to be incorporated. But we have found that once we understand the basic function of a space, it’s not difficult to tweak it for special needs, whether we are building a management school, a hospital, or a home.
Most important, we have to understand what resources are available for the project. Some clients come to us with an almost unlimited budget; others ask us to work on a shoestring. The important thing is to be aware of the financial limits before creating any design. It’s not just money. Space and time are the other resources which have an impact on the affordability of the project. Building rules define the quantum of space that can be designed on a given plot of land. And time is of the essence, especially when designing commercial projects.
Sipping coffee on a swing, watching the sun rise — these are small, simple desires. But it is these seemingly trivial details that make design unique and personal. It is the understanding of these unstated requirements that leads to the ideal design. It is the first step in a highly productive and rewarding process both for the designer and end user.
(This is the first article in a three-part series on design.)
The writer is Chief Architect with Chennai-based Aprobuild Architects, which focuses on eco-friendly design. Mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org