Garden sit-outs, verandahs and roofed terraces can be of utility value, apart from their aesthetic appeal, says architect Sathya Prakash Varanashi

Knowing exactly how much built area we need in an urban home is a challenge and it cannot be equated as a fixed quantity like south Indian plate meals! On a quite weekday, there could be only the owner couple, while during the weekend, it could swell to half-a-dozen with kids and cousins.

If parents are visiting, more relatives may drop in for lunch, with a dozen people in the same space occupied by just two. Every corner would get filled up, with the house appearing too small during the time of a party.

Cost factor

While the number of residents and visitors would keep varying, the house area has to stay fixed. Fearing this limitation, mostly we try to build as large as we can afford, sinking in money in steel and cement, only for very occasional use. With getting household help becoming difficult in city homes, the larger the house, the greater the cost of managing such a place, besides demands on the owner's time.

Semi-open space, a saviour

The wisdom that the totally eco-friendly house is the one not yet built is already among the most quoted lines. On the same lines we may add, the least built-up building is among the notable green buildings. However, such a house may appear congested too often and may not accommodate a growing family. Here comes a solution in the form of semi-open spaces, which are roofed and floored areas attached to the main house.

The main house should serve the routine needs of the family with required number of bedrooms, and decent-sized living room and dining space. A 2,200 to 2,500 sq.ft. house of three bedrooms, spread over ground and first floor in a typical 2,400 sq.ft. plot with one car porch, serves most family needs.

During occasions as may be needed, we may open up into the attached semi-open spaces to extend the effective area available for multi-functional purposes. Families with larger site or budget or members may build large, yet rethinking on how much we build is always a must.

These semi-open spaces with informal roof forms projecting out of the main house need no regular maintenance, while adding to better elevations. If there could be at least two side house walls, the overall additional cost reduces drastically. Garden sit-outs, wrap-around verandahs and roofed terraces can do much to compliment house area needs, while effectively reducing the completely enclosed areas.

People may consider semi-open spaces as a design or lifestyle issue. True, but they are an equally ecological approach, practised for centuries in different parts of India, now reduced to an optional attachment.

While they are a possibility generally everywhere, during some seasons the use may get restricted. However, it is time we open up the potentials of semi-open spaces.

(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at varanashi@gmail.com)