Homes and gardens

Coming back to earth

When Bengaluru-based architect, Ajith Andagere, was approached by Shivaprakash E, a quarry owner, to build a farmhouse in the rocky and steep landscape of Dabaspet (72 km outside the city), he was excited by the many challenges the picturesque yet bumpy terrain threw at him. Swarga, completed in June this year, was initially envisioned as a subterranean house but Shiva’s desire for an ‘open’ format led Andagere to create a structure that seamlessly blended with the rugged topography. Incidentally, it also seemed to alter the behaviour of people who walked in. “Even if you are in a foul mood, you become completely calm,” says Andagere, who started Andagere Architects in 2002. A coconut timber roof structure with handmade tiles that he created keeps the temperature four degrees cooler than Mangalore tiles. What was to be a weekend home is now Shiva’s permanent residence, and an extension of the architect’s love for natural materials and traditional building techniques. “As architects, we have to question why something is not trendy anymore,” says Andagere, who recently bagged a science museum project in Karnataka that will involve the principles of earthen architecture.

Coming back to earth
An inner view of Swarga. Credit: Joel Koechlin

With people today keen on sourcing locally and building with nature, architects like Andagere – rigorous practitioners of sustainable buildings that contextualise the local landscape – are becoming a popular lot. Take for instance Bengaluru-based Khosla Associates, one of the country’s most influential architectural firms. With a long history of working with local materials and sustainable solutions, Amaresh Anand, a partner at the firm, strongly believes that while the process of creating such homes can be labour-intensive and sometimes more expensive, the long-term benefits and low maintenance far outweigh them. Their project, Retreat in the Sahyadris, created with native materials like basalt rock, is a finalist in the Villa Category at the World Architecture Festival 2017, Berlin. “We actually give our clients workshops and educate them on the positives of building this way.” Anand says fitting solar panels in a residence takes away the need for a generator, avoiding constant upkeep and diesel refilling. Their use of stone cladding for exterior portions and polished cement for interior walls ensures the client does not have to keep painting the building. Andagere, however, followed a different approach with his project, Swarga. For the walls, he gave cement a miss and opted for lime plaster instead. He also got adobe bricks made from mud on-site and they cost him ₹20 each. Fired bricks would have cost him ₹28, plus transportation.

Coming back to earth

Further North, in New Delhi, Sensen Designs (established in 2003), nominated for the Aga Khan Award in 2013 for ‘Bissel Farm Annexe’ built entirely of stone in Rajasthan, believes building costs is just one of the factors to consider. “It cannot be the only yardstick to compare its validity,” says founder-architect Rahul Sen. Explaining how maintenance costs and longevity of buildings using robust natural materials and techniques are much more effective in the long-term, he says, “We rely on natural resources available locally. This always leaves a smaller footprint than man-made materials.”

Moving away from the city to remote areas, these architects make magical poetic interventions with the natural landscape, as we see in three of their recent residential projects.

Retreat in the Sahyadris, Maharashtra

Khosla Associates, January 2017

Two-and-a-half hours from Mumbai, at a picturesque one-acre plot off the highway, a retreat faces a lake with the Sahyadri hills in the background. Completed in January, the modest-sized family retreat of 2,100 sq ft (as two zones) built using stone and basalt rock, was visualised by founder Sandeep Khosla and partner, Anand. “Shut off, be one with nature and escape the frenetic pace of Mumbai life. These are the kinds of programmes that make architects think differently,” says Khosla, who started Khosla Associates 22 years ago.

Shortlisted for the World Architecture News (WAN) Awards last week, the structure comprises a more extroverted space for the kitchen, living and dining that open to a deck, infinity pool and an exhilarating view.

Coming back to earth
A view of the family home Credit: Shamanth Patil J

The bedrooms are designed as introverted spaces flanking a private sunken garden. Explaining their approach, he says, “Before we put pen to paper, we explore the local environment to understand the context and ask ourselves: what building does the site really want to see?”

The abundant basalt rock of the region, found six feet below, became the primary material used for cladding the exterior walls. Interior finishes are with low maintenance materials with local origins: polished cement for the walls and Kota stone for the flooring.

The tropical modern single slab construction is climate-sensitive and, with a clever detail, the roof hovers six inches above the wall; glass and mesh alternate in the space between, the ‘stack effect’ sucking the warm air out. Khosla dwells most on the skylights, which peak out over the roof, lyrically echoing the mountains and bringing in a soft northern light.

Hill Village Home, Uttarakhand

Sensen Designs, October 2017

Building in a snowbound, earthquake prone zone is no architect’s dream. Sen’s most recent project, completed earlier this month, was in one such area: Dhanachuli in Uttarakhand. “The unusual conditions let us explore a new kind of building,” he says, explaining how the New-Delhi based client employed with a multinational firm, also a mountaineer and avid trekker inclined to farming, wanted a simpler lifestyle. While the land is over four acres, the homestead is just 1,200 sq ft. The one-and-a-half bedroom hill-village home has a cosy attic under a traditional sloping roof; the living room can convert into a bedroom. Interesting skylights bring natural light in, a mood booster in the cloudy hill regions.

Coming back to earth
An exterior shot taken during construction of the Dhanachuli home

The solar panelled farm has a rainwater harvesting system with a 40,000 litre underground tank, which stores water for the whole season. The sloping roof lets the rainwater fall into the system. Local craftspeople were employed to build the exterior walls in stone, combined with a RCC structure for earthquake stability. For the windows, instead of timber, which is no longer as durable as a century ago, Sen used UPVC sections. An indoor angithi with Swiss heating technology that uses pinecone-briquettes, completes the picture.

Swarga at Dabaspet

Andagere Architects, June 2017

Andagere believes that Indian architecture cannot be slotted into any one particular style. Introducing traditional design to the contemporary context is his USP. The process of creating ‘Swarga’ began from the client’s brief for a ‘soulful, humble home’ by his granite quarry.

Coming back to earth
An inner view of Swarga. Credit: Joel Koechlin

Andagere imagined it as an enigmatic walk-through that actually never ends. “The sight is quite spectacular with boulders strewn all around; you get a different view from every room. Like a movie or a book, you do not get to the climax right at the beginning,” says the architect, who lives and practises with his team in a small village of 40 houses, Gollarapalya, 40 km outside Bengaluru. They are involved with three NGOs working with low-cost homes and at their foundation, Samrakshan, they document old houses of Karnataka.

With a footprint of 3,500 sq ft. in the 1.5 acre plot, the 2BHK Swarga is spread out with many verandahs and courtyards. Boulders from the quarry form the foundation. The one-foot thick traditional adobe walls create a microclimate, keeping extreme temperatures out. Curved clay tiles for the roof are hand-made. Finishes are low maintenance, Kadappa flooring and polished cement oxide for walls. Completely off the grid, the house is self-sufficient with wind and solar power. Treated grey water feeds banana plantations. Says owner Shivaprakash, “It’s Ajith’s dream and I am living in it.”

Coming back to earth
Andagare’s project, Jalakara

Andagere’s acclaimed project, Jalakara, in the Andamans, also follows a similar design approach. For the tropical Indian style resort (completed in 2015), he employed craftsmen from India for handmade processes such as woven bamboo.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 6:02:07 PM |

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