Wide an­gle lens

Domus - - CONTENTS - Suprio Bhat­tachar­jee

A for Ar­chi­tec­ture

The spa­tial ef­fect of the ar­chi­tec­ture of a rec­tan­gu­lar box-like con­crete struc­ture sets the char­ac­ter of a house lo­cated on the out­skirts of Nashik. The vivid com­po­si­tional and con­struc­tional el­e­ments cre­ate a dis­tinct sil­hou­ette against the hori­zon; the tight ver­ti­cal di­men­sion am­pli­fies the hor­i­zon­tal ex­panses of the land­scape of the house as much as the land­scape out­side the house

The house in the land­scape is a pow­er­ful and oft-seen im­age in the an­nals of ar­chi­tec­ture. Whether it is Pal­la­dio’s vil­las and every­thing that came in its wake or the hum­ble moun­tain cot­tage that sits iso­lated and in­su­lated from its sur­round­ings, the no­tion of a dwelling that sig­ni­fies habi­ta­tion within an oth­er­wise un­tamed (or tamed – the most likely con­di­tion) is a vis­ceral pri­mor­dial in­ten­tion when it comes to ‘dwell’. The jostling and claus­tro­pho­bic na­ture of cities find their re­lease here, where the mind (and the body) is free to move un­in­hib­ited by the forced tra­jec­to­ries and ge­ome­tries that the city im­poses. The most iconic houses of the 20th cen­tury are not set in the hus­tle and bus­tle of the city – and thus one finds the ap­pro­pri­ate set­ting to build an al­most ide­alised con­di­tion of liv­ing within an (oft-pre­sumed) idyl­lic set­ting. The ad­vent of in­de­pen­dent mo­torised travel meant that it was pos­si­ble to stay at a rel­a­tive dis­tance from the city within wide open sur­rounds and yet be con­nected to it. Thus one had the mid-cen­tury CaseS­tudy Houses of Cal­i­for­nia and the pavil­ion­like houses in South Amer­ica, with Os­car Niemeyer’s Canoas be­ing a stand­out ex­am­ple ow­ing to its em­phatic mod­u­lated con­nec­tion to the con­di­tion of the ground.

How­ever the no­tion of ‘hu­man in­de­pen­dence’ from the forces of na­ture also made it­self man­i­fest – a mis­placed no­tion of those times

that was some­how also ev­i­dent in iconic works such as the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe, a space where na­ture is ob­jec­ti­fied and dis­tanced. Per­haps one saw this def­er­ence be­ing bridged (quite lit­er­ally) in the stun­ning works of the lesser-known Craig Ell­wood, whose Mies-ian steel houses tread a fine bal­ance be­tween the act of dis­tanc­ing them­selves from the im­me­di­ate con­di­tions of the ground and yet warmly em­brac­ing the coun­try­side with their por­ous perime­ter. Here tech­nol­ogy, and ‘man’ as its car­rier, is grad­u­ally hum­bled by the bound­less ex­panses of vast land­scapes, and both stand to ben­e­fit from this ex­change.

Ajay Sonar’s Panorama House rakes up mem­o­ries of the im­ages of Craig Ell­wood’s houses. But here, in­dus­trial steel gives way to re­in­forced con­crete – and slick metal­lic chic to the rugged hues of the ter­rain. Sit­u­ated a half hour’s drive from Nashik’s city cen­tre, the Gan­ga­pur Dam Lake or ‘Bandh Sagar’ as it is known has be­come a fash­ion­able des­ti­na­tion for those who can af­ford to live at a dis­tance from the city, and with its bowl­like land­scape it po­ten­tially will see the kind of trans­for­ma­tions that the sur­round­ings of Pavna Lake (an hour or so away from Mum­bai) have wit­nessed. As such, to­day, one still sees agri­cul­tural hold­ings in­ter­spersed with the oc­ca­sional build­ing – and one such ex­am­ple is this house, with its dis­tinct sil­hou­ette and re­la­tion­ship with its ground. A set of earthen mounds to­wards the south­east visu­ally ob­scures the house upon ar­rival from the city­side. Three dis­tinct bumps in the land­scape dis­tance the car­port from a sin­u­ous path­way that leads one to the up­per floor – where the low frame of the house be­comes a lens to view the land­scape be­yond. The mounds cre­ate an in­ti­mate liv­ing con­di­tion on the lower level – where one finds the more pri­vate spa­ces of the house – a mas­ter bed­room, a pri­vate liv­ing area that also opens up to the pool on the lake­side, as well as the kitchen and the bath­room. The as­ser­tion of the space is a dual con­di­tion of the bur­row on one side, and the wide ex­panse of the lake seen be­yond the pool on the other side to­wards the north-west, shel­tered by the large over­hang of what forms the de­fin­i­tive sin­gu­lar im­age of the house’s ar­chi­tec­ture.

This large box-like over­hang takes the form of sim­ple con­crete four-sided frame – of equal vis­ual thick­ness – a vi­sor and a por­tal that forms a pro­tec­tive ar­ma­ture as well as

frames one as­pect of the land­scape when seen from the other. Con­crete here be­comes an all-en­com­pass­ing ma­te­rial, form­ing not only the struc­ture of the box but also the fin­ished sur­faces of the ceil­ing and the floor. This el­e­gantly pro­por­tioned struc­tural box is held up in­ter­mit­tently by a set of crossshaped steel col­umns formed of an­gle sec­tions – a homage to Mies, no doubt; but here the col­umns dis­play their vis­ual light­ness with their in­ter­sti­tial gaps, and thus the over­all vis­ual im­pres­sion and ex­pe­ri­en­tial sen­sa­tion of lev­i­ta­tion is achieved. The glass walls slide away com­pletely to be tucked along the two ver­ti­cal cores that con­ceal the ser­vices and thus one has a house with a sim­ple and clear di­a­gram of served and ser­vant spa­ces. Veran­dahs on both sides add to the box’s sense of depth – and the con­sciously de­signed low ceil­ing height of the con­crete box cre­ates a space of in­ti­mate do­mes­tic­ity wed­ded to the sheer ex­panse of the land­scape and the lake be­yond. Thus the tight ver­ti­cal di­men­sion am­pli­fies the hor­i­zon­tal ex­panses of the land­scape of the house as much as the land­scape out­side the house. This is a house de­signed in cin­e­mas­cope – to be viewed at ease from the wide aper­tures of the box in the large liv­ing space above, as well the two bed­rooms that oc­cupy each end.

The in­te­rior fur­nish­ings are min­i­mal and thus em­pha­sise the view of the land­scape be­yond – lux­u­ries of liv­ing here are rar­efied to al­low for the rich­ness of the out­side world take cen­trestage.

Pre­vi­ous spread and this spread: pho­to­graphs of the ex­te­rior of the house cap­tured from var­i­ous an­gles at dif­fer­ent times of the day in­di­cate the well-de­fined con­tours of the struc­ture as well as the to­pog­ra­phy and rugged hues of the sur­round­ing ter­rain

Next spread: The el­e­gantly pro­por­tioned box-like con­crete struc­ture of the house is lev­i­tated by a set of cross-shaped steel col­umns formed of an­gle sec­tions and is char­ac­terised by glass walls that slide along the two pri­mary ver­ti­cal cores

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