TRACES AND PRES­ENCES IN THE HOUSE OF SHAD­OWS

Domus - - PROJECTS - Text Sonal Sun­darara­jan Photos Ed­mund Sum­ner

Con­ceived in mul­ti­ple shred­ded lay­ers, the Shadow House in Alibaug un­rav­els myr­iad spa­ces, each ren­dered in a dif­fer­ent in­to­na­tion of light. These lay­ers of the con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­tural en­ve­lope ar­tic­u­late the struc­ture’s tec­tonic vo­cab­u­lary — both for its de­sign and land­scape. Re-estab­lish­ing a re­la­tion with the im­me­di­ate out­doors, the liv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is de­signed to be gen­tle, dark, and quiet, with its hier­ar­chy of vol­umes and spa­tial tex­tures

Our homes in the city, ef­fi­cient and hy­gienic, are spa­ces of trans­parency and light — ex­or­cised of dust and dark­ness — and of mys­tery. As a counter to this, the ‘week­end home’ on the out­skirts is a re­treat from the func­tional time of the city and as its pri­mary pro­gramme, it has the en­counter be­tween the body and the space of na­ture. There is an in­her­ent op­po­si­tion be­tween ar­chi­tec­ture and na­ture, as ar­chi­tec­ture in its first im­pulse is the or­der­ing of na­ture to its own de­mands. They also em­body two op­pos­ing senses of time and space. One con­trives to be un­chang­ing and solid, while the other is char­ac­terised by growth and change. The house of shad­ows by SRDA, is con­fig­ured around a ten­sion, be­tween the or­der of an ar­chi­tec­tural type and its en­counter with the land­scape.

It is a mixed space, gath­er­ing into it­self, traces of en­coun­ters be­tween the land­scape and the body that takes plea­sure in it. On her blog, Samira de­scribes her vis­its to the site. “By habit, I al­ways go around the site when un­der con­struc­tion, and find my quiet happy mo­ments, af­ter the haul of a gusty site meet­ing. This time, with the cam­era at hand, the build­ing be­gan to of­fer mo­ments. A de­light­ful serendip­ity of cal­lously ar­ranged ob­jects, mostly build­ing ma­te­ri­als, soaked in the af­ter­noon light, ab­strac­tions of still­ness.” Per­haps the photograph can be used as a metaphor for the re­cep­tiv­ity of the spa­ces and sur­faces of the house to ab­sorb in­ci­den­tal traces as mem­o­ries of en­coun­ters with the land­scape. The photograph is al­ways a mem­ory ob­ject, al­ways de­not­ing a lost mo­ment and a pres­ence. “It is the or­der of the nat­u­ral world that im­prints it­self on the pho­to­graphic emul­sion….. it is noth­ing but a pres­ence (one must con­tin­u­ally keep in mind the mag­i­cal char­ac­ter of the pho­to­graphic im­age). Its re­al­ity is that of hav­ing-been-there, be­cause in all pho­to­graphs is the amaz­ing ev­i­dence this took place in this

way.” Pho­to­graphs, like foot­prints, scratches, have a pres­ence of the real, un­like other kinds of images. They are im­pres­sions of light, cap­tured over sur­faces, mark­ing the ex­is­tence of real ob­jects, mo­ments, pres­ences or ab­sences. In this way, they are sim­i­lar to shad­ows, as im­pres­sions of ob­jects, as light upon sur­faces. The blurred shapes of shad­ows also shift with the light, mark­ing the pas­sage of time, the move­ment of the sun — a cos­mic time and space.

The house uses light and shadow to form spa­ces, be­com­ing a fil­ter through which space is carved out as a play of light and dark­ness. It at­tempts to in­cor­po­rate the plea­sures of the chance en­counter, of the play of as­so­ci­a­tions that shad­ows gen­er­ate, into the spa­tial ex­pe­ri­ence of the house. Al­though the lo­gis­tics of con­struc­tion do not per­mit the pro­cesses of mak­ing to be as itin­er­ant as tran­si­tory as a walk through the land­scape or a mo­ment of en­counter, the de­sign process de­ploys a rig­or­ous and im­mer­sive process of lay­er­ing to turn these into spa­tial ex­pe­ri­ences within the house. It uses the im­prints of site, of at­mos­phere, of fu­ture in­hab­i­ta­tions to in­fuse the space of dwelling with mem­ory and de­sire. The light that suf­fuses the house, the marks over floors, walls, are like a dou­ble ex­po­sure. They im­print the mem­ory of the at­mos­phere and tex­tures on site, and mix them up with its time and space. The so­lid­ity of ma­te­rial over­laid is with the wa­ver­ing, ephemeral pat­terns of light, colour, and tex­ture. The marks, like the traces of in­hab­i­ta­tion, of weath­er­ing in ar­chi­tec­tural ru­ins, cre­ate a space of reverie and con­tem­pla­tion.

The house is or­gan­ised around the fil­ter­ing of the harsh light, a shel­ter­ing from the bar­ren un­for­giv­ing land­scape, in a series of lay­ers that sur­round a court­yard. This court­yard, di­vides neatly the rec­tan­gu­lar plan into a U-shaped con­fig­u­ra­tion, with the kitchen as a long fin­ger the ex­tends to the pool on the eastern cor­ner, the bar con­tain­ing the bed­rooms and cor­ri­dor to the south and the liv­ing room fac­ing the hills to the west. De­spite the sim­plic­ity of the plan, the vari­a­tions in vol­ume and pro­por­tions of each space, the opac­ity and trans­parency of skins be­tween them, break up the house into spa­ces that of­fer dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences, of vol­ume and of the land­scape.

On its south­ern edge, the thick con­crete wall forms the first layer. You ap­proach its blank­ness through a path that bi­sects the ex­panse of tall grass that fronts it, past the tree that casts its shadow across it.

The lay­ers or­gan­ise zones of mod­u­lated light. The con­crete boxes of the rooms are split apart

to make the court­yard and cor­ri­dor to form lay­ers of opac­i­ties and fil­tered light.

The bar of the cor­ri­dor acts as a sieve, cut­ting up light as it en­ters the home. Its wooden struc­ture and the stair­case rail­ing scat­ters light, cre­at­ing over­lapped lay­ers of forms and shad­ows as the light from the court­yard falls on var­i­ous sur­faces.

The rooms are dark, cave-like spa­ces that you re­treat into, con­crete boxes that are ori­ented by large open­ings scaled to the views when you sit or lie down. The body en­ters into the boxes as ges­tures and at­ti­tudes, that mould spa­ces and sur­faces to its scale, to its touch. Ar­chi­tec­ture, in its mak­ing of space, is a solid, ro­bust thing, whereas shad­ows and the move­ment of light con­sti­tute a fleet­ing, liq­uid pres­ence. Open­ings in the roof, and walls, the fil­i­gree of struc­ture cre­ate pat­terns of light and shadow over sur­faces. Light en­ters shred­ding space and scat­tered by sur­faces, carves out the dark in­te­ri­ors of the house. Sur­faces are awash with the colours of the land­scape: grey, red, brown. The pig­mented con­crete floors are coloured or stip­pled un­evenly, and the rough­ened con­crete walls seem as if they are gath­er­ing the land­scape to them­selves. The house turns from a grey wall to the south to a pig­mented red con­crete to­wards the north. Much like in a paint­ing, layer af­ter layer is laid upon each other; the walls and struc­ture in vary­ing den­si­ties of opac­ity, colours, tex­ture, and light. The house in­vites the body to a tac­tile ex­pe­ri­ence, the win­dow a square of light marks the po­si­tion for the plea­sure of the view. Light bathes the body; in the bath where you wash your­self, wa­ter and light both flow over skin and sur­face. The or­der of the pat­tern over the floor that goes against the grid in­vites the eye to wan­der across its sur­face as you would in a meadow. Sur­faces peel and mould them­selves to ges­tures of the hands, invit­ing touch. In the fil­tered fleet­ing light, a space suf­fused with sug­ges­tion emerges. Spa­ces, forms, and sur­faces are lay­ered over with the nar­ra­tives of en­coun­ters be­tween the body that is to in­habit it and the land that has been. What emerges is a space that is suf­fused with traces of the body and land and the fil­tered light.

Samira’s work of­ten op­er­a­tionalises the plea­sures of chance en­coun­ters, the nar­ra­tives of de­sire and the play of the erotic. Like the ex­per­i­ments of the sur­re­al­ists in art and lit­er­a­ture, these tropes at­tempt to chal­lenge and trans­gress the lim­its of the ra­tio­nal in ar­chi­tec­ture and to un­earth the un­con­scious, re­pressed de­sires that haunt in­hab­i­ta­tion. Here in the house of shad­ows, one can imag­ine that if the metaphor for clar­ity and ra­tio­nal­ity is light, and to ar­chi­tec­ture is given the task of lay­ing out an or­der and cast­ing light upon hu­man lives, what lies out­side this, in dream, in shift­ing mem­ory and de­sire, may con­fig­ure an ar­chi­tec­ture of shad­ows.

This spread: The house is de­signed akin to a sieve, through which am­ple light is fil­tered and draped into its hol­lows and crevices, grad­u­ally un­rav­el­ling the beauty of its spa­ces

bridge hold­ing a study, un­der a sweep­ing corten steel roof, and ties the up­per rooms into a sin­gle floor. Ma­te­ri­als such as steel, con­crete, and wood are chore­ographed to cre­ate shad­ows and in­trigue

This page: Images of the work-in-progress stages of the project Op­po­site page: The many it­er­a­tions of the sketches and mod­els of the struc­ture Next spread: Ar­chi­tec­turally the court­yard opens to a broad cor­ri­dor that works like a woody

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