TRACES AND PRESENCES IN THE HOUSE OF SHADOWS
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