Evergreen Elegance

Center for Vernacular Architecture builds a laterite-and-rubble house, which welcomes all the elements of nature with open arms, for an eco-sensitive client in Bangalore. 

A green state of mind… you live it, breathe it and it forms an integral part of everything you do, big or small. Just like the owners of this lovely two-storey house in Bangalore who wanted an eco-conscious abode with a pronounced South Indian flavour in its architecture. Thankfully, they didn’t have to hunt for an architect with a fine-tooth comb, as Center for Vernacular Architecture (CVA) is headquartered in their city. CVA, a commendable architectural practice promoting the use of locally available materials, traditional building techniques and culturally and climatically relevant building design, has executed innumerable projects and enjoys quite a reputation down south.

The rustic tones of laterite, the clay tile roofing, the bottle green of the window frames and the staircase leading to the terrace from the balcony… all come together to form an impressive facade (read structure) that’s bound to be a head-turner.

“The clients came to us with a 50 ft x 70 ft site. They needed a formal living, dining, kitchen, utility, one bedroom with attached toilet and a servants’ quarter on the ground floor. An informal living, master bedroom and children’s bedroom with attached bathrooms were to be accommodated on the first floor. They wanted a car park and as much open space and greenery as possible. A dialogue between the inside and the outside needed to be maintained,” says principal architect Khalid Rehman, who handles the Bangalore operations of the firm. Since the site did not require any alterations, the architects started with the house immediately. Khalid informs that the foundation was created by a traditional, zero-cement method a la Laurie Baker, using only sand and boulders. The plinth wall has exposed size stone with cement pointing up to a height of 2 ft 6 in above the road level. A four-inch concrete beam runs through this plinth wall. Exposed laterite and rubble, the heroes of the house, form the walls along with normal brick masonry (RCC slabs) with plastered surfaces, used internally. The traditional tiled roof (including sunshades) is double-tiled in some areas to reduce heat. As for the doors and windows, the architects have crafted the main door in teak and have used sal wooden frames with honne wood shutters for the two french windows, while all the internal doors are created from block board veneer. The many windows have cudappa sills.

A glimpse of the open layout of the ground level: the courtyard is awash with light, and the living, dining and kitchen are placed around it.

“The important points that we considered are natural light and ventilation. Good proportions and spaciousness were crucial. The exposed laterite, random rubble and plastered surfaces, again, need to be blended in proportion,” says Khalid. Thus, the double-height central courtyard (a prominent feature of South Indian architecture) became the focal point of the house — it draws enormous amounts of light and air in to the internal spaces. The formal living, dining and kitchen spaces are arranged around this central pivot without barriers and thus enjoy the goodness of the courtyard. As these were public areas, the architects made sure that the open-to-sky courtyard was covered with a grill-and-mesh roof to keep insects at bay. As you take the stairs to the upper level, you experience the partial double-height effect and chance upon a lone flower-shaped painted glass puncture in the wall which casts interesting, colourful shadows on the stairs. The family room comes first from where you can access the master suite and the children’s room. The master bedroom and the family room have double-tiled roofs with a high ceiling, which imparts a spacious feel. The use of clay tiles and metal lend them an ethnic look. The children’s bedroom has a flat roof, featuring a filler slab with mangalore tiles. “This slab cuts down on the use of concrete and steel by 30 per cent and also reduces temperature by about two to three degrees,” explains Khalid. The family room has a french window leading to a cantilevered balcony, which affords views of the rear garden space with its small yet beautiful water body.

It’s the greens that add to the overall charm of living in this eco-friendly house. A personal favourite in this project is this garden space just outside the living room — the wooden bench, the tiny window ledge with a row of plants, the laterite walls and the surrounding greens… how quaint and charming.

Great attention to detail is visible in the clever material palette (which also achieves a good colour balance) and the well-resolved storage. For instance, the brown of the laterite and the slight beige-pink of the rubble used on the walls, are offset by sections of vibrant cement tiles on the floor. In the family room, wooden laminate flooring and floral cement tiles co-exist in perfect harmony. In the untility area: colourful ceramic tiles from Bharat Floorings & Tiles are teamed with cudappa-stone shelves in the dry areas while durable sadarhalli granite flooring dresses the wet zone; the wardrobes and lofts in the bedrooms feature plywood and polished teak veneer. The space under the staircase has been put to use for storage, shielded from public eye with doors; the areas under the washbasins have turned into small cupboards. These minute but important details not only add more character to this eco-house, but also earns it more brownie points on how to design with humble materials.

This charming abode is modest and detailed, where one is instantly engaged by the play of materials and the drama of wind and light. It coaxes you to pull a chair and put your feet up… that’s the spirit of this house.


CONCEPT
To build a laterite-and-rubble home with a traditional South Indian flavour. The courtyard became a design pivot, creating a double-height effect and, at the same time, providing light and ventilation to the internal spaces.

 

MATERIALS
Structure Laterite, rubble and RCC slabs Roof Clay and mangalore tiles Flooring Polished sandstone (living, dining and kitchen); lacquered shahabad stone and colourful polished cement tiles (bedrooms); sadarhalli granite (bathrooms and wet utility); ceramic tiles (dry utility); wooden laminate flooring and floral cement tiles (family room); polished sandstone (stairs); 2 ft x 2 ft chapadi stone with pebble-filled spacers (courtyard) Storage Cuddapah (utility), plywood with teak wood finish for cabinets and doors Railing Cast iron and woodWindows Polished teakwood with frames painted bottle green

 

FACT FILE 

Client Mark Location Lakedew Residency, Bangalore Principal architect Late RL KumarDesign architect Sona Balasubramanian Site architect and project manager Khalid Rehman

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