- project: dr. cijo’s and dr. thushara’s residence
- location: punkunnam, thrissur, kerala
- area: 2,750 Sqft.
- client: dr. cijo and family
JK AYA State Young Architect Of the Year (2008)
The first IIA (Kerala) State Award(2007) for Excellence in Architecture
House in the Tropics (text by Ar. Prof. Harimohan Pillai)
The essence of architectural design in the tropics lies in controlling light and ventilation through built forms created to work as filters. Natural and locally available materials with indigenously developed technologies were the mainstay of traditional architecture of all tropical regions across the globe. Within their limitations each culture had developed unique built forms, representative of the lifestyle of the people. Industrialization, global urbanism, availability of a variety of man made materials for construction, and the recent spurt in digital technology application in architectural representation threw open the doors for creative, visually appealing expressions in built form. This has resulted in pushing the essence of architectural design in the tropics into the background. Thus we see all along the edges of streets in tropical urban environment, residential built forms, good, bad and ugly, with one striking common feature… closed windows… even the most beautifully designed windows are always seen closed… may be because an air conditioner is whizzing away somewhere in the background.
In this scenario, in a small town, Thrissur, in the tropical paradise called Kerala, two young architects Lijo and Reny re-write the principles of architectural composition, keeping the essence of architectural design in the tropics intact. They have successfully re-cycled the traditional concepts of light and ventilation and cast them in a very much contemporary mold to create a built form that at once arrests the eyes of the onlooker, with an invitation to enter.
How does one design in a context of fast vanishing rich past, but rapidly multiplying kitch ridden present. Kerala is one such place, where anyone can survive as a ‘building designer’ but few dare to practice ‘architecture’ in all its purity. Here is a piece of pure architecture, snuggling into the context of a rich past, carrying around it like a halo, imageries of the past, expressed in a modern language. If words could express what the eyes see and the body experiences during a ‘real’ walkthrough of built space, here is a description of the house:
The street tread mostly by students of Hari Sri School, the architect’s alma mater, butts to the road that holds the house behind a compound wall of mute contemporary colors, breaking at two points, on either side of the site, to form horizontal openings as two entries to the site, a vehicular gate & a wicket gate. The wicket gate stands under a gateway as a contemporary interpretation of a traditional element called ‘padippura’. The gateway connects the compound wall to the house visually, a point that is missed in most of the houses today. A planter sits out side the compound wall, between the two entries, by setting in the wall as a shade that will grow above the letter box. This setting in of the compound wall and the main gate connected to it facilitates better turning radius for vehicles entering the compound.
On a 10 cent corner plot, to an area of 2750 sq ft, in Hari Sri residential colony, in Thrissur, this house sits snugly, having no thread to pick up from the context in which it stands. It makes a bold statement, quite like an exclamation mark, as a silent protest against the pseudo traditionalism plaguing the architectural scenario for quite some time in Kerala. The juxtaposed solid form with its structural walls pulled out, ensures a perpetual play of light and shadow. The structural fins that come out redirects breeze into the building at various openings as well as adds a certain aesthetic character that stands out, drawing attention. The various masses that rise and fall are a pure reflection of the volume contained within. The landscape is kept minimal, complimenting the visually complicated form. A custom designed waterspout is positioned to merge with the rest of the design effortlessly.
Entering through either of the gates, one has to tread the various levels to reach the sit out. These levels integrate the building into the landscape. As one enters the site, the pool with the tree in the middle catches attention, striking a contrast with the dry court, near the sit out, rendering an unconventional feel to the space. Stepping into the house, one is taken aback by the sheer volume of the interior space with light flooding in through the huge sky lights that rest like veils above the internal court and the stairs. Each of the sky lights run both vertically and horizontally, the vertical being that of frost glass, for privacy and the horizontal that of reflective glass, to cut out maximum heat, at the same time to give glimpses of the changing sky. The skylights being the highest point in the house have been provided with air vents to facilitate airflow through stack effect. The openness of the living, dining and the family space gives an unobstructed volume for the easy ventilation.
The skylight court in the living has a growing bamboo. It branches out in to the living to add vibrancy and life. The family space, viewed from the living room below, designed like a bridge; seem to hover in mid air, having given it a slightly darker shade of grey. Time ticking away in this volume of light and fresh air is on display with help of industrial drill bits for the digits in a clock which is one of its kinds, designed by the architects, mounted in an Aluminium section on the wall.
The dining area is segregated from the living area with a wall, that fall short of reaching the ceiling that in turn help in giving the family deck above a floating effect. The curio taking punctured partition wall between the living and the dining gives necessary privacy required without marring the openness of the collective space. The dining with its full-length seating serves its purpose during post dinner discussions and siestas. Kitchen too is blessed by an ethereal light that filters through the skylight above the stair, through the small glazed openings that touch the ceiling above the kitchen cabinets. In-built seating which turns out to be a multipurpose area for cutting vegetables, grating coconut (due to its comfortable height) and of course as an informal seating, the breakfast counter doubling up as study table etc. make the kitchen a hub of many activities.
The master bedroom and the guest bedroom have a foyer each, which opens into the court in the living, giving quite a rare feel while breaking all conventional notions about a bedroom. Interestingly this space can be used as a reading corner, for ironing or for dressing. The foyer seating is design with inbuilt storage below the. This space attached to bedroom help double the space visually. The bedrooms have a raised platform, which doubles up to take the bed. These platform beds have ample storage space below them. Just Above the platform the bedroom ceiling splits, to add an additional 0.9m height to the room. The higher point takes the air vents and the exhaust to keep the air circulating, which ensure the comfort levels in the bedrooms. Having combined the dress and the toilet, a spacious feel is achieved which is accentuated further by the color band running from the floor to the ceiling and back.
The reference lines that run throughout the house are very visible, as the grooves done on the doors are also carried on to the window and wardrobe shutters. The simple design of the doors is further enhanced by recessing in the wall that takes it, that gives it a larger and unconventional feel. The family space doubles as a home theater with the screen placed on the double height wall that springs from the dining. The acoustical quality of the design gives a consistent audio output anywhere in the internal open space of the family deck as well as the dining and the living below.
The various unobstructed volumes of spaces around the family deck, in the first floor, render it as a platform suspended in mid air. The openness of this, keeps the house well ventilated. Highlight of this house are the skylights, detailed as strategically inclined upside down ‘right angles’ of glass, flanking the entrance foyer. For most ‘building designers’ design begins and ends in ‘elevation’. Same is true for most lay clients who believe that they know how to plan, but want expert inputs only for elevations, which they also believe to be the only domain of architects. Little do they know, or care to know that it is the section of the built form that controls the subtle qualities of a good design… structural clarity, light, ventilation, circulation, acoustics and visual perception. What is in an elevation? It is the least important and often most misleading component of architectural representation, flattened out depths and lines, geometrical shapes arranged one over the other in suspended animation speaking silently only of the scale of the building.
Walkthroughs generally take one along a fixed path in design at the fixed human eye level, but designs of this kind can be fully appreciated only if one can do a butterfly… up, down and about, through the connectors of spaces. In this house these connectors are ethereal pockets of light, during day time, and night time? The lucky owners of the house would know how it feels during a full moon night…
But time and changing seasons will tell the flip side of the bold design effort using contemporary materials and technology. Harsh lashing rains for six months, followed by intense heat of the tropics is sure to pale the fresh appeal of the newly painted house… for there is no purdah or veil of deep overhanging roofs a la tradition!
Lijo and Reny have created a demure bride without a veil, a project that grabs eyeball attention and has the capacity to launch a dozen projects… and for younger architects in the making this sure is an essential case study to learn from.