Where god is in the detail...
The house of architect and writer Nagaraj Vastarey, and his wife, actress Aparna, has been designed in keeping with the customs and traditions that the family observes. Vastarey has retained the foundation and roof of the older house that stood on a 2,100-sq-ft corner plot, but has re-oriented his house to face the east, for views of beautiful sunrises, writes Varna Shashidhar
Few professionals have the honour of having a school named after them, yet when architect and award-winning Kannada writer and poet Nagaraj Vastarey designed Acharya Institution’s campus, his work was awarded a rare recognition; the institute’s architecture school was named after him.
Vastarey studied architecture at BMS College of Engineering and has practised architecture in the City for the past two decades. He has taught at architectural design studios at the RV College of Architecture for several years.
His passion for architecture has led the design of his own residence in Banashankari 2nd Stage, Bangalore. Vastarey has redesigned his twenty-year-old home, a process that has taken him a few years to simultaneously design and construct. The building has been constructed without architectural drawings. Instead he has used a series of sketches and has carefully supervised the construction.
The construction is nearly complete and his family, which consists of his mother and his wife Aparna and their three vivacious dogs, will move into their new home shortly.
The house is located on a 2,100-sq-ft corner plot (along a street with large temple and a school on the other side). Vastarey retained the foundation and the roof of the older house while he re-oriented the entire house to face the east (the older house faced the south and the temple). His primary intention was to orient the house towards beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Most of the windows and semi-covered spaces in the house face the east. The street on which the temple and the home are located is a primary movement corridor for temple activities.
Vastarey has designed the setbacks of his house to respond to the street conditions. Accordingly, the perimeter of the house is responsive to the activities of the temple street and is a series of plinths and steps. Pedestrians can rest a moment before or after their climb to the temple (on the hillock). The plinth and sidewalk of the house that face the school is infused with a sense of playfulness – rainwater spouts collect run-off water, which is then discharged as a water feature and becomes a water rill, before it reaches the storm drain, providing a visual treat during the rain.
Guided by tradition
The house is organised according to the lifestyle of the occupants and this orchestration starts even beyond the entrance. There are two entrances to the house. The smaller side entry is exclusively for the family. The walkway along the family’s entry begins with a paved basin to enable the family to wash their feet (dip their feet in water) before entering the house. Thus, customs that are still followed by the family, especially by Vastarey’s mother, have accordingly been incorporated into the design.
The ground floor has the kitchen, living and dining areas of the house. Vastarey has cleverly connected and disconnected the living spaces from the neighbouring temple and the school, through careful orientation of fenestrations. Select and carefully designed furniture pieces occupy the living area. A seating and cabinet that faces the prayer room on the ground floor functions as a bench and storage unit, and a table. The writing surface can be cleverly concealed when not in use (this will be used by Vastarey’s mother for her daily prayer writing). The unit additionally accommodates wooden seating platforms used in the prayer room which can be neatly stacked into the same multifunctional piece of furniture. The door of the prayer room is a contemporary interpretation of wood work from Kerala temples and palaces.
Woodwork throughout the house is exceptionally well designed. His mother’s room has a contemporary warm wood wardrobe with beautifully carved grooves instead of extruded handles. The family is extremely fond of cooking, especially Vastarey. While a modern kitchen is a part of the home, traditional methods of cooking have not been discarded. The traditional wet kitchen elements are still retained and the semi-covered utility space also acts as a wet kitchen. It has been designed by Vastarey to have carved granite counters, a traditional brass hande or vessel to heat water (by coconut husks). Even a seemingly trivial element, such as a clothesline has been made into a design feature. The idiom ‘God is in the detail’ attributed to German architect Mies van der Rohe comes to mind when you see the micro-designing that extends to even the simple objects that seem to have warranted design attention.
Acacia wood has been extensively used throughout the house and a sculptural internal wood staircase leads to the level of the master bedroom. The split-level bedroom has a sleeping area at the lower level with the shower and dressing space at a higher level. The landing at the higher level has been designed like a contemporary jharokha, a concealed window element that over looks the entire temple street and provides the poet Vastarey, a place to be a hidden observer. Vastarey’s wife Aparna is a popular Kannada actress. The upper-level dressing space has been designed to accommodate his wife’s extensive wardrobe of clothes and accessories.
Vastarey’s architectural studio is accessed from an external staircase and is a double-height space made expansive by an entire wall of glass, oriented towards the east.
The studio opens out to a large semi-covered terrace. His staff can build models or have design discussions outdoors. Vastarey’s own work space within the studio has been placed at a higher level within the split-level space, enabling him to supervise and interact with his staff while providing him with privacy to design or to write poetry and literature undisturbed.
Views of a borrowed landscape (Samanea saman tree canopy growing within the neighbouring school compound) provides a scenic backdrop to client meetings and discussions in the balcony of his third-floor office.
The upper-most level has a room as well as a separate guest apartment. The guest apartment consists of a living space with an attached kitchenette and is connected to a large semi-covered terrace.
In harmony with the neighbourhood
The temple seems to have had a pervasive influence in the design of the house. Vastarey has strategically buffered the house from the noise of the temple street, but has oriented the openings at the higher level to provide unexpected views of the temple. An opening sliced into the terrace wall reveals the striking beauty of the temple gopuram. While designing his own residence, Vastarey points out that he enjoyed the freedom to build and experiment with materials that his clients were skeptical about using. He has used exposed brick, concrete and steel extensively. He has tested the limits of materials in the project, constructing wide spanning jack arches with brick and resting load-bearing walls on I beams.
He has designed the house with load bearing walls instead of column and beam construction. Steel has been used structurally and ornamentally in the house. “Steel can be detailed like jewellery,” says Vastarey. Vastarey’s home is a recollection, a memory book of his architectural journey.
(The writer practises landscape architecture.)