In dialogue with the street

In dialogue with the street

Beautiful Homes

In dialogue with the street

Architects are usually at their innovative best while designing their own houses.

The house designed by architect couple Meeta Jain and Vagish Naganur for their family, is one such project.

Meeta and Vagish both studied at Center for Environmental Planning and Technology University (CEPT) Ahmedabad and started independent practice in Bangalore, a decade ago.

Building on a compact site
They mentioned that their quest for a site that could be afforded within their small budget was an arduous one, nevertheless they obtained double the area they had originally intended to acquire when they bought a 30x40 ft plot. “It seemed fairly large for our needs, in fact we had initially thought of building on only one half of the site!” said Meeta. This statement struck me as a surprising yet desired anomaly in Bangalore where people constantly strive for larger plots with even larger built square feet to meet their ambitions and fast changing lifestyles.

Their 2,000 sq.ft house was built with a modest budget in 2007. Yet their house incorporates a large amount of open and semi-covered space. Although both Meeta and Vagish played an active role in designing the house, it was Meeta who took a special interest in the project.

“The design process is never ending when you are designing for yourself!” she exclaimed. Although this was the case, they managed to freeze the design process (at least temporarily) in 2006 and the construction of the house took eighteen months. Their house continues to evolve functionally and spatially as their requirements change over time, said Meeta.

The house is an experiment in lifestyle. It has four levels and is composed of a semi-basement, a ground floor office space, the first floor comprises the living spaces and the uppermost floor which was intended to be a bedroom is now being used as their office space.

The idea of giving away space to the street was something that both were very clear about. The architects wanted to have a space that could encourage community involvement, a participatory space for the neighbourhood. Meeta’s works have included projects of public engagement including the art gallery and artist residency space One Shanthi road.

Vagish mentioned that their house was one of the last buildings that got a sanction to create a semi-basement. The idea was to create an alternate space which they have named ‘Prototype’ that would accommodate compatible creative uses. In the past the space has played host to several art exhibitions.

The ground floor was originally envisaged as their office but has now become a studio space and additional living quarters. Often outstation trainee architects live in the space. The lower space also has a large roofed patio which is often used for yoga class or space for creative arts and crafts for the neighbourhood.

“You cannot create an open or semi covered space from the built, but on the other hand can always cover such spaces,” says Meeta describing her approach to open space on site. She also believes in consolidating the open spaces into larger areas which can be used more productively or enclosed at a later point when the need for covered space arises instead of creating many small open space fragments.

The living room has simple moveable furniture. The eastern living room wall is made of a series of operable wood louvres and openable panels astutely designed to completely vanish erasing any sense of boundary between the inside and the balcony space. The balcony cantilevers out over the street.

The kitchen opens out to the living and is separated by unrolling bamboo blinds to demarcate between the two spaces, or to screen any messy cooking process.  The first and second floors were intended to have three bedrooms.

Two bedrooms on the lower floor along with a loft-like bedroom on the uppermost floor (with the idea that it would eventually be their daughter’s bedroom). They currently use the uppermost floor as their office space.

Multiplicity of uses of a single space is important to Meeta. One of the two bedrooms has a sliding door which when slid open can become a part of the living space incorporating the idea of extending the living space.

One of the bathroom wall functions as storage with an overhead skylight cut (a circular cut into the concrete slab which bring in a shaft of light).

Integrating fun into design
Meeta and Vagish have a young daughter and so the idea of play has been integrated into the design of this house.

With neighbourhood streets filled with busy traffic and with vanishing or non-existent park spaces, Meeta and Vagish wanted to ensure that there would be enough semi open space for their daughter and her friends from the neighbourhood to play in. The ground floor patio space functions well as such as a space. The staircase too is participatory.

Instead of a hidden stairwell feature, it is now an integral part of the living room. Meeta points out that it is a favourite play element for their daughter Aranya and her friends.  A continued sense of connection exists throughout the house. Slit windows between floors allow views into the living room and Meeta can supervise her daughter even while in her home office. The upper room or office is a split level space with a platform (which was initially meant for music and yoga) that opens out to a semi-covered terrace. The curve of the metallic roof is oriented to keep out light and heat from western exposure.

The couple experimented with usage of the material used in the construction process too. Meeta took this as an opportunity to use and experiment with unconventional materials. Industrial steel has been used for the roof designed to be a double vault. Meeta says a provision has been made to add a membrane of recycled wood cladding.

There is minimal use of glass in the house. The one area where it has been used is the eastern facing window of the uppermost bedroom that has now been converted into their office that draws in light.

The entire lower living area floor makes use a vault-like structure built of industrial steel. Concrete, plastered walls, and cement finished floors on the upper-most levels and kota tiles have been used in the level containing the living room kitchen and bedrooms.

Meeta has avoided the use of curtains in the house, air gaps, louvers seem to be her preferred method of ventilating spaces. Perforated metal sheet has been included in the air gaps to prevent monkeys that forage the neighbourhood from entering.

Changing spaces, changing times
Meeta is candid enough to mention that their requirements have changed over a period of time and will continue to do so. She adds that the house functions well for gatherings and parties as it is outward looking; however the family now desires a greater sense of privacy within the levels that contain the home. Noise is a concern in this house.

Nevertheless what could have been a nondescript on a typical 1,200 sq ft site is instead a house that shows a great degree of engagement with the neighbourhood.

This small urban house has gone on to create a dialogue with the street, the neighbourhood and in many ways with the community as well.

(The writer is a landscape architect.)