A home that's just right for Bangalore

DESIGNER SPACES

A home that's just right for Bangalore

Rajesh Renganathan is a partner in the whimsically named architectural firm Flying Elephant located in Banaswadi. Rajesh studied architecture at the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad followed by graduate studies in Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. He has been practising architecture in Bangalore since 1994.

Rajesh has also taught architectural design studios at the RV College of Architecture in Bangalore. He started Flying Elephant with architect Iype Chacko a few years ago. The firm’s folio consists of a varied range of projects - residences, retreats, institutions, factories and corporate spaces.

His architecture studio, which is a part of his own house, displays exquisitely crafted models of his ongoing projects including a health centre at Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu.  His residence contains not just his studio space but also an office for his filmmaker wife.

Like other architects who have designed their own houses, Rajesh too feels that his house which was built eleven years ago is an early experiment – a repository of ideas that he has refined and used in future projects.

Rajesh and his wife wanted their offices to be a part of their home as this would enable them to not only cut down on valuable time that would otherwise be spent commuting but would also enable them to work closer to their young daughter.

Office-home separation
Despite its location within the house, the office maintains a marked separation from the residential space.  The office spaces have been allocated lower two levels of the five level 3,000 sqft home while the upper levels of the house contain the family spaces.

The internal connection between the studio and house through a small restroom seems to be the only awkward part of the project. Rajesh recognises this.  Built on a 40’X60’ plot, the couple prioritised on having a vast garden and almost 35’X25’ was given over to open space.

The street trees that mark the boundary of the site were made an integral part of the design of the house. The house responds to the context sensitively. During the initial years of his practice in Bangalore, Rajesh realised that architects typically tended to adopt models for buildings that suited a hot dry climate and certain parts of India better than they did suit Bangalore’s climate.

Rajesh believes that in Bangalore, buildings need to respond to a more apparent daily variance in weather rather than merely respond to seasonal changes.  Creating the right microclimate within the residence through materials and design was important to him.
Rajesh has created a metal screen as a layer beyond the façade. He explained that the architectural double skin was a response to the peculiar climate of Bangalore and felt that the architecture of the house needed to address this.

Also, Rajesh notes that windows in the Indian context are layered architectural elements – allowing light and air, the window shutters provide shade and maintain privacy, while overhangs provide shade and keep away the rain, grilles provide security and usually an additional insect mesh is added while curtains and blinds augment the layer of privacy.

Rajesh has used this idea in the design of the screen in the residence which he has further developed in his later projects. The screen which lends the entire structure an airy appearance is spaced a few feet apart from the façade and can be accessed through the kitchen and inhabited as a slender balcony space.  Rajesh has used this space to house air-conditioning units in his other projects.

Bond with the street
A connection between the street trees is maintained throughout the house. The front façade of the house is oriented towards the south; hence the street tree layer buffers the living spaces in summer and from the afternoon sun, the canopy succeeds in filtering light that reaches the living spaces of the house.

The mature trees cast dappled shadows over the living space and front garden of the house.

A ramp and a short flight of stairs lead to the level of the house. An enclosed landing space at the entrance door, acts as a moment to pause and observe a lush walled garden. The inner walled garden space, which is secluded from the street, acts as an extension of the kitchen, living and dining spaces of the house.

The stairwell opens into the garden as do the rooms which have views of the space. The garden is a productive space where Rajesh’s wife has grown vegetables and herbs used in their daily cooking. A glass-roofed verandah space with seating and a hammock overlook an outdoor dining space and the garden.

In contrast to the usual scenario of traffic noises heard in urban homes, the Renganathan family has the rare pleasure of enjoying a space that is filled with trees, shrubs and bird calls, a space where the family’s dog Lola runs around chasing squirrels.

The kitchen opens out into a small living and dining space. The furniture throughout the house is spare and minimalist. The living and dining spaces are un-demarcated. The tree canopy marks its presence in the living room, visible through a glazed opening in the roof and wall.

The guest bedroom is located on the same level as the living space while the master bedroom and Rajesh’s daughter Nayana’s room are located at a higher level. Nayana’s room is a double height space containing an attic that is accessed by a flight of narrow wood stairs. The attic is light filled and has views of the garden and is used by Nayana and her friends as a playroom and library.

The master bedroom which has been placed at the uppermost level is a split-level space; the elevated area of this space seems placed high up in the tree canopy and overlooks both the front garden as well as the walled inner garden.

Rajesh mentions being inspired by the factory projects that he was working on during
the construction of the house. He also admired composite construction adopted in smaller villages on the outskirts of Bangalore. The material palette he has adopted in his own home is innovative and reflects some of his inspirations and his continued quest to combine construction materials usually believed to be incompatible. Accordingly, steel, brick glass, cuddapah and concrete have been used extensively in his house.  

As is the case with most architects, Rajesh would like to change several things about the house. Multiple levels makes for interesting volumes although the negotiation of levels within the house can be tedious hence Rajesh feels that this will function better for a young family. He believes having a roof garden would have provided him with the same quality of outdoor experience and allowed more buildable space.

Nevertheless, the Renganathan home is an imaginative early project of a talented architect.

(The writer is a landscape architect.)

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