Home to simplicity

minimal walls The facade. PHOTOS BY THE AUTHOR .

Anitha Suseelan is an inspiring educator. Her students can vouch for the wonderful impact she has had on their comprehension of architecture. Anitha has taught for several years at RV College of Architecture and is an Associate Professor and Post Graduate coordinator for the Masters in Architecture (Urban Design) programme at the school.

Anitha studied Architecture at College of Engineering, Trivandrum and pursued her studies in Urban Design at Center for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad where she is currently pursuing her doctoral studies as well. Highly commended for her academic work both at Trivandrum and at CEPT, she has been a recipient of Sir Patrick Geddes Award and Vastu Shilp foundation award for excellence in her graduate work at CEPT. Anitha’s father who was a civil engineer in Kerala (had worked with architect Laurie Baker) was a great influence on her.

When Anitha and her husband Rajiv C G (DGM at BHEL) decided to build their own house in Rajarajeshwari Layout in the year 2000 on a modest budget of Rs eight lakh, they desired a functional building that would suit their lifestyles. Both believe in leading unpretentious yet intellectually and socially rich lives and accordingly, a great sense of simplicity defines their house.

The three-bedroom house is on a 40’X30’ plot and has a built area of 1,120 sq ft. “We envisioned the space as a home without doors,” said Anitha. Great importance was attached to having minimal walls and doors and thereby in creating and maintaining a dialogue between family members (daughters Arya and Durga and Anitha’s mother). Anitha explains that during the construction of the house, the mason was startled to realise that there were very few internal walls. The living and dining spaces in the entire ground floor are negotiated through level differences. The level differences also accommodate concealed storage spaces.

Starting with a courtyard

Anitha points out that the design of the house began with the conception of the central section through a covered courtyard.

The courtyard is a double height, light filled, multi-functional space and has a raised dining area with steps that lead to the upper floor. Because a desire for continued interaction between family members has defined the design of most spaces in the house, a level of visual connectivity has been maintained throughout the living and dining areas of the ground floor.

The idea of continued interaction extends to the upper level through the stairway landings; the mid-landing is also a small work space for Anitha while the upper level landing has been designed as a study for her husband Rajiv enabling them to maintain a dialogue even while working. Rajiv’s study space overlooks the central court and is lit by north light that streams into the area through the high windows.

Anitha’s work space borrows views of the beauty of the wild landscape of the neighbouring vacant plot overgrown by lantana and philodendron as well as fruit trees growing in her garden.

The steps and built-in seating in the house are meant to be a part of the interaction space and are often occupied by visiting family members and friends. White floor tiles create a notion of expanded space even in relatively small spaces in the house. The clear space within the kitchen is only about 5’6”, yet it does not appear constrained. The family dines on bamboo mats in the elevated dining space overlooking the court.

Details used by Anitha makes the house interesting. The courtyard wall oriented towards the north does not meet the roof or adjacent wall and instead it becomes linear windows at the level of the roof as well as a narrow vertical window which can be kept open to create a stack effect which cools the house (although her own house faces north, Anitha mentions that she believes that south-facing houses are best suited for Bangalore climate).

A love for alcoves, niches

Anitha mentioned a childhood fascination for niches and alcoves in her house she has managed to insert storage into these spaces and in the courtyard it becomes a window with a window seat. The house has an unconventional compound as well. The aggregate left as residue after sand sieving during construction process was cast over gunny bags into slender cement panels and inserted between brick supports to form a uniquely crafted and an inexpensive wall. Anitha mentions that additions to the house are usually phased and that a metal space frame will soon occupy the entrance to the house.

The ground floor that contains the kitchen, puja, living and dining spaces has a bedroom for her mother while the upper floor contains the bedrooms of the couple and their children.

One of the upper level bedrooms is only 8’X10’ feet yet it feels larger because of the connection it maintains with the double height court space. The second bedroom and an attached bathroom complete the upper floor. Provisions to expand the house and garden were kept in mind during the construction of the house.

A garden and terrace, too

There are many spaces in house including the central courtyard and terrace for the two young dancers Arya and Durga to practise their Kuchipudi or to play.

The terrace and garden are therefore much used and beloved spaces in Anitha and Rajiv’s house. The terrace has been designed such that the parapet walls act as seat walls and are used by the family for their evening tea and snacks.

A few steps made of slender cast cement slabs (similar to the ones used in the compound) lead to the roof of the car port which forms an extension of the terrace. Anitha astonishes us by mentioning that a tall lime green ladder against the wall is a structural support.

The low roof of the car port is edged by fruit trees (amla and custard apple) and jasmine creepers. The window of Anitha’s study which overlooks this part of the terrace can be left open to the heady smell of jasmine. A few benches (that use leftover granite slabs) provide an area to read or to converse for the family.

The terrace has a well defined rain spout to collect roof runoff and to release it (during the rains) as a waterfall into a part of the front garden that has been grown with water tolerant plants. This is Anitha and her children’s favourite part of the garden.

The small slice of garden towards the front of the house is lined by tall Neem and Cassia trees. The garden has not been planted with ornamental flowering plants.
Instead her daughters grow plants needed for their school projects and greens like methi for cooking class in their school.  

Architecture is not only about photogenic spaces –in Anitha and Rajiv’s house the architecture of the house accommodates the occupants’ shared ideologies and lifestyles. Anitha states that the size of the plot should not limit built spaces; she has gone on to build several homes on similar plot sizes in the neighbourhood.

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