A plan that works......at many levels

A plan that works......at many levels


The Aberathne house is an introverted box that revels in its anonymity on a suburban street in Narahenpita in Sri Lanka. The façade reveals very little to a passerby.

The 3,000-sqft house, located on a relatively compact site, has been designed by Sri Lankan architect Thisara Thanapathy. The project is exemplary in terms of space utilisation and minimalistic aesthetics.

A careful layering of spaces is encountered from the street into the core of the house. The entrance is elevated from the street. A small walled courtyard at the entry hints at the feeling of space and the simplicity of the materials to be encountered within the house.

The inside of the house is in complete contrast to the outside encompassing an expanded sense of space. A series of internal and external courtyards is integral to the experience of the house.

Built in January 2009, the Aberathne house is for a young Sri Lankan family of working professionals with three children. Thisara spoke about the changing trends (that seemed rather familiar to the Indian context) in Colombo and the need for residences that support busy lifestyles of working professionals with modern aspirations.

Parking spaces for multiple cars on constrained sites is often requested in the client brief. The Aberathne house is situated on low lying marshy lands and thus needed to be on a pile foundation.

Thisara’s design for the Aberathne house encompasses it all: a bit of garden, a slice of water, a sliver of the sky, and enough natural light to avoid using electric lights during the day. Thisara’s strategy to maximise space involved the creation of a mezzanine floor-an elevated family room, dining and kitchen which generated a semi-basement to park cars (encompassing space for at least five cars) along with the utility and domestic help’s room.

The house has been organised around the central courtyard into two distinct spaces, the guest wing and the family wing. The stone-paved central courtyard with two ficus trees not only modulates the microclimate, but also acts as the core of the house demarcating the family space from the visitor’s area while bringing in a bit of the outdoors, inside. A solitary bench in the courtyard completes the composition.

The canopy of the two ficus trees screens the family lounge and dining from the formal living area while creating a play of dappled light and shade in the dry courtyard.  There is an erosion of boundaries and the elevated dining and family lounge feels like a platform amidst the trees. Bamboo tats keep out the rain from the family lounge and dining area.

The formal living area is simple with cement walls and a white painted ceiling. The furniture in the living area as in the rest of the house is spartan consisting of white sofas and wooden arm chairs.

Design to suit climatic  conditions
The house has been designed to be climatically responsive. A series of courtyards helps manipulate the microclimate within the house. The setbacks have been converted into walled courtyards – there are two external walled courtyards towards the entrance of the house and one slender courtyard towards the rear along with the indoor courtyard and the narrow court by the stairwell that contains a shallow water pool.

The entire stairwell chamber has cement surfaces; the warm mahogany coloured wood of the staircase adds the only hint of colour apart from the bright orange of the koi fish that glide in the waters of the shallow pool. The water court is partly glazed.

Cement stairs lead to the level containing the kitchen, family room and dining areas while steel and wood-clad stairs lead to the level of the bedrooms. A pivot window in the stairwell opens out to tree tops in the courtyard, the sky and the silhouettes of the neighbourhood are visible through the wood screens placed high along the courtyard walls.

The upper floor has the master bedroom and bedrooms for the couple’s three children. The bedroom windows at a higher level overlook the tree canopies in the central courtyard. The bedrooms also overlook the external courtyards through sunscreens.

The entire bedroom wing which is on a higher floor presents a slatted wood façade into the core of the house. Thisara’s strategies for cross circulation are effective, a variety of perforated walls and openings capture the breeze constantly and allow shafts of filtered light indoors.

Play of light and shadow
The guest bedroom which overlooks a wall courtyard has been relegated to the lower level ensuring a clear distinction between family and guest. Thisara has adopted a disciplined design approach and a restrained material palette that has resulted in the beautifully composed spaces in the Aberathne house. Shadow is as important as light in the tropics and there is a splendid orchestration of both light and shadow within the house.

Thisara has succeeded in creating deeply contemplative spaces within the house. Although the house carries an immense sense of containment the act of splitting the cuboid by means of levels and courtyards has created an extraordinary sense of space and volume within the envelope that belies the compactness of the site.

Thisara studied architecture at the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka.  He worked with Ashley de Voss and Design Group five before starting independent practice in 1998. He mentions being inspired by the works of Geoffrey Bawa, Suchith Mohotti and Vijitha Basanayake who incorporated a sense of contemporary modern into their works.

The Aberathne house which is a combination of craft and sublimity. Thisara Thanapathy was awarded the prestigious Geoffrey Bawa awards for Excellence in Architecture this cycle for his design of the house.

The Aberathne house, designed by Sri Lankan Architect Thisara Thanapathy won the Geoffrey Bawa Award for Excellence in architecture on July 23 to commemorate the birthday of late Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Thisara was shortlisted for two projects this award cycle, his other short-listed project (a bungalow at Ulpotha) was recognised with an honourable mention.

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