Through the Layers House / Mawi Design
Context – In the lush labyrinths of T. Nagar, Chennai, this residence sits on the far end of a triangular plot that naturally allows for a paced first look. The brief was to give new meaning to an existing shell of a building while achieving all requirements posed by the client – a house connected with nature, exalting pleasant vibes, and one that is simple to perceive.
Theory of Design / Design Approach – Keeping only the structural grid of the existing block, all other space-making elements were stripped; the entire form was reimagined and redefined to suit a new vision, guided by the principles of spatial layering. The concept of spatial layering is used to articulate depth through the juxtaposition of space, void, light, and material, creating a spatial continuity that stimulates different responses in people who experience them. The interstitial fabric of the structure is imagined as compositions of opacity and transparency, open or closed, solid or porous. This is achieved by superimposing spaces, openings, materials of various natures, landscapes, and other architectural elements to create domains that are spatially and visually connected.
Design – The existing structure, being a huge mass, was first lightened by breaking it into three wings through the introduction of open/ semi-open courts and gardens. While the rear part was modified to become more porous, new programs like an office, an entry porch, and a kid’s pool were introduced in the foreground. Apart from fulfilling client requirements, these spaces act as pause points that provide a gradual entry into the main house.
Why Spatial layering? The concept was chosen to give depth to the simple act of arranging spaces – to evoke a sense of curiosity through the layering of courts and gardens amongst regular rooms. This gives rise to a refreshing environment both figuratively and literally – the microclimate of the house being moderated by the various garden pockets. The idea is cleverly applied in two ways to make the imposing structure emote better – conceptual and perceptual layering. Conceptual layering applies to the massing of an edifice – how the geometry, heights, and volumes are composed to create the basic form of the structure and how it is perceived from different distances, angles, and viewpoints. Puncturing the building with courts and cascades, introducing isolated and light volumes in the foreground as a build-up to the main house, taking the green inside and around the house which allowed the blurring between exterior and interior lines, using light and plants themselves as space making elements – such design decisions made, help people experience the house intimately. Thus, the large volume gets scaled down to perceive a single composition of different spaces at a time. This helps evoke different emotions at different points in the house.
Perceptual layering is that which is perceived in the vertical planes, i.e in the sections. The courts were introduced to lighten the building; where they were going to be placed depending on how one would perceive them. Layering a semi-open sit-out, an open garden with an enclosed space allows people to feel a sense of curiosity and drama as they pass through, finally arriving at the closed room where they fill with familiarity and a sense of peace. Such permutations and combinations of differently-natured spaces were framed carefully to give pleasant views from various points of the house. The simple act of arranging spaces transcends to the next level through the concept of spatial layering, thus giving an experiential and a visual feast.
Material Palette – The external palette has a distinctly tropical theme to it – the basic alabaster tones of the house are well complimented by the earthy, warm laterite highlights, cold-cut cement finishes of the courts, and the refreshing aqua hue of the pools. Material hasn’t been applied as a superficial film but they are the consequence of different programs coming together to form the larger picture. The interiors are minimal, neat, and fuss-free. The main aim was to create simple, pleasing spaces which were usable, and inviting and reflects the effortless brilliance of the entire structure.
Landscape – Landscape plays a very important role in the project – a space-making element that provides depth to the design. Different spaces demanded a different look – the front gardens were planted with tall, thick shrubs that allow only glimpses of the house creating an escalation as one approached. They also frame the large driveway leading up to the porch and counter its hardscape. The courts inside come in varied spirits – dry, minimal branches offset by rocks and pebbles for a zen garden, brightly-hued flowers frame the cascading terraces which step down to merge with the garden around the teal-hued pool. A porous laterite wall fringed by small shrubs serves as a screen to offer privacy to the pools from the entrance of the house. The rear garden of the house is in a complete mood by itself. Housing a curvaceous koi pond that compliments the rigid lines of the house, fringed by quaint smooth boulders, encompassed by forest- like landscape; it is the perfect climax to a dramatic home – where one can sink in peace post the dynamic experience of the house. The residence is a coveted example that portrays simple architectural brilliance. It is a candid consequence of a design theory that is devoid of any active exhibition; there are no parts without purpose, no layers without reason. Every element of the edifice has a place because it has a purpose in stitching together a larger context – Through the Layers.