Samira Rathod’s camera-house is an exploration in design reinventing for itself ideas of what architecture can be, from its elements, language and assumptions of appropriateness.
You take the ferry across the mass of water with its floating metal architecture of ships and yachts to reach there. It seems like a strange mixture – a collage of fragments of city /village /town. The padas and wadis in the peripheries of the old town are dotted with farmhouses and weekend homes, intermingled with resorts towards the beaches that are the retreats for inhabitants of the city just across the water. The houses designed by Samira Rathod sit within this landscape, negotiating with these overlapping and intersecting geographies.
One of these houses, the camera-house, stands in an anonymous flat landscape that eludes the desire for the picturesque. Here, trees and fields create an amorphous borderless expanse with hills rising in the distance. The house itself is a low sprawl of rooms and corridors that allows it to disperse amongst the general scattering of trees and wild grass.
The house is made up of two volumes of living spaces connected by a bridge. It sits in a rough landscape with a few trees. As you enter the home, you are led by a long path flanked by a concrete block wall on one side, into a space that is at the intersection of the living spaces. This is a provisional verandah-like space that overlooks the pool. From the verandah space you perceive multiple scales – a stair rises from it, the bridge cuts through it, the study-box overlooks into it, and tall steel columns prop up its roof while the space opens out to the expanse of pool and land. To the right of this space, the living room opens out. The living room is an open box, one side held by a huge wall that is assembled out of lens-like openings that read simultaneously as camera lenses, portholes and pipes.
The house on the ground floor can be completely opened to the outside with low plinths that seem continuous with the ground. Windows outline views that reveal the textures and frame views of the landscape.
The main bedrooms of the house are elevated on the upper levels to let the space at the ground become continuous with the landscape. These are connected to each other by light bridges, suspended between the trees. The bridge that connects the two volumes intensifies the feeling of suspension and airiness with its light railings and floors, and a roof that hangs precariously. The bedroom on one side is a scaled up bunk bed that is accessed by a long walk across the bridge. The guest bedroom is tucked away underneath it. As the rooms are lifted and moved apart spaces emerge in between and under the rooms.
The house is not a tight organization or unit but a playful collision. It is an assemblage of of heterogeneous experiences of forms, spaces and materials.
It makes references to the form of the camera – dismantled, tweaked and reassembled to become camera/house. The play of meaning continues into the materials used. These come together with their own logic, as you read bison board, wood, and steel mesh – each carrying its own association, while becoming window, railing and structure. Elements such as walls scaled up, exaggerated and dislocated, become actors setting up the drama of the house, where everyday acts of inhabitation become performance, poetry and play. The spaces, materials and elements of architecture are audaciously displaced, tweaked and inverted where the notions of the architectural object, building type and vocabulary are completely dismantled, reassembled and made anew.
As a weekend house or an idea of alternate lives outside the city, the house becomes a pavilion. It is a collection of spatial experiences, elevating everyday acts of living into sensorial pleasures. It is an encounter – between the body and materials, architectural elements, the outside and inside, spaces and forms. Each part is separate and spliced together and the vagaries of weather are allowed to transform spaces and materials as they weather, rust, erode – or are overgrown. The house itself becomes somehow a wild place that allows for the rough, the surprising, the mixed and the contrary.
These peripheries of Mumbai stand in a strange inversion of their mainland geographies as islands of alternate living or utopia for inhabitants of the city. Here, farmhouses, weekend homes and resorts stand in simulacra of the vernacular among the rural landscape. Most of these houses seem crystalline and perfect – embodying the fantasy of alternate lives for the inhabitants of Mumbai.
Samira’s houses instead are unabashedly themselves: setting an urbane eye upon, and striking up conversations and frictions with the amorphous rough landscape. They create their own architectural language in these negotiations for pleasure and sensorial experience that overturn conventional and notions of the home, of appropriate material, of comfort and of design.