The private residence of the master architect Dr. Balkrishna V. Doshi at Ahmedabad, Gujarat reveals how sustainable architecture can be generated from a rational and sensitive approach towards one’s own context and resources.
Text By : Kruti Choksi
Photographs Courtesy : Vastu Shilpa Consultants
From the very entrance, architect B. V. Doshi’s house with its brick paving, exposed brick walls, timber doors and the green peeping from in between aroused an earthy and rustic feeling within me. Adding to it, a play of volumes, the magnetic charm of an M. F. Hussain painting and an engaging display of sculptures further intensified its appeal and allure. This time around I was here with a more focused intention; I was here to uncover the deeper notions behind sustainable architecture, one which he had generated many years ago, much before the actual – so to say ‘green movement’ had started to gain momentum.
“I had just completed the supervision of Villa Shodhan and the Sarabhai houses for Le Corbusier. I was perplexed and in a state of confusion! I had just returned from the US via Japan. I had seen such a variety of approaches. I had so many directions to choose from….,” exclaimed B. V. Doshi whilst throwing light on the plan of the house. Eventually inspired by a visit to a brick kiln, he came up with a square shape supported by four columns as a core generating a cross-plan with four parts. All the functional spaces like living, dining and the two bedrooms were housed in these four parts. The utility spaces like kitchen, entrance, staircase and toilets were accommodated into the arms of the cross.
Appearing quite simple and obvious in its organisation, the house enjoys manifold benefits recognised on closer inspection. Compactness achieved through minimal transitional spaces with a critical juxtaposition promises natural cross ventilation and light throughout.
The square plan gets modulated with the addition of niches towards its outer edge. These niches vary with the orientation such that it is of optimum depth in the East and North directions and is of greater depth in the West and South directions. This arrangement generates a buffer zone between the core internal functional spaces and the outside.
“I have a dislike for the protruding nail like chhajas. I thought of the temple I had visited in Pune. I recalled its verandah profile that not only protected the inside from the inclined sunrays but also made the temple look low, as if hugging the ground,” recalled Doshi. Derived from this inspiration, he devised an assembly wherein the chhaja got transformed into a box which would catch and reflect the natural light from the terraces and ensure a comfortable microclimate within and at the same time grant the house with an intimate, low profile that would truly speak of the owner’s modest and humble personality.
“About fifty years ago when this house was constructed, both steel and concrete were expensive, not only in terms of material cost but also cost of labour. On the other hand, good quality bricks and skilled labour were easily available locally,” explains Doshi. This rationalism gave way to the language of exposed brick and concrete. He explored the concept of a curtain wall constructed using a rat-trap bond wherein the stretchers of the bricks are laid on edge and the headers span the whole thickness of the wall. This results in a cavity within a nine inch wall thickness. This innovative system of construction does the magical job of keeping the house warm in winters and cool in summers, thereby reducing the dependency on electrical energy.
As the house seamlessly opens towards the sprawling lush green garden spread over almost half of the site, one can easily say that the inside is out and the outside is in. One experiences varied opportunities of expression. The overall resultant assembly has multi-dimensional volumes so derived that the spaces reveal new facets all through the day. The change in the received light through the day inspires several moods in response.
Moreover as all the terraces of the house have a one meter high parapet and a natural shade provided by the proximity of dense tree foliage, they become conveniently usable for family functions as well as for sleeping during summer.
“A home should be intimate enough for the immediate family and yet have enough space for unions with the extended family. The flexibility of this house inevitably provides an ample venue for the multiple family functions through the year and is also capable of adapting to the changing needs of the growing family. This avoids an extravagance at several levels,” explains the architect expanding on the hidden prerequisite of a sustainable house.
“A house must be easily manageable and should require the least amount of maintenance. This accrues substantial energy saving as the last but not the least of attributes of any sustainable architecture.”