Starting with the name – Shahjehan, the residence of three generations of the Shahs in Vadodara needs special attention. It deserves a closer look because it is a home that spans ideas across generations. It borrows from sustainable methods that have evolved over centuries and makes a contemporary statement, giving us ideas as to how a home should be planned and built in the future.
The Shahjehan house has been designed by the aptly named architectural firm called Footprint E.A.R.T.H which specialises in environmental studies, architectural design, indigenous research, alternative technology and affordable housing, all of which went into the designing and building of Shahjehan!
The Shah family spans over three generations, all living under a single roof. But as one would expect in such a family living in the 21st century the brief for the new home demanded two separately functioning clearly discernible living areas with independent sets of requirements for each home.
But at the same time, to help connect the family, what was also requested for was an intertwined seamless space that feels and functions as a singular structure. The home needed to be contemporary yet classic, big yet small, one yet two, sober yet glamorous. It needed to be modern (‘IT savvy’ was the word used to express it), yet blending with nature, environmentally controlled, yet energy efficient and so on. In short, an exciting challenge for Yatin Pandya and his team.
The residence got conceived as an attached unit of two adjunct homes. This formed a connection to the common areas such as the living, the verandah and the entrance vestibule. Their staggered alignment in plan offered identity and individuality to each unit and also integrated the un-built with the built, blurring the sense of front and back. Each side opened positively to the surroundings.
The verandah located in the southwest was conceived as the pivot, as active living spaces of both homes opened into this sheltered node. This verandah in turn opened and extended into the garden in the south. Thus with the help of sliding and folding doors that provided a minimal of a barrier, the interior spaces were visually and physically extended into the garden and vegetated nature.
Nature is also integrated within through the courtyard on the ground floor and terraces and the terrace garden on the upper floor. Sleeping alcoves, protruding externally like ‘jharokhas’, also helped an intertwining with the outdoors by expanding the vignettes across the bed. The verandah too opens to the sky with a temple tree piercing through the void, connecting both the floors visually and spatially.
The entry sequence also provides a sense of gradual transition from the outside to the inside. Vegetation and floor modulation as ramp and floating steps over water also aid in this transition. Brick walls provide an earthy feel while jharokhas like projecting masses in the exposed concrete humanised and scaled down the vertical surfaces with their rhythmic and near sculptural forms.
The curvilinear roof profile with a slit along the roof not only renders it floating with a golden glow of the setting sun but also creates an air draft to flush out the hot air. To counter the vagaries of the harsh climate outdoors a whole external wall envelope is created through a double leaf cavity wall construction, where the external single brick exposed plane is the load bearing wall while the inner half a brick wall plastered from within for better reflection of light is the curtain wall.
Skylights in the kitchen, dining and some toilets provide for glare free illumination as well as natural ventilation. Slab cut-outs in the form of flying birds not only add charm but also illuminate the interiors with daylight. A geo thermal tube, solar water heater, LED light fixtures are some of the other features supporting the idea of energy conservation.
Roof water from selected areas is harvested in the underground cistern below the courtyard. Floor surfaces are finished with natural and local stones, and flora is well integrated within living, court, verandah and the terrace spaces.
The embellishments are a combination of hand crafted and modern elements. Floor inlays, ‘Warli’ art, terracotta mural walls, mosaic patterns in terrace floors are juxtaposed with state of the art laser profiled doors, table tops and panelling.
The Shahjehan. It’s modern. It’s traditional, and most importantly, is a practical and futuristic home.
Text By MS Gopal
Photographs Courtesy The Architects