A home in Palakkad designed by LIJO.RENY.architects symbolises calm within chaos, as seen from the ‘skewed’ façade, contrasting with its serene interiors. Employing several passive cooling measures, it is ideally suited to the climate of the region.
“We don’t lean towards the past for imagery,” says Lijo Jos, of the façade of this house in Palakkad, Kerala that includes the sloped roofs synonymous with Kerala. “Pallakad is actually a stronghold of Kerala culture and exemplifies the imagery of the state. So in this milieu, the façade of this “skewed” house is entirely unexpected,” says Lijo Jos of LIJO.RENY.architects.
Located in the dense centre of the city with tiny lanes and bypasses, the roads are congested with heavy traffic resulting in incessant honking. Sign boards and electric poles are in your face all the time. In the midst of this chaos, Lijo and Reny decided to create a façade which would reflect and echo the hustle bustle outside. “We didn’t want to create a kitsch version of a traditional house – it would have been out of place in the street it was located in. The form of the house is also an abstraction of the low-lying mountain range which lies behind it, visible on a sunny day.”
The clients, both busy doctors, wanted a calm, serene home to return to after work. They also specified a home without any wood, most unlike a typical home in Kerala. “We didn’t see any reason to push wood,” says Lijo. “So we created an exaggerated, energetic form with a simple interior, symbolising going from chaos to calm,” says Reny. The interior is a total contrast to the exterior and very little colour has been used. There is polished kota on the floor, with contrasting black granite which defines the corridors.
Palakkad is notorious for its weather – when the rest of Kerala has salubrious breezes, Palakkad records the highest temperature in the summer and cases of sunstroke are reported. “This made us very cautious when we were building, especially since it is customary in the region to air condition only a few bedrooms and not the entire home,” says Lijo.
The solution was to install aluminium screens outside the windows with large vents near the ceiling for hot air to flush out. The aluminium shading affects the quality of the shadows inside the house. Functioning like a vertical pergola, it casts perpetually changing shadows, internalising the energy of the external form.
Ceilings are also high, to create the volume for hot air to rise. Clerestory windows at the top avoid a gloomy atmosphere, protected by a large shading, so that the sun doesn’t come in. Smaller courtyards outside the bathrooms and puja room assist in cooling the house further. “I think the greatest evidence of our success with regarding to cooling the house came when we were doing the photoshoot…we didn’t even need to switch on the fans,” says Reny.
The ‘skewed’ shape of the house is reflected in the layout as well as the plan. The plot itself has angles, sharp corners and an abstract form. The three bays of the house are parallel to the compound wall, which follows the shape of the site. One bay has a different inclination, creating an entrance of sorts between the other two bays.
One bay accommodates all the public space such as the foyer, living room, dining room and kitchen. The central bay holds the car porch, staircase and courtyard. It is the third bay which has four bedrooms with attached baths and private courtyards.
Two of the bedrooms have been located on the ground floor, to eliminate the tiresome climb up the staircase to access them. Within the home, the transparent spatial configurations offer an unobstructed line of vision when doors are open.
Between the bays, there is a gap ranging between 4 ft to 8 ft, depending on the inclination of the bays. Spaces within the home get ventilated through these gaps, hardly ever catching the sun, as the bays shade each other, much in the manner that a row of buildings in many old constructions used to shade each other when lined up on a street.
“In this area, security is usually an issue, so all windows have grills on them. We’ve dispensed with this eyesore by putting a grill on top of the central courtyard, so all rooms which open onto it have no visual barrier.”
There are no large windows on the exterior – all the views are on the inside, with windows opening onto the courtyard.
The foyer is located outside the main door, emulating a patio or sit out. Detached from the main house, it helps in addressing the security issues. “Visitors are taken aback by the minimal use of grills,” says Lijo.
With all the thought that has gone into the planning of his home, it appears that Reny and Lijo have struck upon a winning formula here, going by the number of requests they’ve had from prospective clients to create similar houses for them.
Text By Devyani Jayakar
Photographs Ar. Praveen Mohandas, LIJO.RENY.architects