Adding a floor to an existing structure in a heritage area of Delhi, Studio Lotus creates a home for a daughter – enabling her to be close to her parents, while retaining privacy for both generations. The intervention keeps several factors sharply in its cross hairs, even as it negotiates skilfully between the requirements and the restrictions.
“We needed to add a floor for artist Anjum Singh, with an independent entrance to the existing structure – all without really building,’ says Ambrish Arora of Studio Lotus. “So we decided to convert the previous barsati into a liveable space. This is a contemporary adaptive re-use residential project that explores its contexts of old-new vocabularies and inside-outside relationships to build a narrative of ‘frames’ and connections.”
On the third floor, a rooftop garden on the terrace is used for entertaining – whenever Delhi’s climate is conducive to being outdoors.
Sanctions were obtained to attach a temporary structure in metal to the house and to install a lift. “An external covered mild steel staircase and lift block has been plugged to the building in response to providing an independent entry.
Borrowing from the existing colour palette of the building’s openings, the structural framework of red cantilevered lines and columns imparts a strong graphic identity to the new insert: blurring yet linking previous and current constructions,” says Ambrish.
Even though the singular purpose of the staircase and lift block was to create independent access, also to the separate studios of the artist couple, it has become a junction of social activity with constant movement and conversations between floors. Natural light pours into the space from the two transparent sides and the roof, enlivening all pockets of the stairwell and enclosing views of the surrounding greens.
The spiral internal staircase in the rear verandah leads up to the green terrace; it derives its distinct character coming from the treads which consist of a series of metal plates that fold over themselves and form the risers. “The gaps between the risers are slender, so that an insecure feeling is not imparted to the senior citizens using it,” says Ambrish.
The underbelly of the metal plates is painted a cheerful red, imparting a distinctly sculpturesque feel to the staircase – its presence having the same visual effect as a large installation. “We created several prototypes and an off-site fabrication enabled a quick and clean installation,” he adds.
“Another challenge was that the original house had an existing character, which we had to work with,” says Ambrish. White walls had striking red fenestrations – an aesthetic which Studio Lotus has used throughout their intervention in the form of red metal inserts, including frames of windows and doors, keeping the new architectural language in resonance with the rest of the house.
The white walls and upholstery take a deferent backseat to the ubiquitous red frames of the sliding glass windows. An polymer concrete floor poured over the existing floor is used to fluidly tie the entire interior.
The existing internal staircase was terminated at this floor – providing space for a walk-in closet from the bedroom, and a large bathroom suite looking into an enclosed green court. There is no view into the bath from the outside. Poured cement covers the floor of the bath, its taupe and pale grey tones creating a quiet backdrop in this space. Adjacent to the living room, this bedroom shares its balcony. “I wanted a large bedroom, so refrained from breaking up the space to create two separate rooms,” says Anjum.
The kitchen is an open one, but also enjoys a measure of privacy through its porous dividers. Dark metal shelving from the Mangrove Collective substitutes for walls, flanking the entrance; it is filled with vases, bottles, tea cups and bowls, in a carefully orchestrated display. “In oxidised mild steel and oak, the shelving has a timeless, warm feel, unlike glass, which can be quite cold,” says Ambrish.
“I would have never thought of using the shelving like this,” adds Anjum. A sliding glass door can shut off the kitchen when required. There is no false ceiling; a metal grid on the ceiling has an infill of stone slabs. “Traditionally, this has been used in Delhi for a long time,” says Ambrish. Mid-coloured sandstone imparts its own character to this space, while sunny yellow shutters for cabinets and the red window frames impart a Mondrianesque aesthetic.
The living room is awash with light from the front of the building as well as from the courtyard at the rear- which overlooks the dome of a monument.
The existing courtyard at the rear of the building was made the focus of the intervention, with the addition of metal balconies projecting outwards so that the living spaces on the first and second floor can enjoy views of the lush greenery. “Now the cross ventilation is great and stepping out onto the balcony gives the feeling of floating between the trees,” says Ambrish.
“Since the owner had a large art collection, we showcased that along with ensuring that the apartment imparted a light, airy feel with plenty of greenery and sunlight. The framed views of old monuments imparted a sense of history to the space,” says Ambrish. “Removing ourselves and our personalities from the project in order to get closer to the person we build for, is key to our projects,” he says.
“Ambrish is an old friend who knows me and the way I live. He had visited my earlier home several times. I told him that I wanted to recreate it here…but what he has done is taken it several notches higher,” says Anjum.
“Every part of the spaces he’s created is actively used. I have enough wall space for art, yet the house merges with its surroundings. In the end I have got much more than I had visualised – the staircase, the details and finishes and the entire level of design, are all beyond what I had ever imagined,” she says. “The entire effect is one of an art gallery, without the sterility. I guess our long friendship has given an edge to the design, which I am able to engage with at several levels.”
As in many ventures in life, the client has the last word.
Text By Devyani Jayakar
Photographs Courtesy Ravi Asrani