I have been to the Lounge on a couple of occasions – for a quiet late night party and then, in a late afternoon on Uttarayan. As Vijay and I looked at the kids chasing kites in the garden, we tried to ‘figure’ out this place concluding that it was a ‘pavilion in a courtyard’.
Text By Meghal Arya
Photographs Courtesy M/s Prabhakar B. Bhagwat
Having given it a certain framework it pleased us greatly and we strolled around to discover, it was not a building to get so easily straitjacketed. Not bound by any previously established boundaries and frameworks of relationships, but putting the onus on the architects, Aniket and Smruti Bhagwat, the Lounge embodies the idea of leisure. It is indicative of a growing public consciousness on the ill effects of a hectic urban life. The advantages of leisure, of physical fitness are combined with closeness to nature and embracing slowness in a small part of living.
Reminiscent of the recreational palaces of Rajasthan, as protected places for pleasure and entertainment, the Lounge is a special place that is distinct from the routines of daily life. The urge of all urban people, who want to ‘getaway’, is creating the possibility of such a building type to emerge. As a new type, it is open to explorations and has the freedom to carve out its own character.
For an architect, mostly working in the realm of public architecture, I have wondered about such clientele for whom it is not the budget, not the area arithmetic nor the ease and speed of construction that is the determinant. And when those boundaries do not exist, what drives the architect? One would expect a sense of loss without the constraints. But it is here that the profession has the possibility to look at itself beyond the obligations of function, to make such buildings laboratories, where the value is of the experience, of the craftsmanship, of spatial quality and the experiments.
The client truly then, becomes the patron, and for the architects, there is a canvas of possibilities. Come to mind are the Villa Savoye, Villa Mariea, Villa Capri, all those villas that explored new ideas, materials, created new languages and vocabularies for generations to follow. They contained experiences of a real world, made evocative with the skill of a magician. And a magician has been at work at the Lounge, creating beautiful moments for those who get a chance to be there, for it is an intensely private public space. It is a place for entertaining guests, for inviting friends, for a social life, cocooned and protected.
Does architecture, today, aspire to move beyond problem solving, espousing social causes, to take its presence into a realm that is evocative, inspiring? This thought kept creeping back, making me want to go back again and again to that first experience of walking in through the very strongly defined entry which suddenly with a sharp turn gave an absolutely breathtaking vista – of copper and rust, of colour and texture, of solid and void, of light and shadow. One of the finest experiences of architecture in recent times has been of walking down the ramp along the louvered wall. It set the mood and also the benchmark for the rest of the place. A series of large vertical louvers, set at random angles, in shades of earthen copper enhance the play of light and shadow. It is deceptive then – because it chooses to hide and to reveal, to suggest a beginning but also holds the front and becomes the backdrop. The louver as a filter and a climatic device has found its place in architecture but rarely has it been given such a unique presence.
It manifests a tension of polarities between the inside and outside, between the solid and the void, urging the visitor to search out the in-betweens, a continuous theme in the Lounge.
The primary idea is of an internal space that holds both, the built and the landscape. The Lounge is a sunken courtyard with a very strong sense of a container. This gesture reiterates the play of dualities of ground and horizon. There is a strong sense of composition, of deliberate juxtaposition. The ‘building’ in the center takes the position of a pavilion creating smaller courtyards within the courtyard. There is a heightened sense of the pavilion in the sitout under the gym which becomes the perfect place for an evening tea in winter or the entrance verandah where the space from the front flows unhindered to the garden. The sense of completeness comes in tension with Aniket’s panache for stringing together elements through a narrative of textures. As he puts it “The idea of disparate elements, served up in fractional tight containers, closely packed, always creating illusions of orientation, interests me. It is a device I have experimented with in some other projects too.”
The Lounge is a delightful place at all times of the day, offering varied possibilities of experiences. The spaces gain a meditative quality with the soft sunlight creating magical patterns behind the louvers, filtering in through fragile translucent curtains.
The Bhagwats have been particularly partial to the arrival court. As one sits on the plinth or the seat at the edge of the lily pond, the skill of layering space with landscape elements is evident. The courtyard, the lily pond, beyond which the gentle gurgle of water out of the swimming pool, all the various expressions of water make one continuous flow adding depth to the experience.
The layering creates a simultaneity of experience, one that is of the edges of a container and the other that is of continuity from the horizontal to the vertical, moving beyond the container.
Will the shifted horizon allow for the experience of the sunrise or the sunset considering that the Lounge is sited in the midst of farmlands? The idea of leisure is complemented by the movement visualized as a series of connections between spaces, inside and outside, up and down, open and covered. Each is an element like a terrace or a bridge that not only connects two spaces but is a spatial experience itself, thus creating a slow movement and letting the space determine the pace.
It is most elegantly detailed in the ramp which gives an opportunity to absorb the lily pond gently lapping at the base of the ‘wall’ allowing a lazy mood to set in. For Aniket “the arrival had to be pure theatre – languid, slow and processional. The eye had to see actors that would change, vistas that would open up, and compositions that it could rest on – but all in a tight dimension so that the tension was felt – the metal hull like structure, the court, the pond, the pool, and arresting this a wall of myriad louvers, that hid and yet revealed”.
The meandering movement within a strongly geometric structure gives the space the ability to foreground or background itself. The space lets you be yourself, encourages slowness and allows you to ponder.
At the Snehdiv Lounge, the architects engage with the making in the manner of craftsmen. There is a material emphasis on each individual surface, be it the variety of flooring textures, the wall surfaces, the seats, each has its distinct presence and yet they all belong to the same entity, carefully interrelated.
The quality of the rust paint on the surfaces of the louvers and the walls tell you that they came after intense deliberations. It has a beautiful quality of earthiness with a sheen; the Bhagwats worked with the manufacturer to evolve it by including some natural minerals. It indicates the willingness of the architects to collaborate with their karigars, appropriate the craft processes leading to possibilities of evolving larger systems.
The craftsmanship is particularly pronounced in Samira’s furniture. Continuing the idea of each space being distinct, she treats the furniture as individual pieces, each different from the other. A bit perplexing as an idea since one generally wants a sense of continuity, it seems to hold its own through the sheer rigour of making. Beautifully crafted, the work derives its continuity from material that is generally wood as well as from the earthen colour palate of warm browns.
As I wandered in and out, looking from the garden side the terrace edge seemed too heavy, determined by structural requirements, which could be negotiated with the same sense of exploration as in the entrance courtyard. The stair connecting the terrace to the garden becomes too strong and an isolated element. If it was a service stair, could it have been tucked away?
Overtime, as the plants grow and nature does its wonders one would see some softening of the sharp edges of the container. I could easily imagine the horizontal merged with the vertical into one seamless experience. And that takes the experience to the sky, a very important element particularly considering that the Lounge is mostly a night place. The sky sprayed with clouds lit by moonlight on the night of the party evoked most beautifully the sky as an everchanging roof over this courtyard. There is a very strong and emphatic relationship to the sky that is created by the entire sunken courtyard maneuver.
Will the next lounge be the ‘villa’ for not only Aniket, but also for many of the upcoming architects who are awaiting someone to look upto? On a parting note, the Snehdiv Lounge is an architect enjoying being an architect…there is serious attention to craftsmanship, quality and spatial expression and then there is play.