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Two houses, one home

Himanshu Burte  |  New Delhi 

Himanshu Burte visits a residence in Ahmedabad that shows how and design can help two families live independently while maintaining easy contact.

are here to stay in India , but are far from being a thing of the past. The Andhare residence on the outskirts of Ahmedabad shows how design can help two families live together while maintaining a distinct identity.

Maximising space
The design of each building maximises space.The typical room width is 12 feet. The dining room is the centre of indoor activity for the young family, to one side of which a double-height stairwell leads up to the master and children's bedrooms.

The parents' block is basically two bathrooms sandwiched between two bedrooms, with a pantry in the passage. While one bedroom is used by the older Andhares, the other is a study for Uday's father (Dr Shridhar Andhare, an eminent art historian) as well as a guest bedroom when needed. The design appears as though it would work as well anywhere. However, the spaces, walls, closets and windows are all positioned by paying heed to the way the sun moves, and the shadows trees cast on the buildings.

Response to climate
Simple as they are, the buildings are designed to minimise absorption of outdoor heat, both by orienting living spaces away from the sun’s sharpness and by the arrangement of closets and toilets.

Mausami and Uday’s two-bedroom and two-level house (snug at about 1,100 square feet) is along the east-west with the shorter sides facing the rising and setting sun which shines low and direct on walls. Kitchen, store and toilets are placed to the west (where the sun is hottest) and buffer other living spaces. The veranda, meanwhile, shades the southern side of the house. A wind-driven gravity-vent on the rooftop pulls out hot air from the double height stairwell to further improve ventilation and cool the interiors.

The parents’ block shows how trees on site can help cool interior spaces. Full-length wardrobes along the long south side help insulate both bedrooms. More crucially, the existing neem trees along the western edge of the plot block the low, hot sun late in the afternoon. This reduces the heat that passes into the house through the walls. The veranda of the parents’ block, meanwhile, faces the north from where the sun never shines down in Ahmedabad.

Sensible structure

The construction is as simple in concept as the design. The cement-plastered walls are in load-bearing brick with slender RCC columns at corners for earthquake resistance. The flat RCC roof slabs are topped with a layer of hollow terracotta blocks as insulation —after all, 70 per cent of the heat a building absorbs comes through the roof. White broken glazed tiles (China mosaic) are fixed on these to reflect most of the heat and light. The elegant structure of the veranda roofs is in steel and they are covered with Mangalore tiles that set up a contrast with the white paint of the masonry walls.

Small details
Sometimes bold, always deft details make this home memorable. The intimacy of the spaces is played off against large window shutters (steel frame and wooden planks) that feel like large openable walls. The natural feel of the wood is picked up again in the bamboo chiks of the verandasOf course, the greenery too is important. The pesticide-free garden moistens and cools the hot dry air coming into the house.

But the subtlest touch, perhaps, is the shrub along the south wall of Mausami and Uday’ house. By day it opens its leaves and casts welcome shade on the hot walls only to close shop by dark, its shady deeds done for the day. Quite in the spirit of the useful ambiguities the design sets up between garden and home, nuclear and joint family.

The veranda as connector

The Andhare residence is actually two houses and a shared garden. Built by architects Mausami and Uday Andhare (who practice as Indigo Architects) as two units, one for their young family and one for Uday’s parents, the two modest buildings, placed along opposite edges of the site, gather around a spacious lawn. The lawn (22 yards long, or the size of a cricket pitch) puts just enough space between the buildings to allow for both independence and easy contact.

Aligned at right angles to each other, the verandas of the houses face each other but also allow their occupants to look away at their own horizons. Comfortable in the knowledge of physical and visible closeness, each family is then free to enjoy its own private life.

The verandas are the main living spaces of each house. On weekday evenings, Mausami and Uday work at their laptops there as their children do their homework by their side. Uday’s parents too spend a lot of time on their own veranda. Since both verandas abut the regularly watered garden, they are relatively comfortable spaces in the hot, dry climate of Ahmedabad. In fact, Uday suggests that the verandas and the garden are what tie the home (or homestead) to its site firmly.

First Published: Sat, March 20 2010. 00:43 IST