A home in Chennai designed by Matharoo Associates responds to very difficult site conditions with a unique program to create a convivial home for the occupants.
Very close to the Egmore station in a densely populated area of Chennai, there is a small plot of about 400 square yards which is the location of an exceptional design response by the team of Matharoo Associates.
The challenge with this site was that there was only a corner open, with all four sides in very close proximity to neighbouring developments and high rises. There was virtually no view to be had, or for that matter privacy, with the neighbours located as close as 10 feet in some cases.
Responding to this challenging site condition, architects Gurjit Matharoo and Trisha Patel decided to shut the outside completely and opened the house towards the inside.
Although the building looks very solid and closed from the outside, all rooms are cross ventilated. There is a lot of natural light that comes from large courtyards that have been punctured into the home.
What has been created is a cocoon that cuts off this chaos of the city and looks within instead. The architects have devised a clever program where they have taken the built spaces until the compound wall and all the residual margin spaces have been consolidated and created into three large courtyards.
They also created a number of skylights that are positioned to bring in light at different times of the day. So when you are within the space, there is always natural light and its ever changing.
Doors have been placed in such a way, that when opened living areas can be combined into one very large space, including the courtyard. This arrangement gives almost two-thirds of the property back into one large volume of built space.
The program of the house takes a cue from traditional houses where rooms had no particular set functions. These rooms were generally placed around a courtyard with interconnecting doors that allowed them to be opened up into each other and provided a great deal of interior flexibility.
It is this multiplicity of space that has also been woven into the soul of the Chennai house. The rooms are visually and spatially connected which allow for areas to have multiple roles and become a continuous space should the need arise.
Another very unique characteristic of this house is the absence of beams and columns. Not literally, but visually. The architects have turned all the columns and beams into surfaces. The slabs are suspended from the roof, with very few columns rising from the plinth. This has opened the lower level area completely which does not have structural members (the primary loads are transferred to the ground via sheer walls located at the perimeter of the house).
The beams, columns and slabs flow and intersect into each other. With uniform thicknesses being maintained throughout (for structural members as well as doors) there are no offsets or noticeable structural members. Because each is changing into the other these structural elements have lost their definition. You cannot differentiate a wall, column, slab or a beam. They have all become abstract planes that create the interior envelope.
Another feature of the architecture is that the interior design scheme is not a secondary layer that is applied post the construction. The interior design is accounted for in the basic construct that forms the final enclosure. The landscape along with the architecture, structure and interior are all considered and planned synchronously, it is essentially conceived as a single entity.
The studio also believes in leaving materials in their natural form. This imparts an honest response, with natural light used succinctly to bring out the inner beauty of the material.
The palette for this house has been kept very neutral. Besides the concrete, wood is the other primary material. Large wooden shutters provide the backdrop wherever an openable condition exists, allowing all the doors to be camouflaged into this shutter system.
Matharoo Associates believes in addressing the function in the most direct way. This is why the resultant architecture is also very simple and easily identifiable. They are also conscious to offer an additional solution or benefit to the occupants that was not originally conceived in the brief. It is this idea of ‘Freepsace’ that is synonymous with all their architecture.