House No. 300, Aamby Valley
The House is situated on a small quarter acre plot, steeply sloping down from the access road and facing a small valley, a waterbody in the middle and a rising cliff on the other side of the plot. It had a lot of disadvantages. To enable the house to be seen from the road, more than half the site would have to be filled with outside soil and a new retaining wall of around 10m height would have to be built across the site, to retain all of that soil. This was of course, the clients first choice! But wiser counsel prevailed and it was decided to keep the natural slope as it is. But there was still a problem. Building along the natural slope would put the house below the level of the cliff on the other side, and inhabitants on the lower floor would not be able to see the sky over the cliff on the other side, or even the mountain skyline – and that was a problem that needed solving. It was then decided to float the house, at the level of the access road and keeping the natural slope below, intact – and in a sense, to invert the house completely. The Living space, instead of being the first place you come to, was the last. The Bedrooms went above – which is normal, but through a staircase which came before you entered the living space. And the courtyard or the Open Room as we call it – came before everything else. Horizontally, the house is articulated as 3 separate volumes, each having its own character derived from its function. • The Open Room sits on natural ground and comes first. This is a roof-less, wall-less, courtyard – articulated as a robust perforated volume. • The Bridge, made entirely of Steel and Glass, is supported between the Open Room and the Main House. It also acts as the vertical Circulation of the House. • The Main House, elevated almost 9 meters above the sloping ground is built as a transparent volume at the lower level with an almost opaque, heavy upper volume. There is again, in some sense an inversion of the typical architectural articulation. Although a generalisation, usually, the lighter volume sits on top of a heavier mass. At 300, the lower volume, which is the main living space, is completely transparent, and overhead, the 2 bedrooms, flanked by solid concrete, stone clad walls, make up the upper, heavier mass. And, underneath the elevated Main House is the stilted space which is used by the family during rains and in the afternoons – as an outdoor dining or resting space. The Living space is open on all sides (except from the side it is accessed) – and gives an almost 270° towards the outside and is contiguous with the Dining and the Cooking space. A small private bedroom with its own court, sits to the left of the bridge, whereas from the right, the staircase, a part of the bridge volumes takes one to the upper floors. The two bedrooms on the upper floors are built out of reinforced concrete walls, clad on the outside with Black slate – with windows only towards the front, and above – in the form of a skylight, all of this, an attempt to protect the structure from the extreme monsoon of the region but still provide all kinds of natural light within. Both, the upper bedrooms and the Living space below are fronted with deep veranda’s, again in order to protect the house from the harsh, but beautiful rain. The house, rather than being a singular whole, is a sum of its parts – but the parts here have a life of their own. It presents itself as a series of moments, surprising coincidences and unexpected meeting points – of materials, structure, spaces and people. It is, in spite of being transparent, a very private house!