MEET THE ENGINEER As a designer, this project was one such rare opportunity, where the client himself is able to contribute in the design process to reach levels of synergy which is unthinkable for both as individuals – the Architect and the Client. ‘The Engineer’s House’ is a case where the Client, a brilliant mechanical engineer and a global leader in manufacturing of very high end diamond process related machines, offered all his knowledge and infrastructure to the Architect’s disposal. In the first meeting itself, we agreed to a vision of creating a house which pushes the limit of architectural design, through meaningful engineering resolutions to issues. The conventional paradigms of door closer, ceiling fan, swing, elevator, geothermal cooling, louvers and lot of other elements were questioned and the outcome is truly noteworthy. However, for us, the success of the project, lies in the fact, that none of these mammoth product design and development exercises, came in the way of creating such wonderful living spaces for an equally wonderful family consisting of four persons. In fact, each of these engineering marvels, enhanced the overall experience of having a great family and personal time for each family member. The entire house is also a journey to do everything that is right and sustainable in true sense.
THE SPATIAL STRUCTURE The 1400 square yard plot is part of a closed gated society in the newly developed areas of Surat. It’s a corner plot, located right across the common garden space of the society, with roads on the South and the East. Spatially, the four bed room villa, is organised around two open spaces – the public lawns and the private courtyard. The public block consists a singular glass box housing the living room, dining area, the kitchen and the elevator transporting one to the first floor family room. It is flanked by a long verandah spaces on both the sides, for allowing circulation and climatic comfort. A slightly inclined copper box floats over the dining area, which houses the family room. Beyond the public block, one climbs few steps to get into the private realm, which has the four bedrooms built around a courtyard. The praying space is the culmination of the circulation tunnel which runs along the public block and then through the private zone.
THE PHYSICAL STRUCTURE ‘An Engineer should design a structure that an architect would be ashamed to cover up’. – Bill Baker, Partner – SOM In terms of materiality, the house is wedded to a palette which is natural and far away from anything synthetic. The paint free shell of the house is constructed in form finished concrete. The interesting texture has been achieved through creating fiber moulds out of crumpled aluminum foils, and creates equally beautiful drama in the day and night, responding to the light falling on to it from different directions. The floor is a combination of large sized polished and leather finished Kotah Stone. Rest is all natural anodised aluminum, glass, black granite and teak wood. Copper sheets have been used to define the axial movement tunnel and the floating family room. Bright colored compact laminate sheet have been used in some doors to add sharp accents in an otherwise a monotone grey-silver house.
THE INSIDE, THE OUTSIDE AND THE IN-BETWEEN – THE LOUVERS The site at Surat is just about 10 km from the Arabian Sea, and experiences a Hot and Humid climate. As a response to that, the North and South of each space including the four bedrooms has indigenously designed operable louvers system with an openable layer of glass, from wall to wall. This allows a wonderful connection with the landscape, and an incessant draft of breeze flowing across the rooms. One practically feels living on the ‘Otta’ all the time. These louvers control amount of light, wind, rain, and dust entering the space; and also keeping the burglars out all the time. The idea has been taken one step further in the living block, where the entire louvre frames get manually lifted to become pergola, reminiscent of a bird opening up its wings. Very interesting user-friendly mechanisms for lifting and locking the louvers have been engineered using number of gears and levers.
EXPLOITING THE DAYLIGHT The louvered walls on the north and south of all the spaces enable natural daylight in all these habitable spaces throughout the day. Further to this, there are number of skylights in the living space and the movement tunnel to bring in more daylight. The bathrooms have interesting endeavors in various types of skylights, which combine with the textured concrete walls creating mesmerizing user experience. The grid connected rooftop solar photovoltaic cell panels generate almost 8 KW of electricity, which nearly takes care of almost the total power needs of the house.
THE ELEVATOR TO HEAVEN The living room has a very interesting looking square wooden platform lying on the floor with a bicycle seat and paddles mounted on a stand. You guessed it right; its an elevator which can take about three people at a time to the upper level family room, with one person paddling to make this happen. This is a very complex piece of engineering considering the various aspects of human safety and with a electrical override to the bicycle, to call the elevator. This is possibly, the greenest elevator for human transport in the world.
LET THERE BE LIGHT For the general lighting of the bedrooms and the living room, a very simple yet interesting luminaries has been designed, calculating the various angles to minimise glare, and maximise the light in the spaces. The dining area has another interesting luminaries designed using randomly suspended tubes with narrow beam LED light source.
THE EVOLVED MAHARAJA FAN As you enter any bedroom, you will be surprised to see large piece of leather hanging vertically right over the bed with a complex looking metal assembly fixed to it. This is a modern version of the Maharaja fan traditionally found in the good old days when there was no electricity and the ceiling fans that we see today. The spinoff is that the assembly helps you control the speed of the oscillations of the leather plane, thereby controlling the amount of breeze the user needs in the room.
APPROACH TOWARDS THE FURNITURE DESIGN In most of the pieces of furniture that were designed in the project, the effort was always to challenge the limits of engineering to come up with solutions which add significantly to the human comforts. One such example is the huge concrete coffee table in the living room. The coffee table looks massive, but is constructed out of very thin Ferro-cement and with hidden castors; a small child can move the furniture piece with no significant effort. Another interesting piece of furniture is a small bench lying in the verandah along the public block of the house. The bench is constructed using independent pieces of wood tied together using tensioned metal rope. As a result, when one sits on the bench, the wooden pieces get displaced to accommodate the contours of the person sitting on it. Similarly the praying space has an interesting copper box, which takes care of all the complex functional and storage needs of the user, leaving the space absolutely neat after the prayer. The beds and the wardrobes exhibit some very interesting joinery and junction details in solid wood. The huge garage gate (12m x 2.4 m) is constructed in aluminum sheets, but extremely easy to operate.
THE GROWING GREENS The two courtyards – public and private have diverse landscape approaches as a response to the usage. The public courtyard is primarily a lawn area with some mounds to create some soft contrast to the very straight line building form. The private courtyard has a tree with the flooring pattern reflecting the shadow of the branches of the tree once the tree grows to a larger size. The backyard is primarily a kitchen garden. The simple practical system of collecting and composting organic waste to create own manure has been significantly helping the growth of the greens in the project.
LESS IS MORE The idea of creating pieces of furniture as evolved, and well engineered products continues in most of the products and furniture pieces designed for the house. A study table for son’s room which can be just closed when not in use to make the space neat and minimal is a result of a number of attempts to get it right. The elevated copper box houses a very important part of the house; the Family Room. This place reached by the ‘bicycle-elevator’ is created using just one basic material – Teak Wood; be it storage, wall and ceiling lining, the informal seating or the storages. This cozy and warm room happens to be the most utilized and cherished space for the family!