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House Cast in Liquid Stone: by SPASM Design Architects

Posted by
on August 19, 2015 at 09:40 AM

© Courtesy of SPASM Design Architects

SPASM Design Architects was born out of the union of resonating ideas and shared experiences of two individuals, viz. SP for Sanjeev Panjabi and SM for Sangeeta Merchant who, having studied and travelled together, started to work together in 1997. Their cross-continental practice, having projects in India as well as East African Tanzania, seems to afford them a truly wide and inclusive approach to their architecture. Devoid of any standardised problem solving methods, their design strategies are rather marked by their freshness in approach and a simplicity in execution. By their own admission, their apparently chaotic working style involves their entire team from the very onset of any project, and a variety of ideas are exchanged and explored simultaneously to arrive at a final solution which optimises relevance, appropriateness, technology, budgets, craftsmanship, locale, and other ingredients of design. Their work methods, described by them as having ‘a flamenco kind of approach and a ping pong kind of pace’, have undoubtedly resulted in some stellar architecture. This second home for a developer friend located at scenic Khopoli near Mumbai is one of their most eloquent expressions of their commitment ‘to heighten the drama of the site through what we build, without building a dramatic building!’

A ‘Belvedere’, a word used by the architects to describe this house, is defined as a viewing pavilion atop a villa or other structure, which commands a comprehensive view of the surroundings. This expansive house of 5500 sq ft is essentially that – a sheltered platform to experience all that nature has to offer on its 4 acre raised and rocky, western highland site, and the Western Ghats beyond. By perching the structure at the very edge of the site, overlooking a cliff edge of the rock it stands on, the designers have enhanced its vantage position. This house was designed to take away the occupants from their everyday, urbane working world to an uninterrupted and refreshing experience of untamed nature.

Though the 5500 sq ft of the house are spread over 3 floors, there are no higher levels than the ground floor. The additional two floors being tucked away under the ground make the structure subtle and non invasive in the unfolding natural experience. 

The entire structure inclusive of plinth, walls and roof have been cast in concrete, made from the basalt mined from nearby quarries. Apart from making the house an almost natural extension of the basaltic rock it stands on, this also earns it the name of ‘the house cast in liquid stone’.

The interior of the home flows respectfully with the starkly modern architectural language; neither intruding with the sensory perception of the architecture nor vying for attention.

One approaches the house through a huge cantilevered concrete canopy which creates an expression of the weight of the concrete, or stone, into which one is drawn deep within. Upon entering, though, begins a parade of spaces that intrepidly open out to the glorious outdoors, like the open to sky living area, the pool forecourt sticking out defiantly from the building’s surface and the bedrooms with huge windows. The spectacle of nature, of its changing flora and fauna with the seasons changing through parched summers, torrential rains and high winds, can be observed and enjoyed uninterrupted from this Belvedere.

The home can be perceived as a series of experiences - between the indoors and the outdoors; traversing through varied dynamics of nature and architecture.

This uninhibited enjoyment of the open is further enhanced by some quaint but painstaking details, like the custom made guillotine style counter weighted sash windows, made from old, salvaged teakwood, also expressing the project’s intent of avoiding an invasion of nature. The commitment to creating a maximum natural interface is amply evident in the pains taken to arrange the tricky foundations of the subterranean yet open lower floors of the structure.

The usual expectation from a house ‘close to nature’ would be a profusion of greenery on the premises. Contrary to this, though present in abundance in the views of hills that surround, the greens make a minimal appearance in this Khopoli house. It steadfastly maintains the grey stony aura from roof to foundation and remains, at best, an outcrop of the basaltic rock it stands on....or merges into. 

This preservation of the sanctity of the rocky nature of the site is carried further by the bare minimal introduction of soft furnishings like a cushion thrown here or a lounger placed there, mostly in shades of vivid red that further highlight the rocky greyness through contrast. The austerity applied here truly enhances the richness of the natural experience. Little wonder then that this design project reasserts the architects’ confidence in the true architecture allows for life to be lived and heightens the senses and emotions without screaming out loud.

All in all, a wonderful example of structure that responds to the site... 

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