Natvarlal Nyalchand House, 2-Collegewadi, Rajkot-360 001 INDIA. Residence-cum-studio for self. July 2005-August 2007.
The Existing Conditions
The site is a square wooded plot of land admeasuring 726 m² with an 18 m wide road to the east and 7.5 m wide streets on west and south sides. The north edge abuts a commercial plot in the busy commercial heart of Rajkot City. This area was once a peaceful residential district next to the Rajkumar College, one of the oldest K12 public schools in the country.
Brief-saving the 'old'
The process of making residential studio spaces started with the preservation of natural elements originated over the years. Spaces created by trees and the existing outhouse foot print on the plot were a prime governing factor to design new premise. To explore local skills and resources were indeed a starting point to realise scales and material wealth of the region.
The Courts and the Traditional Type
The inherited site was un-inhabited for almost 18 years. Over these years, the outhouse structure, made with Kaccha masonry went in to decay and started falling apart. During the intervening period, couple of 'Umro' and a 'Peepal' trees grew in one of the room spaces. Respecting the trees and their existence, two courts were made replacing room spaces, to invite air, light and water for the existential.
This then resulted in a physical separation between the private and public parts. The built form represents the typical old vadi house, with a long verandah space facing the arrival area locally known as Faliu and rooms locally known as Ordo. Due to by-law constraints and restating the traditional type, the new design became linear where the two parts of the building are connected with a single east-west verandah and the three spontaneous trees, one Peepal and two umro were accommodated in to two courts along the plan. The roof-scape evolved out of the necessity of using no concrete as required by the local authority, favouring the decision to make the building climate concerned.
Method of construction and Material explorations
The building represents an amalgamation of contemporary modern techniques with traditional methods of space making as well as construction. The house demonstrates the potential for using used building material in a domestic building. In a way, it represents a clear thinking approach to the design of efficient, economic and comfortable building using the technology and materials that are local and 'of the day', and is not concerned with 'style'. The building was very fortunate to get the help of a contractor in his mid nineties, who built many old buildings of Rajkot. Care was taken to ensure speedy construction with minimum of material and efforts to achieve a holistic space. Using modern techniques to lay out drainage and water supply lines at the stage of foundation was first of its kind in the city. The use of twin chamber double action septic tanks ensured that the waster water was sufficiently treated to be used in the sprawling garden of the plot.
For us Architecture is a way of expressing honesty and local wisdom, which makes the design wiser then the builders. This design was also to reflect the inner sensitivity to the space making exercises to suit the regional architecture. This residential studio is a backdrop to the trees long existed. A humble backdrop which, sympathises with nature, talks to sky and invites air to meander into small openings. The arrival court slowly shifts its point of focus and celebrates the linearity of the built. Movement of air and light washing the walls took shape of the courts and the slit windows. Verandah became a place to be with and within. Outdoor spaces become places to share close moments. The fishes in the pond of a Peepal tree court, sing with rays of sun through the leaves of the tree and plays with the fallen fruits. It is a place to celebrate nature and time, at the same time having a nostalgic feeling of the history sang by the trees around.
The material palette was brick load bearing walls with a single lintel band out of concrete. The sloping roof was supported with flitch plates and the traditional system of Morbi tiles was used.
A lot of old buildings are pulled down in the region, timber from which is of really high quality. There is a huge demand for such wood and we realized that giving new definition to this wood in terms of its use will not only save on the material cost but also on the making time of a similar quality fresh wood. Thus, the wood used in the construction of principals; posts; doors and windows is recycled, it being sourced from houses pulled down in the region (some wood used in the house has come from places as far as 100 km). Certain wooden sections in detail even show memories of previous use, which is left as it is to be seen and remembered. Thus, some of the elements were made out of similar elements of old houses typical of Saurashtra style, e.g. eaves boards; while some were reused and transformed, e.g. a wooden post became brackets supports.
Pre-cast concrete frames
All doors and window frames are made with pre-cast concrete frames, comes from Gondal town, which is only 30km. from Rajkot. This makes the construction not only locally resourced and efficient but also greatly economical. Various possibilities in assembling them create interesting windows for different uses.
Local Stone - Kalmidh and Brick
We realised that locally available bricks were not of a very good quality because of the available sand quality, all the wall surfaces are lime plastered with lime paint finish. In design were the material needed to be exposed, local stone is used in terms of random rubble masonry.
The Under portion of the roof is done with Pre-laminated boards. They also work as an integral part of structural system of the roof.
Metal doors have metal sheets as filler plate. These are obtained from industrial waste as Rajkot is famous for its metal industries.
The building details are predominantly governed by the wood sizes and availability of local materials and elements used. However, these constrains worked towards being innovative. The detail of the window shutters is done using the local craft person's skill. Flitch plate system is used to reduce the amount of wood used and also to stabilise the roof in an efficient way. The termination of random rubble stone masonry is done following the precedents from old buildings of Rajkot. Roof eave is done with using same members as used in regional traditional buildings. Above all, all though the used elements are from traditional buildings, the way in which they are used is extremely contemporary and apt with today's context and time. Similarly, stone used in flooring is of various sizes and grades. Flooring pattern ensured zero wastage and leftovers.
The building responds climatically by thick south walls; open and deep north side verandahs; north south orientation; raised ceiling height; provision of north light and ventilators; an open to sky court with a small water body in the centre of the plan and use of local natural materials. The louvers and opaque shutters of windows help maintain the temperature and control glare and dust.
Economy plays a major role in every aspect of this building design. The very idea of making the building using same footprint and respecting the original configuration was the first step towards economy. Not only using the wood from the old demolished houses, helped saving a lot of natural resources, but also utilising material from near by region and local resources in terms of building and detail development was extremely useful in making the building economically sustainable.