Kerala-based Vinu Daniel had to contend with a strange site, filled with construction debris and inorganic waste. Besides, there was already a dilapidated structure where his client’s house would come up. How could he make the most of a rammed earth house for a family of six? Known for his sustainable ways of design, Daniel used the debris to make a curvilinear load-bearing wall that would shape an inner courtyard and thus become the focal point of the house. He says, “It is an art to use the natural properties of materials to our advantage rather than covering up and destroying their natural appearances and qualities.”
His project is one of the 17 that features in a coffee-table book, Timeless Houses (Lalwani Books International). Curated by Delhi-based architect Kapil Aggarwal and edited by architectural writer Mamta Upadhyaya, the book features works by leading architects in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. While it’s not uncommon to see books on residences that use superlatives to qualify them, this stands apart for the perspective it gives in the architect’s own words. “I wanted to explore the projects from the designer’s own perspective because it not only helps in understanding his thought process but also one feels connected to it. The design of the book provides a walk-through experience of each dwelling while the architect shares his philosophy, challenges and unique solutions,” says Aggarwal.
While Karachi-based Bilal Kapadia tips the Modernist scales to incorporate local elements, he is also mindful of privacy. He, therefore, shields the interiors of the house with a concrete porous facade. Architect Thisara Thanapathy meditates on the merging of society, culture and nature in his Sri Lankan project that celebrates wood and affords ample light and ventilation for its tropical climes. Rafiq Azam’s Chittagong project is inspired by the ‘mathal’, a Bangladeshi wide hat worn by workers in rice fields. Layered with parasols and gardens, the house uses the generous pool effectively as a heat exchanger.
Well-known projects by Indian architects such as Khosla Associates (Bengaluru), Malik Architecture (Mumbai), Matra Architects (New Delhi), Matharoo Associates (Ahmedabad), and S+PS Architects (Mumbai) feature in the book as well. Mostly second homes, examples of pliability of steel, brick, wood and concrete stretch the imagination in these structures that sit on cliff edges and farms. The Tree House by Lonavala-based architect Shabbir Unwala shows how “architecture becomes a facilitator and is in the background without drawing attention to itself”. Set around a wild fig tree, the machan-led construction sits lightly on the forest floor, supported by steel beams, nuts and bolts. That it generates its own energy is an added benefit. Mumbai-based Nitin Killawala’s own house in Juhu bears a modular aesthetic with structural steel winning the turf war against RCC (reinforced cement concrete).
Most of the houses in the book are far removed from the reality of city life. The spaces present picture-card instances of how we buy into the visual theatre of architecture, with little emphasis on how we live. Despite some of its shortcomings, the fact that the book honours process and making sets it apart from others on store shelves.