‘Crafted’, ‘contextual’ and ‘contemporary’, are the three titles that slide after each other on their website when the inquisitive one clicks on the design philosophy of SJK Architects. Indeed, looking at the photos of their projects provides us with a glimpse of their principle of intriguingly connecting the built spaces with nature. After The Leaf House at Alibag and The Dasavatara Hotel at Tirupati, a residential structure with a built-up area of approximately 23,600 square feet in the posh Adyar’s Boat Club Road neighbourhood in Chennai exuberantly takes up the role of the protagonist in this article.
SJK Architects, an award-winning firm in Mumbai, was founded by Shimul Javeri Kadri, the principal architect, in the year 1990; and their portfolio exhibiting the plethora of projects stands testimony to the thirty-two years of their diverse journey. The design directors of the firm include Vaishali Shankar, Sarika Shetty, and Roshni Kshirsagar.
The Site and the Context
Unlike most cities having a spectrum of weather conditions, one humorously remarks that Chennai is famous for its three main transitions; warm, hot, and scorching! Moreover, the traffic scenario in the city and the buzzing construction activities contribute to this perpetual problem of dust, an important consideration not to be neglected. Additionally, there is the issue of breeding mosquitoes due to the contamination of the Adyar river. To make the situation even more complicated, there are the Development Control Rules that allow for 5% balcony space per home and not more than 50% of the perimeter of each floor to have an overhang. With these challenges in mind, how did the firm conceptualize the design?
The trapezoidal corner-site measured approximately 10,000-square-feet sandwiched by leafy vegetation. A standard setback of four meters in all four directions and the maximum height to seventeen-and-a-half meters was set. The firm incorporated stilts for parking needs and a central core to house the staircase and lift. This atrium space is mechanically ventilated and closed at the top.
This light-filled atrium not only encourages users to exercise their knees but also motivates them to interact with neighbours and to enjoy the natural light. Four duplex homes, approximately of the range 3,500-square-feet to about 4,500-square-feet, envelop this core in an interlocking manner, but each of the apartments is accessed from its own entry level. Some of the very important Vastu principles were considered while designing, like the placement of the master bedroom and the kitchen. The master bedroom on the Southwest corner and, similarly, the kitchen, luckily on two locations, north-west and south-east, remains fixed with the other spaces in the quartet trying to swivel around this hinge. A multipurpose room was also conceptualized and planned on the terrace for social gatherings.
Exteriors and Interiors
What one sees is an interesting façade design clad in a grey granite called Sadarhalli, with diverse window typologies, the apotheosis of a detailed study on several factors, including the location, use, and the movement of wind in that area. The principal architect Shimul Javeri Kadri mentions that it was not intended to micromanage it; rather, it was intended to ensure that the significant aspects of light, ventilation, and privacy were addressed. The firm also draws in an analogy of comparing the movement of the wind to a bird and that it would come in only if it knew to get outside. So this led them to chart out an exit strategy in all the rooms with large overhangs for protection and meshes to keep the mosquitos out.
The exterior mirrors the interiors in terms of the colour palette as they are suffused in monochrome hues. The bathrooms and the kitchen were among some of the parts that were designed such because the clients wanted to rent out the duplex homes.
The planning of Balconies
The balconies of the apartments intimately connect the user to the rain trees and lush vegetation outside. The Development Control rules of Chennai permit a depth of 4 feet for the balconies. Since this seemed inadequate, the team led by Shimul Javeri Kadri scooped out a part of the room to make it at least 8 feet so that a mini workspace with a table and chairs and a plant could coexist, which led to an interesting play of depths.
Importance of Climate-sensitive design
For a place like Chennai that belongs to the category of warm and humid climate, the design of external spaces should consider shading and free passage of air movement, the two basic requirements. The movement of air is important for indoor comfort, and therefore the building must be designed in such a way that it is open for breeze. Large overhangs would be an important part of a traditional coastal shelter; and semi-open spaces like the veranda are the spaces where most of the time is spent. Shimul Javeri Kadri mentions how rules should be used to encourage some and discourage other aspects and emphasize the importance of balconies and terraces.
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