Organic. Integrated. Harmonious. Almost mythical. These are words and phrases that could be used to describe the Jain Bungalow, one of many works by the late architect Nari Gandhi. Born in 1934, he was a true champion of organic design. He embodied the idea of harmony with nature in his buildings. He ensured that they would blend into the surrounding environment and not disrupt the flow of nature. Everything from the structure to the material was carefully planned to reflect a design philosophy that was truly ahead of its time.
Nari Gandhi was educated at Sir J. J. College in Mumbai in 1950. After earning his degree, he traveled to the United States where he worked as an apprentice under Frank Lloyd Wright. There, he formed the basis of his foundation for organic architecture and flowing spaces. He had no formal workspace and he frequented the sites of the projects that he was working on to observe the construction process.
His philosophy was based on a scale of built (representing human development) and unbuilt (representing the true environment). The built aspects of his work serve to house and partly shield people from the outside environment, while the unbuilt aspects allow natural elements such as sunshine and wind to seep into the house. By attaining a balance of these ideals, Nari Gandhi successfully created buildings that were well integrated into the environment, while also providing shelter and housing for those living inside. In addition to his unconventional philosophy, he challenged the idea of a traditional house layout in his projects and rejected certain functions of the traditional house.
This philosophy is best demonstrated in the Jain Bungalow which is located in Lonavala, Maharashtra, India. Lonavala is full of nature and wilderness which provided much of the organic inspiration for the Jain Bungalow. The overall structure of the house draws inspiration from the surrounding hills. The sloping roofs are a representation of the steep hills located behind the house, while the terraced gardens contain several species of native plants to the area.
Nari Gandhi integrates the house into the surrounding by using materials reflective of the natural environment. Instead of perfect geometric brick walls, he uses stones of all sizes and shapes to construct the exterior of the bungalow. The igneous stones come from nearby quarries in the Western Ghats and give an impression of unorganized raw nature, allowing the house to feel like it’s built into the environment, rather than on top of it. For the roof and trim, he uses wood to mimic the surrounding greenery. And as a final homage to the outside world, he chooses a tile color that is similar to the color of the dirt of the site.
Where Nari Gandhi shines through, however, is in the interior. The complex is open and airy with wide gaping holes in the walls to allow for maximum exposure to the elements. There is a noticeable lack of closed, mono spatially oriented rooms allowing for areas to have more than a single purpose. He opted for interesting shapes for windows, preferring oblong and circular windows over the traditional rectangular shapes. This gives the house a unique feeling from the inside while giving it a whimsical (but admittedly wonderful) appearance from the outside.
Nothing is more important than integrating the house with the environment than the natural greenery. From the terraced gardens to the planters in the courtyard, the greenery is intentionally placed to feel like it is part of the environment. He also built the planter boxes into the walls to reflect his ideals of harmony with nature. He includes native plants and allows for the plants to grow along the wall of the house to further the concept of a balance between humans and nature.
Interestingly enough, he planned all of these features and concepts without having a single drawing. The conceptualization process for Nari Gandhi was extremely unorthodox and resulted in some of the truest organic architecture forms on this planet. He had no civil engineers supervise the project, so as a result, construction of the Jain Bungalow was done extremely slowly and carefully. Construction of the Jain Bungalow was very labor-intensive and was not completed until 1992.
Nari Gandhi made a name for himself and will forever be remembered as a pioneer of organic architecture. By blending local influences from India, he was able to make his mark on the world uniquely and powerfully. Nari Gandhi forever changed the face of architecture with his thoughtful designs that idealize harmony with nature. His philosophy will become an asset for us as we navigate how to build sustainability in an era marked by a precariously changing climate. Nari Gandhi has shown us that we can have style, form, and sustainability with his world-changing architecture.