A residence (house or apartment) is the succinct expression of the culture, lifestyle, interests, beliefs, economy, psyche, and personality of its occupants as a home is where one’s heart lies. Right from the point of time when one conceptualizes his/ her house, it is built out of some narratives, dreams, or memories and these narratives are the inputs for an architect to create the pattern language and formal construction of its architecture.
When the novel coronavirus locked down the entire world, the home was the sanctuary of comfort and blanket of safety within which the whole world built numerous narratives hitherto untold. Hence spatial narratives in residential architecture have acquired due significance and implications on reaching the current period of insecurities and vulnerabilities.
A narrative is a sequence of events or activities that have happened or have been happening in one’s everyday life. Architecture embodies narratives through materials, configuration, and time in design. The architectural design of a space can express narrative meanings, resonate with memories, or the spaces themselves can narrate events to the users through the contents within its architecture.
The residential designs of Laurie Baker show how the configuration of spatial volumes and the material pallet accentuates the existential being of an inhabitant within his house. The architect composed poems of space out of brick, glass bottles, stone, and broken tiles. The fluidity of spaces enclosed by brick walls crafted with artistic apertures brings in unexpected plays of light and makes the spatial narration haptic more than visual.
No two houses in the world are alike but will have different or unique narratives to unravel. Each member of a house perceives and experiences the spaces and objects in his/ her house in their perspectives whether it is a window, a chair, a lampshade, a portrait, etc.
The perception of a space can also vary depending upon the age group. For a toddler, the home is his first world into which he blooms, for an adult his house is his prime responsibility while for a septuagenarian house is a chronicle of his life.
Spatial narratives in residences could be comprehended from a residential project of Ar. B.V.Doshi—Kamala House (Architect’s own house) at Ahmedabad. He designed the three houses based on the themes of mandapa- and -enclosure and differentiation- in- the- vertical, but employed these in three different ways forming varied spatial narratives symbolic of the personnel lives of occupants.
Kamala house has a central inner space formed by four pillars which is the intersection of all the spaces on the ground floor. This mandapa internalizes all the spaces and it is a manifestation of cantered dwelling, family habitation, and comfort and in essence a shared way of living. But the sculptural light-filled staircase breaks the strong internalization of the ground floor as it brings a dynamic diagonal vector of space and light into the house.
The first floor is characterized by narrow slivers of space where rooms are scaled to one or at most two persons offering solitude as opposed to the shared living on the ground floor. These two terrains of the house symbolize the life stages of the architect through the configuration of spaces in the planning- ground floor with its central mandapa holding together all the other spaces denoting the Grihastha (householder) stage of life. While the first floor with narrow private domains represents and embodies the vanaprastha ashrama (forest retreat).
A residence, be it a small hut or a bungalow, the users are not mere spectators within it unlike any other kind of buildings. The occupants are participants of the spaces, forms, and volumes within it even from the pre occupancy construction stage of the house and become integrated with the building as long as they inhabit it. When a family grows in number the house also grows bigger in volume.
Housing typologies weave different narratives that are derived out of rituals formulated by culture and ethnicity. Rituals are characterized by the sequence of activities that take place in particular tailored spaces that ultimately forms the lifestyle of any populace.
The traditional settlement of agraharam and its architecture exhibits the culture and shared living system of the Tamil Brahmin community, in which privacy is least considered. The settlement pattern consists of a linear arrangement of row houses in which each shares a common wall with an adjacent house and the settlement is terminated with a temple on each side.
The houses have a long connected verandah called Puram Thinna which is an extension of the living area into the street where the morning rituals, discussions, and informal interactions among the members of the agraharam take place. Hence the temple, street, verandah, and inner spaces form an integrated whole where a sequence of events or narratives as part of their traditional practices occurs.
Kanchanjunga Apartments in Mumbai designed by Ar. Charles Correa shows how spatial narratives are formed by contextual features. The architect has introduced deep garden verandas to protect the high-rise units from sun and monsoon rains which are provided with a smaller level difference between the elevated living area and the terrace.
With its location in a suburban setting with escalating urbanization, these earth filled terraces apart from ensuring climatic protection, are instrumental in making the narratives of the city life an integral part of the apartment units as well. It is this verandah that gives the user his existential being in the city of Mumbai which is otherwise absent within the confines of the closed apartment units.
The sequence and succession of spaces in the house are a manifestation of the rituals in a person’s life and these are different for each inhabitant within it due to the different movement patterns. Unlike any other buildings, a residence is embodied with spatial narratives as every space in a house is an inevitable component of the inhabitants’ daily life and has a significant role in one’s behavior.