Chidambaram House – the 8th extension

Posted on: October 1st, 2020 by wp-uday

Chidambaram house has been the family home of the classical dancer/activist Mrinalini Sarabhai and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, an eminent physicist. The site was part of a large linear sandy-planted embankment on the western edge of the Sabarmati River. Perched on a mound it opened on the south and east directions to a garden and the river.

Architect and designer Gira Sarabhai famously re-modeled an existing 1930’s bungalow after her return from the Frank Lloyd Wright atelier at Taliesin, in 1952. The extension was deeply inspired by a wrightian vocabulary with the house seemingly perched on the edge of the river embankment. Expressive heavy cantilevered RCC roofs supported by robust dressed stone, lime plastered brick cavity walls freed at the corners by painted structural steel posts, the use of large hinged metal casement doors and windows with clear glass, defined the material palette. Dark charcoal grey limestone slab floors with lime grout and clean white lime stucco interiors defined the character of this home embellished with tasteful art, sculptures, books and pieces of furniture from the modern period as well as some exquisite pieces by the Japanese designer, George Nakashima. The lower levels have been public in nature, whereas private bedrooms were located on the upper floor, with vistas of the river and the garden below.

Significantly, this marked it as one of the first few modernist buildings of the city; predating Le Corbusier’s iconic buildings in Ahmedabad completed around 1956. The house has been a social and intellectual hub attracting imminent visitors from the fields of arts, sciences and the humanities over the decades.

From its inception, Chidambaram has been shaped by at least eleven additions and alterations to the original 1930’s house, carried out by six different architects. The additions were necessitated to accommodate the needs of nuclear families within the social order of a larger joint family.

We were commissioned to work on this project soon after the demise of Mrinalini Sarabhai in 2016. Her space on the upper floor was to be remodeled for her grandson, to house a young couple and their daughter.

The underpinning of this physical transformation lay in the need to preserve the emotional and spiritual core of her space, without diluting its essence and memory.

The preservation also had to be physical and restorative in its approach. Years of water seepage and wear had also weakened parts of the wall and roof. Detailed documentation and a condition survey done to understand the potential of this new extension provided the base for our work. Careful dismantling of the old walls revealed some bit of experimentation by Gira Sarabhai to anchor cavity walls with timber dowels as well as metal plates. Bricks from the old structure were recycled along with the use of new lime-surkhi bricks. Use of lime surkhi mortar and dolomite plaster in both coarse and fine-mirrored finish, were the primary materials in the reconstruction.

Relevant questions emerged in order to understanding how one could create a nuclear enclave, within the broad ambit of the collective? How does one begin to see those unseen thresholds and what are its architectural manifestations? Can the contained, within the larger whole, find its release to nature and vistas beyond? An independent yet integrated design gesture was sought by inserting a private living zone that opened up on the south-east, as a habitable terrace flanked by large existing trees of the garden.

The new space defines its threshold to the north. It’s almost like an enclave within the home, with a door on the NS axis connecting it with the rest of the house. It is porous, yet defined.

The new modified floor area comprises, a free flowing living and dining space extending to the outdoor deck to the south, a compact kitchen and two bedrooms. The structure of the previous spaces was left undisturbed and strengthened to create extensions. The architectural language of massive 450 mm cavity brick walls with lime mortar and plaster, and lightness of steel fenestration was respected, restored and woven into the new areas.

The transparency of the original structure was retained along the north-south axis to have visual flows from the living-dining-terrace spaces. The textured black kadappa stone flooring also extends throughout the house and into the new outdoor deck area. The existing abundant green foliage envelopes most of the living spaces, framing vistas to the garden and the Sabarmati river. Spartan teak furniture and two Nakashima tables define the living and dining spaces. The kitchen steps a few feet down from the deck to the SW assuming a vantage position straddling the deck and the vista beyond.
The outdoors become integrated at all times with the dining and the deck defining the new habitable outdoors that is the most lived space round the year. It is from this space that one sees the old city wall in the distance past the river and it’s busy public foreground. The massing of the old converses with the stepped back volumes of the new extension, scaled by the depth and deep shade of the trees surrounding the open deck. Water finds its way gracefully from the roof down to the land below and beyond.


Lime 3

Posted on: January 1st, 2014 by wp-indigo


The site is part of the new west zone of Ahmedabad in an area that is dotted with very large homes on vast tracts of land. Ad-measuring about 1500 sq. yards, the site was accessible from both the east and west, lending itself to an interesting connect with its edges.

The house was designed for a working couple, a teenaged daughter and her grandparents. The brief required us to provide a 4 bedroom dwelling with a central dining and living space with connects to the verdant outdoors. The clients were eager to explore the use of lime as a building material along with some simple initiatives for achieving thermal comfort.

Architectural response and climate
The site is part of a developing zone and hence prone to flooding. A raised plinth became mandatory and in a way helped define the scale in relation to the edges.

A building language that is expressive of our concerns to be sustainable was our main objective.

The gradual breaking up of the mass allows the roof top water to find its way to the large metal gargoyle on the west, which leads water to the channel and eventually to the rain-water harvesting tank. This orchestration along with the use of lime- plastered walls defines the intent.

The built form, comprises, confined masonry walls sitting on a raised plinth, oriented to keep the sun at bay and allowing for natural breezes to flow within the building.

The house is aligned north – south on its longer axis owing to the dimensions and the orientation of the site. The east and west facades are protected by a bamboo trellis structure meant to grow creepers and vegetables on vines, and provide the necessary shade. In addition, the service spaces- toilets, utilities, staircase etc., located on the south and west help insulate the living areas further.

The quasi- courtyard formed by manipulating the massing on the west creates a thermal barrier between the dining block and the open west garden. The inner spaces tie into this volume visually, providing an interesting play of light during the day.

The verandah on the west and the small patio opening to the pond and deck on the eastern edge, provide the opportunity to use the spaces and enjoy mornings and evenings with comfortable ventilation.

Large sets of doors coupled with wooden louvers help control the light and cut out glare.

The prevailing breezes are channeled into the home through a vertical shaft over the puja space that works like a stack to flush the inside spaces with night-time cool air. A ceiling fan placed in the shaft provides the draft required to create the necessary air changes.

Materials/details/ thermal strategies.

The strategy for thermal comfort was to use materials that would be naturally emissive. Lime and surkhi bricks, lime mortar and lime plaster on the exterior and dolomite plaster in the interior was the material chosen for the dwelling.

RCC confined columns in masonry and slabs were engineered for economy and strength. The exterior flooring comprises various sizes of brown kotah stone while the interior spaces us natural marble. All wood used is recycled from old structures in and around Ahmedabad.

The use of terracotta lime plastered walls with natural mineral pigments, contrasts with the lightness of the steel and bamboo trellis structures for shading, become expressive of our larger concerns. The roof is insulated using nodules of Light Expanded Clay Aggregate- mixed with aerated cement. The surface is then finished with white china mosaic for added thermal reflectivity.

Interior surface temperature readings taken with an infrared thermometer post completion give a stable and consistent reduction in temperature by about 10 deg.c during the summer months. Hi-wall air conditioners set at 29 deg.c are used only as dehumidifiers when the levels become unbearable.

(Client name not divulged on request to respect their privacy)

Lime 4

Posted on: January 1st, 2014 by wp-indigo

The site is part of a gated community of affluent homes on the western edge of the city of Ahmedabad.
A home for a nuclear family was designed to engage with its many sided vistas and shaded trees. Deriving an expression of its own, it uses the language of bold masonry walls decked with lime and dolomite plasters that lend congruency to its neighbors, amidst prototypical lots of land with homes in exposed brick and concrete. The challenge was to define an identity and address pertinent issues of appropriate materials, thermal comfort and engage with the public edge and land in a meaningful manner.


Posted on: January 1st, 2014 by wp-indigo

The site for this residence is part of a plotted enclave of very expensive land parcels in western Ahmedabad. It is located between the old NH 8 leading to Gandhinagar and the new circular ring road defining the new outer residential zone of the city.
Bore water here is scarce and fairly saline. There is no municipal water connection to these plots and individual borewells dot the landscape. Storm water drains are stretched each year with roads and new development being added to this sector of the city. The backdrop of our intervention is defined by the above considerations.

Set within a plot area of 1200 sq.m, the program called for a four-bedroom house for a family of four, and to accommodate visiting grandparents and guests. The mandate from the clients was to carefully structure the public and private functions and strongly define the central core of the house as a family space, reminiscent of the old courtyard houses of Ahmedabad but covered at the top, breathable and open at the lower level to the garden space.

    • Careful sequencing of all spaces with regard to public and private zones of the house.
    • Transparency of views across the house and beyond.
    • Strategic location of trees to shade and cut glare.
    • Use and integration of shading devices as built elements.
    • Locating all services along the south, south east and west directions was a strategy to shield from the core areas from the intense heat while all the openings were aligned to catch westerly and south-west breeze. This strategy aids in reducing the load on the central air-conditioning and also keeps the building cool, breathable and open able.
    • Two gravity vents placed directly over the central space in the family area help in regulating the required fresh air within the home and ventilate the core in a passive manner.
    • Deep-set openings with shading devices help in keeping the sun out.
    • This house harvests all of the water that falls on the roof and percolates and recharges all the run off from the compound.
    • Water from the wash basins/wash areas is collected, treated and dispersed into the green landscaped zone on the north using French drains- dispersion trenches. This reduces the use of raw water in the landscape.
    • Wastewater is treated in a septic tank and led to the drain.
    • Rainwater is used for cooking and drinking year round while bore water is softened and used for washing and cleaning.
    • Integration of building elements such as pergolas for shading with landscape.
    • Pergolas not only shade the west and east sides of the building but become structures to grow vegetables year round. This has urged the clients to be excited about growing their own vegetables and helped integrate this idea as a viable aspect of domestic landscapes.

This is set in a belief that if water is to be used for greening. It must help produce clean organic vegetables for the family as well. Bottle gourd, bitter gourd, pumpkin, ridge gourd and cucumber are harvested on this structure.

  • Allocation of a significant area of open space for vegetable farming is seen as an essential aspect of growing enough food to sustain a family of 4 and a few others.
  • Segregation of dry and wet waste and use of kitchen waste to prepare compost to be used in the garden to grow vegetables.


Lime 1

Posted on: January 1st, 2014 by wp-indigo

A modest home for a middle-aged couple on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, with three bed-rooms, indoor and outdoor living spaces made a very mundane design brief.

Interestingly however, ‘the idea of the dwelling’ was to be re-evaluated and executed with convincing sustainable strategies, both as a process and the product.

Quality of spaces and the character of intimate domesticity with connections to the verdant garden space, were the focus of the design.

The re assuring belief in the idea of ‘livability’ and ‘domesticity’ in the context of our work was to be explored and emphasized.

Exploring the use of lime in construction gave us an opportunity to continue our inquiry into some amazing and near forgotten ideas towards an ecologically sensitive architecture.

The approach was multi-pronged. On one hand we have looked at overall geographical hot arid zone and issues of thermal comfort, buffering of living areas and orientation of spaces in regard to the light and breeze. Secondly, focus was on materials of construction – The use of fly ash masonry blocks, lime mortar and lime plaster, thereby minimizing the use of cement. Thirdly, conservation of rainwater for drinking and cooking as well as re charging ground water through percolation wells.

Lime 2

Posted on: January 1st, 2014 by wp-indigo

Two houses were to be built for close friends, with a shared social space. They were to be used mostly during weekends and holidays with an aim to entertain and also retire to. Located to the north-western fringe of Ahmedabad, the site is part of lands allocated for one of the many high end, low-rise, gated residential plotted developments that dot the area. The Land parcel was around 1200 sq.yds per plot.

The Architectural strategy:

As a reaction to the massive adjacent structures, the built gesture was to be reticent and organise spaces around a large sunk courtyard and create a shaded green central core. It was a conscious attempt to experiment with various strategies for thermal comfort and recompose the known relationships between living dining and bedroom spaces.

The buildings are set back from the road edge and perch on a lofty raised plinth connected by a common entry verandah which acts as a physical connector between the two houses. Each house is entered from the verandah at its two ends. The verandah is seen as a large shading device connecting the two units, resting over a huge rain water harvesting tank below.

The living, dining and cooking areas are located on the upper levels, while the bedrooms occupy the lower levels taking advantage of the shielding from the earth by thick retaining walls on the sides while opening within the lower courtyard, maintaining adequate cross ventilation. This was the single most important decision to create thermally comfortable resting spaces. Scooping out the earth to create a large lower courtyard and using the excavated earth to create berms that shade on the south and west was an important gesture.
Locating toilets and other utilities on the heat gain sides, helped create the needed buffer from heat towards the margins on the east and west sides.

A well detailed harvesting and percolation system stores upto 75000 lit of rain water used for year round drinking and cooking. The tank was designed as a part of the foundation system of the verandah above.

All masonry construction is done with lime mortar, lime plaster and lime fly ash bricks.
Lime hydrated and processed on site uses traditional methods and proportioning of admixtures using methi(fenugreek) gud(jaggery) and guggal(resin) along with natural jute fibers conforming to IS 2290 construction standard.

For more information, visit the resources section of this website.


Posted on: January 1st, 2014 by wp-indigo

The project was to build an occasional retreat amidst a grove of old mango trees measuring about 10 acres. This was part of an industrial campus in Karamsad, Gujarat, which happens to be a very fertile and verdant geographical zone.

The empty spaces in between the mango tree grids of 5m on centers were the locational marker for the site of the house.

Engagement with the trees at the ground level and the shaded vista below its low foliage cover became the determinants to connect the living spaces with the exterior at the ground level.

The private spaces were accessed through and adjunct stair volume and semi open areas with multiple views of the orchard.

Ambivalent nature of open and enclosed spaces was purposeful to achieve an easy connection between the dwelling and its natural setting.

Use of locally procured bricks and stoneware tiles in the flooring further accentuate the ideas mentioned above giving it a very earthy feel.

Parekh House

Posted on: January 1st, 2014 by wp-indigo


Posted on: January 1st, 2014 by wp-indigo

A weekend retreat for an eminent lawyer couple was proposed on a site that is a part of a hill side development at Allua, over looking the Sabarmati River. Driving twenty-five kilometers north of Gandhinagar, in Gujarat, one passes through a fertile agrarian belt that dramatically changes to dry undulating mounds and green valleys, till one comes to the river. The clients had asked for a house with a view, a place where they could relax and unwind, and also entertain friends. The design responded by sensitively integrating the local topography and the existing vegetation into the plan for the house.

The 5,000 sq yd plot has access to the main road from the east, while on the west, the land slopes down towards a valley. The correct siting of the house was crucial, to ensure privacy from the road as well as optimize the view. This was done by tucking the house in an orchard garden nestled within the valley.

There is a dialogue between nature and the built environment, which was designed as a compact system of open spaces and enclosures. The enclosed spaces provide shade to the open inner courtyards, at the time of intense heat, while wafting in the cool breezes from the valley, which get channelised through all the rooms. The layout plan has also resulted in effectively minimizing the building sprawl, while utilizing the land gradient to compactly tier the spaces. Terraces flank the built form, and emerge as the underlying principle while organizing spaces and functions.

The circulation shifts through enclosures and open terraces, continually engaging the natural vistas beyond.
Built as a system of stepped, load-bearing walls and retaining planes, the idea was to cause minimal disturbance to the existing terrain.


Posted on: January 1st, 2014 by wp-indigo