An extraordinary house built within ordinary means

June 21 / 2018

A job well done needs no brackets. They seamlessly fall into brackets of sustainable, low-cost, eco-friendly, aesthetical and contextual design. Mausam: House of the Seasons is far from attempting or aspiring to achieve labels or benchmarks. It is a house that the architects at Zero Studio believe, is built like a house. Building and working around the client’s brief of ‘an economically reasonable house that is constructed on available labour and expertise’.While the client could afford an expensive home and subsequent maintenance, they made a conscious choice to optimize resources yet build an aesthetically, ergonomically and climatically sound home.The client is a retired army officer who wished for a house for his family of six; the couple and four daughters who would occasionally visit them. The house can accommodate up to ten individuals if needed.
The studio believes that the precinct that has witnessed an upsurge in construction that borrows from global trends but fails  Middle Eastern and European architecture. The affluent homes are often air-conditioned to combat the tropical heat and humidity of Kerala. The ones without air-conditioning are uncomfortable to live in. Their architectural aesthetics and appearances are subjective but popular opinion often leans towards the obvious that is left unsaid. The other notion that the studio tries to dispel is the idea of ‘local architecture’. The studio feels that current trends lean towards showcasing ‘local-sustainable’ architecture but they usually cost more than standard construction when it comes to their upkeep. The studio has consciously deployed common and ordinary materials used in standard construction, local know-how of construction workers and weaved them together astutely.
The house is constructed in laterite stone. Exposed laterite is a popular choice of material in Kerala but expensive to maintain in the long run. It has small ‘holes’ which make it porous. The site is located in the midst of a rubber plantation that attracts insects. If left un-plastered, insects and termites could attack the walls.Laterite is commonly painted after plastering, the locals believed and practiced. However, the architects chose to leave the walls plastered but not painted. The idea was to execute only what is crucial to a healthy and liveable home.
The home is intentionallylocated close to the main road despite the site being expansive enough to leave a wide frontage. The placement ensures enough visibility towards the house and the kind of architecture it stands for; especially when surrounded by bigger residences. Many locals also engaged with the architects and site workers and enquired about materials and techniques during the course of construction.
The home is a double storeyed building technically, but planned across three levels on the contoured site. The house has a road facing entrance on the south. The entrance continues straight and forms a central axis along which the living room, staircase and dining area continues. This central passage continues onto a semi-open patio at a significantly lower level from the entrance. Two bedrooms are located on either sides of the passage. Each bedroom is at a different level; one on the entrance level and the other at the patio level. Each bedroom gets access to the public seating areas; living room at the entrance and the patio at the lower level; and privacy is maintained.
A teakwood staircase leads the user from the entrance level.Ateak tree located in the middle of the site was cut and used for the staircase.  But the staircase’s design ingenuity lies in its railing that have been crafted out of steel bars that are used in reinforced cement concrete.The windows are made in aluminium with steel grills. The interiors are minimal with unfinished structural elements. Furniture from the client’s old home were refurbished and reused. Roof tiles were bought from a demolished site in the vicinity. Terracotta floor and roof tiles are used on the floors and roofs. Clay roof tiles are used at on sloping roofs at varying heights which reduces heat gain. Some window openings are covered in terracotta ‘jaali’ panels. The ‘jaali’ as a design feature was popularised by Architect Laurie Baker in Kerala. He crafted intricate ‘jaalis’ in exposed bricks. However the studio used terracotta panels of 8 feet X 8 feet that are commonly used in toilet ducts. They are used on openings above windows as well as on entire openings. The ‘jaalis’ ensure thermal comfort and accessorise the space with play of light and shadow. The front façade that faces the road deploys the ‘jaali’ on a full length opening. The ‘jaali’ openings incorporate a transparency, while the terracotta infuses earthiness and warmth. As a result, the road-facing frontage takes on a congenial personality towards the onlookers.
The building’s affable character with the seasons has also given it its name – Masuam: House of the Seasons. ‘Mausam’ borrows from Persian and Arabic roots and translates to ‘season’ in Hindi. The photographer on the project noticed the house and precinct across seasons and noted the response of the house juxtaposed against the natural landscape. During summers, the temperatures rise to 35 degrees and the trees lose their leaves. The landscape is rendered in a brown and earthy palette. The terracotta roof and window ‘jaali’ blend in with the landscape. The interiors stay relatively cooler and comfortable. As one sits indoors, the user and home reminisce for the arrival of monsoons. During monsoons, the site with rubber trees, plumerias, etc. take on shades of dark greens.  The user can experience the rain, greenery, sound of gashing water, smell of wet mud while sitting in the patio. Spring brings in colourful blooms.
The site is located by a road that carries considerable local traffic. Passers-by inevitably experience the home as they travel. The house witnesses people stopping and soaking in its humble, unassuming but dignified architecture. This was a crucial reason for orienting the house towards the public. So that one could take inspiration from the down-to-earth yet aesthetic house and build in accordance with ‘local’ without resorting to foreign imagery or popular notions of ‘trendy’.