Choreography of Space

Coimbatore-based WARP create A House of Small Talks — a home that establishes a dialogue with its adjacency as well as internally on a micro scale, through an exercise of stacking and skewing volumetric functionalities.

Text: Rupali Sebastian; Photographs: Prasanth Mohan, courtesy Wallsmith Architectural Research and Practice (WARP)

Architect Pradeep Arumugam
Architect Shanil Riyaz

Out-of-the-box creations, often, don’t involve reinventing the wheel. They can be an outcome of a small, yet crucial, change — which itself is a result of looking at an established norm from a different perspective. A House of Small Talks is one such example of challenging the stereotype.

The site nestles within a crowded neighbourhood in Coimbatore, where dense urbanization has created a matrix of predicable residential blocks. For city-based architectural and design firm Wallsmith Architectural Research and Practice (WARP), this ‘sameness’ became the genesis of creating a programme that was removed from the usual. “On account of rapid urbanization and gentrification of Indian cities, construction and design typologies of houses have become more and more formulaic based on the locally prevailing trends and thus losing their connection with the ‘neighbour’ and the ‘nature’… Our design tries to create dialogues between, the house and its neighbourhood and the spaces in-between: built and un-built. Within the precinct; dialogue of the inhabitants and spaces,” elucidate WARP founders Pradeep Arumugam (CEO) and Shanil Riyaz (Design Head). This strategy was aligned to the company’s core design philosophy of ‘sculpting simple design parcels with a strong belief in geometry and nature.’

A House of Small Talks is articulated as an orchestration of interlocked and skewed cuboids, with each individual constituent bearing its own character and geometry — yet dovetailed into cohesive whole. As a programme, this built-form is a perfect illustration of the architects’ aspiration towards creating spatial experiences birthed by the amalgamation of engineering and art.

The client brief was rather simple, something that every Indian household requires: formal and informal spaces, comfortable bedrooms… The only deviation was they desired a pooja room to be visible from all spaces — an architectural embodiment of the divine blessing to all corners of the home.

As the site was accessed by a narrow road (7m) and surrounded by buildings on all sides, the design team decided to leave a large portion of the site towards the road open, as “anything built with regular offsets would be daunting for the residence; the overall street would look very choked,” they reveal. While the frontal landscape also created a pause — a breather, if you will — in the crowded milieu, the breaking of the repetitive pattern added a new layer of complexity to the locality and its context.

The double-height living room has a stunning backdrop of a 16-foot-high charred wood, free-standing wall against which a contemporary composition of furniture and artefacts is arranged.

Then came the process of devising the spatial programme. Driven by the architects’ belief in client and site specificity, each function of the house was identified as individual volumes and then introduced to a game of twisting, stacking and interlocking — to create spaces that overlap spatially and converging angles to a point where the inside meets the outside. The interstitial spaces that arose out of this exercise introduced a refreshing unpredictability into the experience, allowing the inhabitants to “discover the use of the same space differently every time. This allows changing equations between all the components of the house defining the act of living,” says Pradeep, an alumnus of Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai.

The exposed concrete-ceilinged living room is well lit by a window in the upper corner over the interlocking volume of parents’ bedroom. Sunshine-hued Jaisalmer stone flooring balances the grey expanse overhead and uplifts the otherwise monochromatic living area.

For instance, on the ground floor, while the kitchen, dining, guest room and informal living area are orchestrated as a simple L, the double-heighted formal living area is skewed to ‘liberate’ a central courtyard — where the pooja room is accommodated. In turn, the parents’ bedroom, also skewed, is marginally ‘inserted’ into the twisted volume of the formal living room. Similarly, on the first floor, the two bedrooms — one parallel to the formal living block; the other at an angle, sitting atop the kitchen below — flank a trapezoidal transitional space. “The courtyard visually binds all the spaces together and hence rightly becomes the house of the deity…” discloses Shanil, who obtained his bachelor’s degree in architecture from The School of Architecture and Planning, Anna University, Chennai. “We tried to understand the lifestyle of the client at a personal level and tweaked where there was leverage. For example, the idea of a central courtyard with pooja connecting all spaces isn’t novel as such but the form, volume, geometry and material treatment allowed us to move away from the generic.”

This page The interstitial space that was the corollary of skewing functionalities was designated as the courtyard cum pooja room. Its visibility from all parts of the house was a client demand. Rendered with natural materials, it mediates between the dark mood of the informal living and the brightness of the formal living room on one axis, and is flanked by the dining room and the eternal landscape on the other. The pooja area has a tangram-like metal and wood partition, and a
wooden credenza.

The client’s affinity to a warm living ambience informed both, the material palette and the lighting strategy. Natural wood, charred wood, exposed concrete ceiling with dark rustic tones are balanced by plain white walls and green spurs of plants. Skylights that either punctate functional volumes or are positioned at intersections, provide an ever changing movement of light through the day rendering different moods and experiences. Artificial lighting employs mostly neutral white and warm tones — however, most of the fixtures use sharp cone angles giving a more focused down-throw.

The somber mood Informal living room is lightened with the yellow furniture, artefacts and the natural light that pours in through the skylight.

A House of Small Talks is an amalgamation of forms, volumes, light, landscape and in-surging territories that create an ambience to discover and experience, every day. “The challenge in this project lay in the design itself,” inform Pradeep and Shanil. “To break the typical idea of a house and introduce a fresh concept and lifestyle to inhabitants but also to make it context/people specific and prevent the creation of alienated spaces or environments which could become too abstract to live in.” However, with a very satisfied client — the litmus test of any design — WARP has added another successful project to their portfolio.

To establish a programme that would create dialogues between the built-form and its setting; and within, between the inhabitants and spaces.

Structure: Frame structure with M25 concrete
Landscape pavers: Railway sleepers
Flooring: Jaisalmer stone, ceramic tiles, black bethamchala tiles
Facade: White plaster, pincoda wood
Doors: Bee holes wood
Other wood-work: Charred wood

Project: A House of Small Talks
Client: Murugesan Aramugam
Location: Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
Site area: 6,041.75 sq ft
Built area: 3,844 sq ft
Principal architects: Pradeep Arumugam and Shanil Riyaz
Design team: Smriti Devkumar, Raghu Ramalingam and Pravin M