A Sensitive Composition

Taking cues from the site and with a respectful nod to the existing architecture, architect Hiloni Sutaria Chudgar of HSC Designs creates a responsive, responsible and user-centric entertainment space out of a dilapidated outhouse in Ahmedabad.

Text: Rupali Sebastian;
Photographs: © 2017 Photographix | Sebastian + Ira; courtesy HSC Designs

Conceived on a Euro Rail ride, this project delivers inspiration from transport design — where facilities need to be orchestrated in a compact manner. Seen here is the formal entertainment section, with the verdant milieu on one side and the free-form cabinet that segregates the formal and informal sections on the other.

A carte blanche is perhaps an easier situation than one that requires you to work with something that’s been previously scripted — especially when the intent is to carefully preserve the earlier commission rather than pull a curtain over it. This is what architect Hiloni Sutaria Chudgar of Ahmedabad-based HSC Designs had to deal with when her client entrusted the task of rejuvenating a derelict and abandoned outhouse — an iconic piece of architecture by the well-regarded Ahmedabad architect of international repute, Gurjit Singh Matharoo, now infested with rodents and with a broken glass facade — that lay on their property, a heavily contoured piece of land with thick vegetation.

“The client brief was that the outhouse be made more functional and environmentally sound, that is to control the constant rodent and insect infestation as the space is located in a thick landscaped area. They also wanted the space to be suitable for a wide range of varied age groups,” recalls Hiloni while elucidating about the list of requirements that was presented to her. “Hence we decided to redesign the space by changing the interiors, adding functionality and paying homage to the existing architectural structure.”

The cabinet, on the side of the informal area. The pantry curves in a way that it anthropometrically fits in perfectly to the server. It then flows towards the informal zone to become an open bar area.

For the architect — who believes in turning constraints posed by functionality, budget and rigid requirements into catalysts for designs with a difference — this project presented intriguing challenges. “The most challenging aspect of the project was to ensure that we paid just enough homage to the old structure without being intimidated or overly influenced by it. The second challenge was to prevent entry of pests and other animals, and to do this without compromising on the outhouse’s interaction with the outer spaces and views.” While the first part was achieved by adding a layer of intervention so radically different from the existing architectural layer that it neither receded into the background nor became too overbearing; the second was met by making subtle alternations like raising the outer step parapet to make a smooth vertical surface that would prevent anything from getting inside, and bigger interventions like introducing large farmed glass sliders in lieu of the earlier smaller frameless ones to preserve the views and enable sealing of the space when not in use.

“In terms of the architectural intervention, we also extended and enclosed the portion at the back (which, in our design, has the jacuzzi space) which previously was a semi-open one,” reveals the architect. “The splash pool and the restrooms are new additions in here. The jacuzzi and steam room have been redesigned, while the steps from the jacuzzi to the splash pool are a part of the design. Essentially, we have retained the slab and columns of the old structure and the overhead truss construction, and redesigned everything else with a strong sense of respect for the architectural identity of the space. We also used shards of the old glass facade to create a beautiful ceiling in the informal area, as homage to the older architecture.”

The rear area, earlier semi-open, is now enclosed and accommodates the jacuzzi, steam room, restrooms and splash pool.

The response to the fluid contours and the “stoic” trees and vegetation — “an interesting micro-context for space” — was an organic, free-flowing design, manifested as soft, fluid flow of spaces combined with a “strong” presence in finishes. Given that the brief called for a space that would serve as an entertainment area for different age groups, the outhouse was divided into two large zones — which could be further divided into sub zones, giving everyone something interesting in the space.

The primary dividing element took form of an amoeba-like cabinet whose undulations and metallic finish mirror the hard and soft aspects of the landscape. On one side of this free-form furniture lies the formal entertainment zone; on the other, the informal one with a jacuzzi, splash pool, two restrooms and a steam room. The cabinet — conceived on a Euro Rail ride and thus inspired by the “multi-use aspect of transport design” — is a beautiful multi-purpose assembly of machines, holding in its core all the required necessities to free up the remaining space for interactive activities. It encompasses all the functional aspects of the space including an entertainment zone, AV services, automation services, a fully functional pantry with kitchen appliances and the HVAC.

One of the two restrooms: red continues here too, as a vibrant China mosaic wrap in the floor and walls. Initially viewed with trepidation by the client, the luscious hue is now their favourite element.

The curves of the cabinet are not only designed to their aesthetic proportions but also to address the spaces that it serves on both sides. For example, the entertainment area extends outside to project a view and open up to the sitting area, while the pantry (on the other side of the cabinet) recedes such that it anthropometrically fits in perfectly to the server and is at the closest discreet distance from the formal area. Further, the pantry curves towards the informal zone in a way that it becomes an open bar area. “The curves also creates a directionality in the space leading the users to the informal space behind, which opens up to create an environment of relaxation, and is dynamic at the same time,” adds the architect, who admits to being interested in designing buildings that look different because they function differently. “We try and achieve this through empirical intelligence that optimizes functionality makes the project contextually and environmentally sound.”

The colour palette, materials and finishes — black cuddapah (floor), metallic paint (cabinet) and the red China mosaic (steps, splash pool and shower areas) — have been chosen keeping in mind the context — a soft layer of green landscape and the strong contrast of these striking finishes with this. “If you observe all the finishes they are all simple materials used in different ways to give them an extra appeal. Simple tiles laid in China mosaic pattern, a cabinet in moulded Flexi-ply with a metallic paint finish… We believe that a material used in the correct form can be aesthetically appealing. This helps us to control budgets and provides a luxurious aesthetic with simple and partly reused materials.”

The red mosaic curved steps progressively increase in size as they head towards pool, creating a visual and physical connection between the waterbodies.

Colour has also been used as a means to establish connections between discrete elements. Red mosaic, which seems to emanate from the jacuzzi as a strip embedded with the cuddapah floor, continues as steps progressively in size as it heads towards the pool, linking both the waterbodies physically and visually. Other zones connected to the water — the shower rooms — also don this material. “Initially, the clients viewed this colour with skepticism. Now, the pool is one of their favourite areas.”

Time spent with the site, and astute observation and decisions have created this fluid and dynamic design, cleverly detailed to fulfill aesthetic considerations, rigours of functionality and demands of client requirements.

Revive a dilapidated outhouse into a contextual, site-sensitive space with increased functionality, while paying homage to the existing — and iconic — structure.

Flooring: Cuddapah and China mosaic (informal area)
Ceiling: Aluminium frame and salvaged glass shards
Facade: Aluminium sections and framed glass sliding doors
Cabinet: Moulded Flexi-ply with metallic paint

Project: The Outhouse Project
Location: Ahmedabad
Area: 3,300 sq ft
Principal architect: Hiloni Sutaria Chudgar
Project management: Plus9
Glass manufacturers: Marvel Glass
Aluminium frame manufacturer: Plectra