Temple of Solace

Architect Shailesh Devi creates the sculptural Gumpha in Nasik which is set in jungle-like environs. This dramatic and soulful cave-like structure bridges the chasm between the darkness in the depths of lands and the light which comes calling from the heavens — and celebrates the communion of the two. For the Pande family who owns Gumpha, it’s a place of rejuvenation, meditation, calmness and self-discovery.

Text: Deepa Nair
Photographs: Vikrant Dashputre; courtesy Within N Without

After wading through a grassy path flanked by trees, shrubs and bushes, you come face-to-face with the Gumpha. Is it a cave? A spaceship? Or a mixture of both? Architect Shailesh Devi’s creation is both primitive and futuristic is its avatar. The structure seems to emerge from the ground and takes cues from the small mounts that are part of the surroundings, becoming one with them. The untamed landscape was a conscious decision to give the owners the feeling of entering a jungle, and then residing in the calm and comforting Gumpha.

Gumpha…

A response… to the adventurous nature of explore.
An expression… of the innate nature of land and hills to surprise.
A journey… to lose the identity and discover self.
A poetry… by the earth itself.
A dialogue… between man and nature.

It’s not every day that an architect would get poetic while describing his creation. And, it’s definitely not every day that one comes across a project that transports you to a different realm — one of tranquillity and abundant peace. In these pages, we’ll discover the beauty of the simple and spiritual Gumpha, a creation of architect Shailesh Devi, the principal at the Nasik-based Within N Without. But before we enter the Gumpha, let’s understand its surroundings and what led to its creation.

Gumpha, (or the cave in English), is situated just 15 kilometres from Nasik city in the flourishing Grape County, an eco-living and eco resort destination that is blessed with nature’s bounty. A place such as Grape County is what an urban dweller would seek to rejuvenate and re-energize, whether choosing to live amidst it every day or make ritualistic weekend trips to unwind in the lap of nature. Businessman Milind Pande falls in the latter demographic. He purchased land in Grape County and invited Shailesh to design a farm house with some unique attributes — a place that shuns materialistic attachments, a place to reconnect with nature and definitely
one that would take him on a path of self-discovery.

A side view of the Gumpha. The inspiration for the structure — the mountains — is visible here. The architect wanted the structure to merge with the surroundings and become one with nature… today, the untamed landscape has beautifully embraced the structure and the Gumpha life is almost jungle-like. Note the amphitheatre-like seating also crafted from ferro cement created in the backyard.

“Milind saw one of the farm houses I designed in Grape County and that is how he approached us,” informs Shailesh. “We work on a project taking into consideration the aspirations of the client. We also like to know what his understanding of the space is and develop it accordingly. Milind wanted to have a quiet home and he wasn’t interested in showing it off. He was of the opinion that it should enable its residents to discover themselves,” The team was so excited with the project that instead of blueprints, they presented 3D models of the designs they had in mind. It comes as no surprise that the Pandes wholeheartedly approved the design and even gave Shailesh and his team a carte blanche. The result of this faith in the architect and his team is the Gumpha, a cave house which sets you back in time to the Stone Age, where man lived in harmony with nature, where meagre possessions were treasures, where life was simple and peaceful.

“The Gumpha is not a space one can describe in words; it has to be experienced,” says Shailesh. And you’ll realize it the moment you pass the gates — the architect has choreographed every single step you take in and around the Gumpha so beautifully that you’ll feel mystical, awed, surreal and peaceful all at once. As you move along the path, or should I call it the jungle path, lined with trees and shrubs that grow freely and unkemptly, the land opens up to you, gently drawing you in. You are introduced to Gumpha when you least expect it and you’ll stop in your tracks to take in the cave-like structure that looks simultaneously primitive and futuristic. With its organic form, which is slightly sunk-into the ground, and rough exterior, it mimics a cave. However, the six semi-chimney-like structures — light wells or skylights — that emerges from the top gives it an other-worldly appearance. Shailesh tells us that the structure also reflects the yin and the yang — the exterior is the masculine side with its ruggedness and rawness, while the interiors are smooth and polished, representing the feminine. Both characters have been brought to light with the use of a single material — ferro cement. “The structure is partly inside the terrain situated around it. The use of ferro cement is done in a way to protect water percolation from the lower ground, and also for the self-supporting structure for the arches and organic form,” asserts Shailesh.

Open the unruly steel door set on a pivot and pass through a snug threshold to land inside the voluminous Gumpha. You are transported to a different land and time zone at once.

Pass a weathered down steel door set on a 360-degree pivot and across a threshold and you are inside the voluminous Gumpha, and at once you’ll witness the amazing play of light and darkness. Here Shailesh took a leaf from ancient temple architecture where devotees pass through a threshold to get to the inner sanctum where the deity is placed. The entrance and the threshold is not large — it’s just big enough to fit a human, therefore, the impact of entering the voluminous inner cavity is simply out of the world. From the heart of the Gumpha, you can see the adjoining small caves (read rooms) which become the living, the dining and kitchen, the two bedrooms and the connecting washrooms. All these spaces are free flowing and sans typical furniture, furnishings and accessories. Bare and minimal, the living room seater, the dining table, the kitchen counter and the beds all seem to emerge from the structure itself. Black cotton cushions act as comforters in the living room seater, while loose pouffee-like square cushions make for dining chairs. The only other accessory you’ll find are the bespoke lights which are crafted in stone and incorporated in the cave wall to act as wall washers come night.

It’s a given that the Gumpha is eco-conscious too. It’s made completely from local materials and employed artisans and labourers from the vicinity. Thanks to its proximity to the earth, the cave’s indoor temperature fluctuates minimally, maintaining comfort through hot summers and cold winters. You’ll find not a single fan here. Additionally, the natural insulation provided by the earth creates a superior sound barrier. The light wells or the skylights placed strategically in all the cave rooms are directed to the north and hence bring in soft diffused light inside the structure. There are many windows too; lined with 6mm perforated metal sheets, they serve as ventilators for the Gumpha. “You can leave the house for days together, and yet come back to a space which is fresh. The structure breathes because of these windows,” smiles Shailesh.

A view of the heart of the Gumpha which links the mini caves (read rooms) from the living area. The ferro cement used in the construction of the entire structure represents the yin in the exteriors with its rusticity, and the yang in the interiors with its smooth polished surface.

For Shailesh who looks at architecture on a totally different realm — one that is created with a contextual understanding of the space and completely sustainable too — the Gumpha is definitely one of his most satisfying creations; though the architect feels blessed to have created public spaces like three temples, a gurudwara and a mosque alongside various schooIs and institutions. As for the Pandes, the Gumpha is unpretentious, contemplative, joyous and peaceful… and quite literally, down-to-earth. How true are the words of the father of organic architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright: I believe in God; only I spell it nature…

CONCEPT
To create a getaway which shuns materialistic attachments… a space made from organic materials and is close to nature. A dwelling that paves way for self-discovery.

MATERIALS
Structure: Ferro Cement
Windows: Glass, metal perforation
Skylights: Glass
Lighting fixtures: Stone
Wash basin and shower head: Stone
Cushions: Cotton

FACT FILE
Project: Gumpha — Primitive Future
Client: Milind Pande
Location: Nasik, Maharashtra
Area: 1,200 sq ft
Principal architect: Shailesh Devi
Design team: Ninad Bothara, Kinjal Sakaria

 

Some more images…