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The Value Of Building Materials In South-East Asia

Secret Gardens House Spasm Architects entire house

Is design materiality about more than aesthetics? The answer is yes and Secret Gardens House in India by Spasm Architects is key example of how and why.

Design materiality is of the utmost importance. Arguably more important in our region than anywhere else in the world. Why? Climate, culture and the future of well-designed living.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the latest project by Indian-based firm Spasm Architects, Secret Garden House.

This is a private home in Ahmedabad, is an expression in Dhrangadhra stone. To preserve and reflect the heritage of their culture, the clients and architects chose to specify Dhrangadhra stone – a traditional ‘Sompura’ cast from the region of Dhrangadhra, which have been built and designed by many Jain derasars (a type of temple of Jain people all over Gujarat and India) from which many sacred temples of Somnath have been built, and used in many of the architectural antiquities of Ahmedabad.

Secret Gardens House Spasm Architects stone

Secret Gardens House Spasm Architects architecture

Lead architect Sangeeta Merchant explains: “The stone has a mottled texture and bone coloration, available in blocks; slabs and dust from quarries nearby it became an obvious choice. It ages well, too. The cellular structure of this sandstone holds intermittent microscopic air gaps, acting as an insulation panel itself. This led to the idea of cladding the entire body of the house as a monolith. The organisation of the plan is like a simple cross.”

Not only was the stone a culturally significant selection, it was also a response to the climate of the site, where the material allows for thick walls and open pathways, hence permitting easy cross-ventilation and the possibility of a seamless connection with the outdoors. Another example of design materiality showing its value. The stone is used in giant blocks vertically to form a periphery border to the gardens to frame the edges, allow breezes, and a sense of containment and scale. This frame allows the home to be immersed in the green, considered landscape which forms the surrounds of the cross-shaped construct.

Secret Gardens House Spasm Architects cross

Secret Gardens House Spasm Architects internal courtyard

From the entry through to the main stair at the centre of the cross, the hallways of the home are so modulated that the sense of sauntering between inside and out is heightened. Even externally, the body of the house can be surmounted by ascending stairs in solid stone, to discover an elevated garden roof, ultimately promoting the use of external spaces, all along the edges of the cross layout.

Material selection played a part in working with the natural light ventilation of the site: “In Ahmedabad, we find the light very sharp and harsh at times, comfort can be achieved by a darker wall or floor surfaces to reduce reflected glare,” says Sangeeta.

“Courtyards facilitating the conventional movement of air are a major part of the passive climate control in the home. For example, stone fins – rough cuts perpendicular to the building face – cause incident shadows and therefore cool the face and create an ever-changing rhythm of shadows and light. Additionally, the interiors are embellished with rich woodwork boxes that contain wardrobes and large luxurious ensuite bathrooms, sitting within a volume of ceilings and walls all rendered in lime plaster had applied like stucco.”

Secret Gardens House Spasm Architects living

Secret Gardens House Spasm Architects dining

Chosen from the client’s collection and commissioned from local artists, the home also features a series of well-curated, cultural significance bespoke objects and pieces, many of which were actually designed by Spasm Architectes for this project in particular. Merchant explains: “We searched for a custom fit to the client’s lifestyle, aspirations, and needs. A project in which the architecture is inspired and echoes a contemporary yet sensible and slick way of occupying the culture and climate of the site. A long search for an appropriate emotion for the water body for example, ended in the commissioning of a life-size sculpture of a pensive monk, in Beslana stone gingerly poised on the water’s surface as if levitating.”

The materiality was also designed for longevity, intended as seamless extensions of the living spaces. The gardens for instance, will over the years mature as view boxes which come alive with the moving sun, breezes animating them and rain imbuing the home with the fresh aroma of the dry earth thirst quenched.

Secret Gardens House Spasm Architects bedroom

Secret Gardens House Spasm Architects staircase

In terms of the design approach to the Secret Garden House, Sangeeta reflects: “The aim was to deliver a home which allows its occupants to live a life in the bosom of nature, sensing the seasons, entertaining their family and friends and juicing the joys of a well-played life… with art, sculpture, objects, contributing to the serenity of the home. The architecture we believe is about summoning beauty and distilling moments of tranquil inner happiness, an awareness of just being and celebrating a single breath when everything is perfect.” We wholeheartedly agree.

Spasm Architects

Photography by Umang Shah & Edmund Sumner

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Secret Gardens House Spasm Architects stonemason

Secret Gardens House Spasm Architects garden

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