Elegantly poised atop its granite pedestal, this beautifully crafted home in India is truly a temple for the body, as well as a captivating repository of stories.
Engraved both into its spatial organization and into the details of the house, these are stories of traditions and beliefs, of customs and of the relationship of the body to nature. With a simple and poetic clarity, these stories and are all told through the modern architectural interpretation of sensitive designers at Bedmar & Shi.
This house, which is located in the highly prestigious and beautifully landscaped region of Amrita Shergil in Delhi, India, was to present Bedmar & Shi with one of the greatest challenges to date. Due to its wealth of socio-cultural references as well as a more temperate climate than the tropical environments in which the designer is more familiar, the design marks a daring departure from the rest of Bedmar’s earlier works. The surrounding neighbourhood is full of greenery and is a highly conserved area of very horizontal houses, mostly single storey, that sit on elevated platforms and are topped with flat roofs. These flat roofs are still heavily used by the occupants as terraces because from this height they enjoy the desirable winter breezes. Due to the dilapidated state of the original building which was on the site, its demolition was permitted. The new building was given the restrictions of a large 9 meter setback from Lodhi Road and a height control of no higher than the original house.
Bedmar’s approach to the design was to allow the architecture to be as neutral as possible so that the pure forms and spaces can then become a backdrop for the beautiful Indian textiles and arts. The reference and inspiration to which being the Barcelona Pavilion by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The purity of the International Style of this architectural masterpiece as well as the notion of free flowing spaces were to influence Bedmar’s design of the Amrita Shergil Marg house and become the canvas upon which the elements of the Indian culture are overlaid.
In conjunction with some of Bedmar’s planning strategies of spatial sequencing, framing of views and controlling of light to create a variety of different atmospheres and experiences throughout the house, in this project it was also important to interweave into the planning the contextually important principles of Vastu Shastra. The traditional Hindu system of design translates roughly as “science of construction” and is based on directional alignments as they relate to the themes of Matter and Energy. The shape of the site itself was favourable to the implementation of the principles of Vastu as it is a rectangle that is elongated in the East-West direction, with the main gate entering from the East. Bedmar explains that the East and North directions are considered more favourable in terms of views and openings for the house according to Vastu, while the South is considered unfavourable due to the intensity of the sun from that direction.
The Amrita Shergil Marg house was therefore planned with the entrance and views to the North and East and a long service block placed along the Southern edge of the site. Many other Vastu principles dictated the locations of the specific rooms within the site such as the Pooja or prayer room in the Northeast corner, Dining in the West, Master Bedroom in the Southwest and courtyard in the East, among others.
Social Tradition of Entertainment
Also largely contributing to the layout of the house is the family’s social tradition of entertainment. There are many areas positioned throughout the house that cater to various sizes and types of social gathering. The guests that come to the house often enter the Pooja or prayer room first before visiting the main house. In this house, the Pooja room is a magical space located in the Northeast corner, just off the vehicular entrance area. Natural Italian travertine freestanding walls enclose the entire property and courtyards. These walls, which are formed of huge slabs cut from giant pieces of stone, are so well cut and the grain book-matched that the entire long stretches of wall appear to be formed out of a single piece of stone. The linear grain of the travertine on two sides of the Pooja room creates directionality and focuses the worshipper through the crafted timber trellised pivot doors and directionally aligned statue of the Hindu deity Nandi in the courtyard beyond.
The timber screens or jali timber panels were designed by Bedmar with the use of a traditional Indian pattern that had been reduced in its geometry, and then cut it into the wood of solid Burmese Teak doors. The abstracted pattern still contains the essence of the original, giving it a distinct Indian flavour without literally replicating the traditional tapestry. The courtyard in front of the Pooja room is the first of many entertainment spaces and is here often used to receive guests during a celebration.
As with many of Bedmar & Shi's buildings, the house is never revealed all at once. From the expansiveness of the entrance courtyard, to a smaller entrance lobby and quiet, more reflective gardens, the circulation is planned in such a way that the spaces slowly unfold to the visitor in an experiential and spatial journey throughout the house.