by Ar. Naman Shah
Meethi was 3, Mishti was 9 and they were our clients. The house was to be made for them, as per their fancies and to appeal to their sensitivities. And so the conversation started...
M&M: We want an ecofriendly house. One that does not harm the nature around us. I’ve heard that shells are used to make cement, do you HAVE to use so much cement?
What if we not only use minimal cement, but also bring very less material from elsewhere! This earth has been on site since forever. It has endured the test of time. So it just made sense that this very earth becomes the house! And so, rammed earth became the technology of choice. One that uses only 6-8% of cement usually needed for normal construction.
In villages, people often build their houses using mud. Bringing the same idea into mainstream architecture, we built structural walls for the house by ramming earth excavated from the site itself. The earth provides thermal insulation, reducing energy consumption as well.
And to add a fun element, like patterns seen in layered sand art, different natural oxides were used to create layered fluid patterns in the large monolith. The girls’ stone and shell collections, ones they had gathered over the years, were also added to the walls to preserve their fond memories.
Keeping the clients’ sensitivities in mind, most of the other material used was also locally sourced and had a low carbon footprint. #vocalforlocal
M&M: That’s awesome! But we don’t like to cut trees either. What will you do about the wood?
OK, we won’t cut trees. We’ll use wood that’s already been used somewhere and is now waste. We’ll upcycle wood. Taken from an old building that was being demolished, the wood was treated, cut and joined skillfully to create frames, doors and windows.
M&M: And there’s so much pollution too! We want clean fresh air in the house.
Research around traditional lime plaster mixtures shows that there are recipes that filter out toxins from the air invited. We craftsmen who are specialists in these techniques, passed down through generations. And so, to further extend the “minimal cement” rule, we used lime plaster on the walls, toilet floors, basins, counter and walls.
M&M: What can you do with the ceiling? We don’t like to see the same thing all the time when we look up. The sky is never like that - then why the ceiling?
Let’s make it a dynamic ceiling. One that changes with the weather and lets you experience the outside even while inside. Gaze and fantasize about patterns in the clouds, experience the rain which feels like a waterfall on your heads, stare at the moon and the stars all night!
That’s the sloping glass ceiling that covers the double height living room. It lets diffused north light to flow through the house, giving it a cool and airy feeling.
M&M: Ahmedabad gets really hot in the summer and then we’re stuck indoors. We don’t want to play video games and board games all day. We want to be able to run and jump!
How about we make you a playhouse! We’ll have a slide that runs parallel to the main staircase going down from the first floor. And once made, not just Meethi and Mishti, but even adults loved the idea of sliding down to the ground floor!
Then came a secret room! One that has three different entries, but each is a mystery to find. Our clients’ excitement had no bounds when we discussed a guillotine door (which only they knew how to operate), a sliding door which looks just like the partition (but is required to let the adults in to clean), and a staircase which is a part of the bookshelf on the ground floor (but is actually a staircase leading into the secret room)!
Next was an acrobatic bed in their room! A bed suspended from the ceiling, with a rope ladder going up and plenty of climbing and jumping opportunities.
The bridge on the first floor ramps down to the girl’s room for an impromptu catwalk by the fashionista.
M&M: We normally do our schoolwork on the dining table so that mamma can supervise us.
Let’s keep an open plan. And a few blackboards as partitions for you to pour your heart out.
Mishti: I know we need a washbasin near the dining area, but I really don’t like seeing it whileI’m eating....please can you find a solution?
M&M: We feel you will need some help in designing the house. Here, take our drawing book, it will help you find solutions
And sketches from their drawing books became grills for windows.
These are just a few examples of the countless conversations that evolved into Meethi-Mishti nu Mati Ghar (Meethi-Mishti's Earth House). And just like these conversations, the house embodies the people that live it. Humane and honest.
How about a hidden basin then! Looks just like the counters but lift a flap, out folds a mirror and there you have a basin.
Office Name: SferaBlu Architects
Office Website: www.namanshaharchitects.com
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Firm Location: Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Completion Year: 2020
Gross Built Area (m2/ ft2): 440 M2
Project location: Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Photo Credits: Umang Shah