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AR House 2010 Winner: House with Balls by Matharoo Associates

Matharoo Associates produce a spectacular bespoke concrete house, on a budget that secured the top prize in the AR House 2010 Award

Structured around four shimmering water tanks strewn with pink lilies, this weekend house (AR August 2009) for a client in Ahmedabad who breeds and sells tropical fish might seem like a sybaritic, rich man’s conceit. Yet it’s actually executed on the most parsimonious of budgets - architect Gurjit Singh Matharoo quotes a figure of US $100 (£66) per m² - and the most modest of materials, in situ concrete.

The project exploits its economy and ease of construction, but Matharoo also clearly relishes concrete’s structural and expressive qualities. Here the pours have a powerful artisanal quality that echoes the work of Corb and Kahn in the subcontinent, the universal material becoming intimate and particular, raw surfaces washed with light.

AR House 2010 Winner

The House with Balls won AR House 2010 launching Matharoo Associates into the international architectural community with significant prize money to help develop the practice. Learn more about the AR House Award 2012 and entry criteria.

To eliminate the need for extensive foundations, the house is partially embedded in the site. Concrete wall planes project out from the entrance, around which the main bedroom, bathrooms and a caretaker’s suite are neatly compacted. The main living space is a long, low volume, flanked by four 9,000 litre water tanks. Animated by flashing specks of gold and black fish, the tanks form a sensuous, cooling pool at the heart of the dwelling.

The bedroom overlooks the length of the pool, lulling visitors into slumber. From here, the space flares and extends into the long living room enclosed by the glass tanks on one side and a garden on the other. Continuous horizontal slots are carved into both walls, but there is no glazing.

Instead, a system of pressed galvanised steel shutters can be adjusted to let in light and air, transforming the character of the space. Appropriated from agricultural buildings (another economy), the shutters are operated by a complex system of wire pulleys counterweighted with concrete balls like oversized Christmas baubles.

The balls were specially cast and their random vertical movements give the facades the feel of a giant abacus whirring manically out of control. ‘The weekenders enjoy the feeling of floating over a bed of lily petals while being weighed down by the baubles,’ says Matharoo. As well as its admirable economy, the house is underscored by a thoughtful environmental agenda.

Underneath a grassy knoll in the garden is a bio-gas plant (fuelled by cow dung) and storage for 50,000 litres of rain water. On the non-garden side, a rooftop terrace is accessible from a gentle slope that cradles and bunkers the house. Given such an unusual brief and an evidently adventurous client, it would be hard not to make something of this project, yet Matharoo’s House with Balls is a highly considered response to place and programme.

The jury was especially impressed by its invention and economy and, after some lively debate, declared it an emphatic winner.

Architect Matharoo Associates, Ahmedabad, India
Project team Gurjit Singh Matharoo, Hardik Pandit
Structural engineer Rajendra Singh Matharoo
Contractor Shriram Builders

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