Arranged in a linear plan Studio Mumbai’s Belavali House occupies the minimum space, leaving the landscape to dominate the site. Photography by Edmund Sumner
‘What is amazing here is that things grow so quickly,’ explains Studio Mumbai’s founder, Bijoy Jain. ‘But unfortunately, the client keeps pruning it.’ With a sense of quiet frustration, Jain describes the change in mindset that is needed when moving to a house in more remote, rural settings. ‘I am used to this environment so I understand how to live in it,’ he continues, ‘but it takes time to learn how to live in these landscapes. You have to walk with a heavy foot to get familiar with it, to get over the initial anxiety.’
People should also let nature set the scene, without inflicting too much cultivation on the landscape. This was Jain’s intention with this house, designed and built by Studio Mumbai to make the most of changing seasons and of the relationship between nature and the man-made. ‘From December to spring, the land in front of the house is a mustard field,’ Jain explains. ‘In the summer, against the brown, the yellow looks spectacular. Then in the monsoon, when everything goes vivid green, the place is transformed into a paddy field and the river beyond flows again until December. You can sit there beneath the waterfall.’
Conceived as a series of naturally ventilated breezeway-like pavilions, the house takes up as little land as possible. Arranged in a 5m-deep linear plan that runs along the eastern edge of the gently terraced plateaus, it is essentially single aspect. Pavilions are built up against a series of solid basalt stone retaining walls that crank to negotiate their place between the site’s mature mango trees.
There are three self-contained blocks. The largest in the centre contains the main house and forms the gateway to the site, with a stepped passageway cutting down and through the ground-floor accommodation. To the north, raised on higher ground behind the retaining wall is a family annex, and to the south on the plateau in front of the wall is a guest suite. In addition, a service courtyard is neatly carved into the hill behind the main block, containing kitchen and laundry spaces, and staff accommodation is tucked away at the south of the site.
Stretched out in this way, each room has a different relationship with the landscape. The kitchen is intimate, built into the rock and hunkering down out of sight. In contrast the first-floor master bedroom sits within the tree canopy, its balcony projecting out from under the shelter of the roof.
The most dramatic space, however, is the 5.5m-high dining room that occupies the northernmost end of the main block. Sheltering beneath the roof’s generous plywood soffit, it sets up a dynamic shift in plan as columns step off grid and full-height glazing slides away. A diagonal view is established across the stone terrace that contains a pool, over the paddy plateaus, and up to the more distant mountainous horizon. Framed by the sharp edge of the canopy, home and habitat coexist in this space and, during the monsoon, mist seeps in.
‘Most of the houses I do are built for the rain,’ says Jain. ‘The monsoon is stunning. There is no noise from the rain, but there is a certain sound; a sort of silence in the rains. There is something lyrical about it.’Studio Mumbai’s craftsmanship is evident throughout the house, achieving an unrivalled build quality. Everything you see was made by Jain’s team, from light switches to hinges, largely using brass and teak.
What steals the show, however, is the silky smooth concrete that forms the floor and walls in the living room, hand-polished to a dark green lustre that Jain likens to the tone of the shadows cast between the mango tree leaves. With a smooth 25mm radius at every 90º junction, the concrete forms a seamless surface, bringing a softness to the space that seems to absorb both light and sound.
Sitting here, on the client’s fine Kaare Klint ‘Faaborg’ chairs, the view compels your eye to jump from threshold to horizon, allowing you to appreciate how the transition between inside and out has been expertly choreographed. On the ground, polished concrete changes to locally sourced rough-cut basalt stone. As if it were the slab of a ruined property, the terrace looks as if it could easily have predated the new construction.
The randomly laid stone has an ancient quality about it, enhanced by the vegetation that has crept over the edge and sprung up between the mortar joints. However, as Jain implies, it is probable that the client will once again ask their staff to pull up the plants, preferring to keep things neat and tidy, which will be a loss.
As they learn to live in greater harmony with their surroundings, hopefully they will relax a little and allow nature to take hold. As the base on which their new home is founded, this terrace has the potential to mediate perfectly between the precision of the interiors and the power of the landscape beyond, and to fulfil Jain’s vision of having ‘landscape creeping into colonised space