A series of outdoor rooms exploits the expansive, dynamic, natural landscape. Photography by Edmund Sumner
In this part of Alibaug, where farmers commonly sell off parcels of land to affluent city dwellers who can easily commute to Mumbai, a simple wire fence signals that a plot has been acquired. Next comes a water tower followed by a generator, as local power is difficult to negotiate with the authorities without bribes or backhanders. The sites are then ready for development, often featureless, with one or two trees at best as landscaping.
The climate is the most dynamic component of these vacant sites, as Samira Rathod, the architect of this recently completed house, explains. ‘For two months of the year, it rains. We then get three months of vivid green landscape, followed by seven months of a more muted brown. The change is nice.’ It is no surprise then that her client, photographer Ayesha Broacha, wanted to live outdoors to make the most of this expansive natural landscape.
‘The city is only an hour away, and it’s much easier to live here than to live in Mumbai and go through all that stress,’ says Rathod. Commutes within Mumbai often exceed an hour, but a boat from here takes you directly to the city’s famous Gateway of India. ‘The boats go every hour, and you can easily take a rickshaw from here to the harbour.’
Rathod designed the house as a series of outdoor rooms that exploit the region’s cooling breeze to reduce reliance on power-thirsty air conditioning. ‘Originally I had a slightly mad idea to use the camera as a conceptual starting point, with components distributed across the site,’ she says.
Eventually, however, as the budget got squeezed, the design became increasingly spare. With hindsight, this was the project’s saving grace and, as it stands, architect and client have succeeded in resolving the design with control and restraint, without losing any of the original ambition.
‘Now it’s a bit like a stage set,’ says Rathod, ‘where you sense that everything is going to move and shift and change. Nothing looks like it is here to stay, and the whole house is in limbo.’
Walking around, it feels more like an informal settlement or camp, centred around an external living area that sits beneath the generous cement board canopy. This open, sheltered space forms the heart of the house, welcoming guests and linking kitchen and dining spaces to the left with the bedrooms and studio above and to the right.
Free and animated, it’s less about formal composition, more about spatial freedom - which is the antithesis of life in Mumbai’s dense city centre. By contrast, this is a place of wellbeing and, as Rathod explains, ‘the house is more about how light and air come into the space, as I feel that spaces can define a person’s life, thinking and growth’.
The client will eventually farm the land when Rathod’s currently incomplete landscape plan is fulfilled. ‘When Ayesha first bought the site she met a couple of architects who said that it was a pathetic piece of land,’ says Rathod. ‘When I walked in, I said, “Wow, this is great!” I was the first one who liked it, which is perhaps why I got the job. We walked through it together in the monsoon, when it was green, and agreed to build the house near the trees, which now become part of the house. Eventually we will add a grove of frangipani trees, and tall grass to screen the fully glazed bathroom.’
Architect Samira Rathod Design Associates, Mumbai, India
Principal in charge Samira Rathod