Laal Kothi by MSS Design has been designed on a bucolic Goan hillside overlooking the Zuari river, framed by an idyllic arrangement of palm groves under which the enchanting site of a fishing community (with its wooden canoes, smoke billowing out of thatched roofs and tintinnabulations of the village temple), creates a mesmerising ambience. Featuring a vernacular material palette of laterite, black igneous rock and local teak with a red colour scheme inspired by the local soil, the design intent references the Sanskrit concept of ‘Swayambhu,’ where objects are regarded as divine by their virtue of being one with, or conceived by nature itself. Apart from the central mango tree around which the space was conceived, and landscaped gardens on the upper levels, the home also features its own organic farm with 130 different species of flora, is powered photovoltaic cells on the roof and even has its own well!
Architect Amit Sukhthankar was determined to ensure that every aspect of construction that took place did not disrupt the beautifully balanced energy of the locale in any way. “The very first ideas emerged when the visibly unhealthy looking mango tree located right in the middle of the plot had miraculously revived itself, as though finding a new purpose in life. This was certainly a good omen, which immediately brought the tree among central ideas for the house. It was surveyed in detail, its branches mapped to see that none of it had to be cropped to accommodate the structure,” he explained.
The spatial composition spans two levels, with living, dining and kitchen spaces on the upper level (accessible from the road) and private spaces located below. A retaining wall composed of exposed laterite has been expertly used to raise the spaces adjoining the living room, facilitating the presence of accessible landscaped gardens above. “The living and dining hall is proportioned on the lines of the traditional Goan ‘Sal,’ with a high wooden ceiling, exposed steel trusses and tall windows connecting with the view,” says Sukhthankar. Pocketed sliding doors (facilitated by thick, detailed walls) and glass partitions on the flanks aid a seamless indoor-outdoor experience. A wide verandah on the south side acts as a protective transition to the riverside view. It is lined with wooden columns and serves as vantage point for the gardens and the river beyond. The passage ceiling is punctured with skylights that create a beautiful sciagraphy on the floor as the light filters through the mango tree.
A charcoal painting by artist Harshada Kerkar in the lobby and living room, a large library unit that also serves as a partition, and three en-suite bedrooms and a study on the lower floor (each with abutting verandahs, courtyards and gardens) are other noteworthy elements.
When asked about the choice of material and colour palettes, the architect said “The material used was largely local. The laterite and black igneous rock excavated from the site was used for construction of walls and pavements respectively. The house itself was kept almost monochrome, with the use of red that was the colour of the soil itself. Coloured concrete flooring further unified the overall scheme into a one monolithic whole—as if the house itself had emerged from the ground. Local varieties of timber, such as shivan and teak, were utilised in false ceilings and other woodwork.”
“In India fascinating stories are told of manmade objects that get regarded as divine by their virtue of being one with nature. There are often called ‘Swayambhu’, meaning self-manifested. It is an interesting concept of correlating nature directly with its final product—man is almost only incidental. At its core is the sense of belonging to the context from where the object has emerged. Our design too was a conscious effort to respect this correlation so that architecture becomes truly meaningful and sacred,” concluded Sukhthankar.