Written: Salonee & Varsha | Edited: Sanjay Jain

The eyes of a passerby on the street are automatically drawn to buildings that stand out against the monotonous; to facades that make a statement. Strategies adopted while designing facades are a science in their own right. The impact that a high performing façade can have on reducing loads on the building interface cannot be stressed enough. They must consider solar radiation, ventilation and exposure to elements such as rain, dust and noise that are synonymous with urban areas.

In the tropical context of mid-Eastern India, a west facing façade is one exposed to the harsh evening sun, rendering simple solar shading devices such as chajjas less effective and prompting home owners to reach for the AC remote. One of our proposed residential projects in Hyderabad recently found itself in a similar bind.

The west facing building comprises of 5 floors that can be divided into two masses vertically. The South-West portion is a solid tower, with some of the main bedrooms of the house located along this façade. The North-West corner has a complete contrast, with landscaped terraces and courtyards that act as spill-outs for the bedrooms and common spaces. This allows the rigidity of the vertical mass to be broken, with large openings throughout.

The instinctive response to treat the South-West half would be to thermally insulate the walls and provide minimal openings which, while practical, defeat the appeal of a front façade. One way of tackling this creatively would be to design a cavity wall that acted as a buffer from the heat. A cavity wall essentially consists of an inner skin and an outer one, generally finished in masonry, separated by an air space. The air gap helps provide thermal insulation to the interiors. Punctures for windows add dynamism to a bulky exterior, with red brick cladding breathing life into the form.

The series of large terraces and balconies in the North-West block helps balance out the overall massing of the façade. However, continuous exposure to environmental factors can make such spaces less livable. Maintenance, privacy and security are a few legitimate concerns that sometimes dissuade users from the idea of a front-facing balcony in this climate altogether. Any design strategy followed here would impact the exterior and interior equally.

The approach considered here is to adjust the scale of the space to a larger, semi enclosed living area, permitting the use of insulating strategies while simultaneously leaving sufficient usable space for the family. Rather than a conventional jaali screen/ glazing, a gabion walls wraps around the 2 exposed sides, giving the space a character of semi-openness. A gabion wall is one that is made of rocks contained within a wire mesh. Due to it being a double height space, the mass of the rock-filled wall does not look bulky. Intermediate voids within the gabion wall allow dusk light to filter in and create an interesting interplay of solids & voids. Sliding folding shutters with diagonally placed wooden louvers allow the space to open up when ventilation is required, transforming the drawing room to a balcony with an enviable view.

The design intent is always to address challenges posed by climate and context with economical solutions, keeping in mind the visual impact of a building on its urban surroundings. At the heart of every such solution, though, lies the endeavor to create homes that provide the utmost comfort to the end-users.