Economic liberalisation in India facilitated a global investment of capital, rapidly transforming the built environment. Where preceding protectionism limited the enterprise of the private sector, the renewed market dynamics conversely re-engineered Indian cities in the late 1990s. Incidentally, in this milieu, regional areas and not cities were established as platforms for innovative design. Alibag, a coastal town across the harbour from Mumbai, emerged as a testbed for Mumbai’s architectural practices working outside the exhausted aesthetic reputation of the city and its limitation of type.
The House on a Stream project is Architecture Brio’s response to a weekend retreat in Alibag, set on a one-acre plot within a dramatic landscape, amid neglected agricultural land. An immediate periphery of dense foliage projects an ideal microclimate, with a seasonal stream meandering through the terrain.
Raw concrete finish contrasts with its natural context
Situating architecture within the landscape is a conventional hierarchical action, the interaction of figure–ground has a finite synchronicity for both constituents. The work of Architecture Brio eschews that binary in favour of tactical combinations of actions, events and scenarios – a dynamic that facilitates a relationship between land and architecture.
At first blush, the house appears anchored in the landscape, concealing an encounter with the undulating ground plane. It is, more precisely, a negotiation with the site’s animated topography. Inherent traits of Architecture Brio’s practice are ‘comprehensive assemblages’ and ‘connective infrastructures’, where each system is rigid in its operation, but transferable by virtue of its articulation.
Large glazed areas provide a sense of connection with the site
The house has two wings: living areas and a master suite, loosely connected by a walkway and bridge. The building footprint stretches the habitable envelope of the house, engaging a sectional experience of distinct site qualities. The act of entry is unfolding: a linear sequence from the site boundary, car park, the passage through the architectural framework of the pergola, glancing past the master pavilion, to the pool and, eventually, the entrance.
The glazed sliding door emerging between the dining room and kitchen infers a less resolved finish, a somewhat frail conclusion to a refined progression. Once indoors, however, the ambition becomes apparent: the kitchen operates as a fulcrum, pivoting the dining and living areas, with horizontal viewports in every direction and a central skylight. The vitality of offsetting spaces and a level change creates a curious tension of continuous perspectival adjustments, re-augmenting the axis along a perpendicular plane.
The volume rises to elevate views
Openings are either deep-set apertures or expansive shaded verandas. The significant attention to the context intensifies dormant possibilities that may have gone previously unnoticed. The small openings are emphatic assertions, distilling moments of curiosity, while broad decks enable users to enjoy the landscape. There is a semblance of symmetry, generated by the subtleties of modulated light and robust materiality. The architecture reacts to the stream with an interface. Focal points come into view across either edge, with steps descending to the stream, capturing its essential character and intensifying connections.
The access to the guest and master suites not only establishes a polemical interaction with the surroundings, but also sets up a moment of whimsy, a routine of stepping outside the house to enter the bedrooms. The master and guest suites provide westerly views, flooding the space with natural light. With the master bathroom the roof slips open, revealing an open-to-sky shower court – a recurring feature of country homes in the Indian subcontinent. Overall, the project is strikingly brusque, making ideological links with representation and occupation, expressing a deliberate divergence.
Exploded axonometric – stream meanders through the house
Contemporary Indian architecture is a response to prototyping culture, internalising diverse principles, while expressing temporary dispositions. Glib generalisations limit the scope for a self-reflexive architecture that expands the terrain of practice. In a context where cultural transformation is more rapid than the architectural process, Robert Verrijt hints at ‘a practice, which is not to refer to a status quo, but arriving at a neutrality where cultural change is anticipated’.
Through reconstitution, the house identifies a pattern of the everyday and rearranges its fabric.While the moves are subtle, its effect can be abrupt, taking a contrarian position to the architecture of the city. Unlike recentiterations of pastiche regionalism, House on a Stream maintains a heterogeneity and wittingly contests conservatism.