“That year, the mango tree gave us more fruit than ever.” Two farmer brothers in the locality of Yavat, on the outskirts of Pune, India, are recalling the time they first moved into their newly designed home, which is pivoted around the tree. Realized by architecture studio Craft Narrative, the house plays on the clients’ aspiration to “become urban”(1) while maintaining the typological principles of regional courtyard houses. The 420-square-metre house sits in a fertile region amid pomegranate and sugarcane farms. “There was another tree — a neem — on the site that was eaten up by the termites, so we tried to preserve the mango,” says architect Yatindra Patil, who is pleased to see how it has begun to embrace not only the home’s courtyard but its terrace, too.
At no point — whether you are around the house or inside it — do you lose your connection with the landscape. Even before you climb the raised plinth of the porch, you get a glimpse of greenery through a square cutout positioned low to the ground on the screen wall. The generous semi-open porch mitigates the harshness of the dry sun and transitions you to the interior. At this moment of entry, another tree is framed through an elevated opening. Turning onto the hidden courtyard through carefully orchestrated volumes, you meet the mango tree that rises in the middle of this open-air space, along with the tulsi (basil) and parijat (night-blooming jasmine) planted by the owners. You are seized by the scent of these plants, which is pushed by the gentle breeze that flows through the house via the Venturi-effect windows.
These tapered, funnel-shaped openings bring scale to both the inside and the outside. Within the home, they become pockets to hold personal activities like yoga and reading, while on the outside, they break up the otherwise monolithic mass of the house, creating chambers to contain planted landscape. They also appear as playful forms that cast a poetry of shifting shadows on the all-white plaster exterior of the concrete and local-brick home. The elongated rectangular house works as an environmental and social organizer of space.
Diagrammatically, a loop of rooms is strung together by an internal veranda around the open-to-the-sky courtyard. This loop holds a series of spaces for each of the two families, which are visually connected and cross-ventilated through strategic openings to the farms on one side and the courtyard on the other, as well as two kitchens at diagonal corners.
The single-storey loop is punctuated by a double-height living area. This scheme — of the stretched rectangle interrupted by the soaring volume that flows seamlessly into the court and the veranda — helps create nondescript zones2 for public and private activities within the house. It also provides the two families with the distance they need while pulling them back together in the voluminous common living and courtyard spaces that they both enjoy. The architects thus maintain the anticipatory tension of familial separation and togetherness within the spatial strategy of the house.
As the house took shape, the owners began to imagine the possibilities for a terrace that would allow them to view their farmland. By foregoing an earlier design conceived with a sloping surface in favour of an accessible flat plane, the architects both enabled a potential future vertical expansion of the house and better attuned the roof climatically to the rain shadow region of the Deccan plateau. Leading up to the roof, the staircases are folded in perforated metal sheets to allow for the passage of breezes.
Similarly, the terrace railing is detailed with rhythmically spaced circular steel plates that can hold everyday teacups as well as the oil lamps used during the festival of Diwali — thus transforming this elevated outdoor space into a wondrous spot to ponder over the courtyard. Views of the sky and fields are framed through strategically crafted windows in the walls of the stairwell and the double-height living space volume.
A walk around the terrace soon begins to narrate the life of the farmer in his new home, situated next to his fields and the houses of his two cousins. “Where do you like to spend most of your time in the house?” I ask kaka, one of the home’s owners, who is in his fifties.
“I am mostly sitting outside on the porch,” he replies.
“Do you sit there alone?”
“Not really; someone or the other is always passing by.”
Is this not a timeless way of building, where one feels comfortable in the silence and slowness of space? As I continued to spend time in the house, noticing the moments created by the architects, I caught a glimpse of kaka from one of the home’s innermost recesses — he was sitting happily at the entry porch. The architects have not only made this house layered and porous, but they have also dissolved the boundaries between the inside and outside, as well as the farmer and his field.
1 The phrase “becoming urban” indicates the process in which one imagines and transitions into being urbanized. Contemporary urban studies scholars suggest rejecting the urban–rural dichotomy, since easy access to technology (along with other means of communication) has blurred the experience of country/village life. Therefore, a binary classification invites undesired notions of difference when representing subjects living in areas extending from the traditional city. “Becoming urban” implies that the “urban” is not opposed to the rural; rather, there are different kinds of urbanity. The family represented here lives in a hinterland of Pune but has instrumentalized architecture as a medium to belong to and embody the values of the city.
2 In South Asian and other tropical contexts, especially the courtyard house typology, some spaces do not follow fixed boundaries neatly defined as private rooms. Rather, parts of the house remain as open pavilions. These undefined spaces of transition serve as passive circulatory corridors and are the most active zones within the house, allowing for a range of everyday activities.
In Pune, India, Craft Narrative orchestrates a harmony of indoor and outdoor spaces to create a splendid urban–rural home for two farmer brothers and their families.