‘The Pirouette House’, a brick residence in Trivandrum is inspired from British born Indian architect Laurie Baker’s masterpieces. Designed and constructed by Kerala-based firm Wallmakers, this single-family residence is created from bricks and local craft. It combines technology and local sensibilities to make structures that are pragmatic yet captivating.
A peek into the 196 sq. mt. residence reveals a multifaceted facade that whirls and drapes a two-storey house. Punctuated by three levels of concrete, the Pirouette House is aptly titled so. A symphony in brick and functionality, the residence is an endeavor towards Baker’s eminent practices, simple and true to context. The design is an adaptation of masonry strategies developed by Baker. Wallmakers blend Baker’s style with customised techniques and inventions. They undertake efforts, experimentation and intense labour training to achieve the end product. Wallmakers unveil a buoyant and lustrous design with fired bricks and geometric walls that is dynamic and awe-striking.
Nestled in the centre of a congested locale in Trivandrum, the patch of land was stifled by neighbouring buildings. The residence was devised with an “inward” layout. The spaces converged into a central courtyard with openings in the east-west direction for cross-ventilation. The house comprises the ‘rat-trap bond’ masonry technique where bricks are laid out in a vertical orientation creating a cavity within the wall. This method conceals the structural members and service ducts. “The rat-trap bond masonry is no different in terms of ease of construction in comparison to the commonly used masonry. It has fewer brick courses and cuts down the cost by around 30%” cites Vinu Daniel, the founder of Wallmakers. This construction method further allowed building slant walls to move left to right, uniting to support the ferrocement shell roof. The dancing walls reduced space deficiency and aimed towards creating larger volumes and a sense of intimacy.
The Pirouette House has promoted native techniques, application of local materials and waste and boosted the scope of available resources. The site lacked the feasibility of soil excavation and production of mud blocks. With the onset of wire-cut machine made bricks, Wallmakers acknowledged the dying industry of brick kilns in Trivandrum and supported this local agriculture-based industry on the verge of extinction. Vinu says “Our masons from Tamil Nadu, were already experts in working with mud blocks and adapted their techniques soon enough to work with the country fired bricks. Each course was placed with the help of guiding threads and course drawings.”
Demonstrating and defining the brick courses to the masons, the team of architects fabricated cavity walls that optimized thermal efficiency and reduced the number of blocks. The intelligent reuse of the scaffolding pipes and wooden planks added to the austerity. This building waste procured, was used for the central staircase and grillwork, and the planks were segmented as a part of the flooring in the common areas. Cane, another local material was used for interesting articles of furniture, along with being treated and encased around grillwork acting as partial subtle screens.
The undulating brickwork defines The Pirouette House, as an icon in Trivandrum. It is the fruit of a collaborative process of building between the team of architects and masons. This organic structure with flowing walls stands out from its neighbouring houses and is a commitment to the cause of sustainability. This house by Wallmakers has redefined homes in India, with its domestic and native materials, ground-breaking design and provision of a more contemporary approach for residential designs.
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