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Villa Shodhan: Corbusier’s signature in concrete

Monday, 28 January 2013 - 5:18pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: dna

Nestled from public gaze, tucked within a landscaped compound stands Villa Shodhan – the last of the four concrete edifices in Ahmedabad, by French maestro Le Corbusier.

Nestled from public gaze, tucked within a landscaped compound stands Villa Shodhan – the last of the four concrete edifices in Ahmedabad, by French maestro Le Corbusier. Realised in 1956, the design was conceived five years prior to that and, ironically, for a different client and even on a different plot.

The design was originally commissioned in 1951, by the then secretary of the mill owners’ association, Surrottam Hutheesingh, a flamboyant bachelor and industrialist. The house design was eventually sold to Mr Shodhan, also an industrialist, a shy family man. What must have made it possible to adapt the same design to apparently contrasting personalities at different sites?

Perhaps some aspects of flexible design, combined with a lot of the client’s respect for the designer! As a freestanding object in space, it could conveniently realign, reorient and adapt to the new site configuration as well as landscape. Designed for the warmer climate and extroverted client, Villa Shodhan is a story of roof parasol. Living quarters of the house are sheltered under an umbrella-like free standing roof parasol. A fitting device for the hot-dry climate where shade is essential during daytime and the outdoor is pleasant in the evening. Terraces under the canopy of stars and overlooking the swimming pool have their roots in tales of Arabian nights and the flamboyant client profile.

Essentially a cube in concrete, the house is eloquently composed to kinetically balance the solids with voids – a dynamic sculpture, ever changing with the position of sun, through mutual shading. The nearly-plain facade of the relatively cool north-east is contrasted by the Brise soleil – an elaborately louvered sun screen of the south-west. Such modulation of south-west provides the much needed shade from the haze and the heat of the sun while keeping it transparent for the prevailing breeze as well as views outdoors.

Micro climate conditions are further enhanced by the landscape elements such as contoured lawn and swimming pool on the windward side. The house is entered through north-west with entry marked by a cut-out in a blank wall and pronounced by a cantilevered porch. This leads to an arrival space defined by the walls and a freestanding ramp. Transversely placed ramp forms a barrier arresting the views into more intimate living spaces of the house. The bottleneck created at the confluence of horizontal and vertical circulation, at the commencement of ramp, further marks the threshold to family and dining areas, which extend naturally into gardens. Once the threshold is crossed, the volume transforms vertically with floor cut-outs linking two floors, spatially as well as visually.

Typical of bungalows of colonial era, as fallout of the served and servant phase, the kitchen is housed outside in a detailed block of building along with servant quarters, storage and services.

The upper floor of the house contains the sleeping areas. They are accessed by ramp, a typical Corbusian device, offering smooth transition and gradual link. Sheltered by the roof parasol, intermediate floors extend into terraces of different volumes for activities spill over. It is this interplay of enclosed and semi-enclosed spaces, low and high volumes which provide for spatial variety, visual continuity and form complexity within a relatively simple cubical form of the container.

Spatial experience is enriched further by the graphically composed openings on two lateral walls, modulating light and framing views. Plastered, white painted walls of rooms above stand apart from structure and remain as an infill, honest to express the structural concrete elements such as columns, beams and concrete fins. In keeping with tenets of modernism the concrete surfaces are kept exposed, unplastered, offering a natural texture of the wooden formwork – baton brut – which it manifests well under the bright sun outdoors, while the ceiling indoors (also exposed) is relatively smooth with steel plate formwork.

Every inch a Corbusian, with the ramp, brise soleil, brut baton, Shodhan Villa is also proportioned in a very Corbusian modular scale. Completing the characterisation are the bright shades of Prussian blues, vermilions, yellows and oranges of the Corbusian palette. The dashes of these bright colours create cheerful contrast against a neutral backdrop of exposed concrete elements. Kota stone flooring with graphically laid bands of varying widths of stone slabs weaves the tapestry of stone. Juxtaposition of apparent opposites such as freestanding roof over a firmly anchored built mass on ground, sculpted voids in a cubical monolith, free forms of cut-outs in a geometrically profiled planes, lightness of slender column countered by the monochrome masses of wall planes, variation of volume within logic of structure, brightness of colours against the neutral concrete backdrop, and others render the Villa Shodhan timeless in its space perception. Ever fresh and contemporary even after half a century of its realisation, it is indeed poetry in space.

— pandyatin@hotmail.com

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