Two States. Two Architects. One Mantra - an insight by Ar Sonali Aggarwal

Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out how a philosophy, borne out of the life learnings of an Architect, influences his or her creations? How those philosophies give rise to a common Mantra pervading all their designs… And what happens when two Architects, in two different regions of India, share a common Mantra? Does the context of a place, its people and its environment have any role to play in their designs? In a quest to find answers to the above, this article explores the self-designed homes of two Architects having One Mantra, that of - Responsiveness. Sustainability. Innovations. Individuality.

3152, an Architect’s house, Chandigarh

“I believe that an Architect’s creation becomes worthwhile if it is responsive to its inhabitants, its environment and to its context.”- Designed by Architect Sonali Aggarwal, her residence is an attempt at echoing the courageous spirit of modern Chandigarh. 

Eyeing the sky- a skylight in the gazebo

A tapered wall in exposed RCC takes the house forward like a ship-mast.
A stud-n-groove pattern.

Chandigarh is infamous for its stringent bye-laws and accused of being a real ‘kill-joy’ to creativity. 3152, however, takes up the challenge in its stride, breaks away from a predictable straight-line mould and experiments with blocks moving back and forth, straight and angled, responding to the sun angle and the adjoining exterior spaces. A bold play of volumes in exposed concrete balanced by the earthy brickwork at ground floor level announces the Chandigarh vocabulary at the very onset

Tradition meets modernity

A double height family lounge, adjunct with an open-to- sky courtyard, occupies the heart of this abode, in accordance with the dictates of Vastushastra. Planned to be the lung of the house, it serves as an informal get- together space for close friends and family, reminiscent of the essential central courtyard of a traditional Indian house.

Courtyard wall mural- carved out of left-over bark of sleeper wood

The ‘Wabi-Sabi’ way

Kota stone flooring seemed to set best in the prevailing theme of the rustic, the raw and the unfinished. The earthy, easy to source, economical and humble material was chosen for larger part of the flooring inside the house. Hardy, durable and versatile, once dressed in mirror or diamond polish, all it takes for its maintenance is the daily mop. The beauty of Kota stone flooring is that every next piece of a lot comes with some natural variation in color or grain. If left unsorted, a unique pattern emerges naturally, every time. This is a recognized form of art in traditional Japanese aesthetics- 'Wabi-sabi'— a world view centered on the acceptance of the imperfections.

The ‘Wabi-Sabi’ way of flooring

Up-cycling is the new mantra

As soon as a decision to use recyclable materials was taken, a treasure trove of ingenious ideas opened up and the house stands today, a living testimony of the same.

Railway sleeper wood used as railings, ducts cladding, false ceilings and wall compositions in the exterior.
Exposed RCC ceiling with shuttering pattern intact and cornices out of discarded railway sleeper wood adorn the drawing room

A lift structure in exposed concrete at the core of the house, arrests and guides one's attention to the ceilings, left unfinished with shuttering plate marks still intact. Raw, uneven wooden planks running along the ceiling edges as cornices, tell stories behind the up-cycling of abandoned railway wood used throughout the house. Use of Aluminium metal for entire doors & window joinery, as against conventional teakwood, promotes sustainability, while also ensuring ease of maintenance through the use of a termite and seepage proof material.

Waste to wonders

One cannot talk of Chandigarh without acknowledging Nek Chand of the ‘Rock garden’ fame. Saluting his contribution to the City are beautiful impromptu mosaics created by the daughter of the house, Ananya, out of multi-colored ceramic tiles lying waste. Just as in her sketchbook and art corner, she weaves magic- lining window sills, adorning manhole covers, enhancing built-in planters, wrapping ’chajjas’ etc.

Planters finished in broken tile mosaic with colored accents around weep holes

The light-well roof slab in broken tile mosaic serves as an interesting table-spread for garden parties.
An existing unfinished exposed brick wall retained as such.

Neighbours envy, owners pride- the sustainability factor

Large windows fitted with insulated glass, let in natural light& green views through the day, while keeping out extremes of heat, cold and noise from adjoining major roads at bay. A three kilowatt solar electricity plant, with net metering system, further helps in reduction of the monthly electricity bill. A terrace garden with natural grass keeps friends of the family a happy lot, while providing ample natural insulation to the rooms below. Care for the environment is reflected in the choice of finishes for the exteriors too. Panels of grit or ‘dana’ interspersed by ‘wobble- cobble’ of the modest Cuddapah stone, constitute the driveway- that which does not require copious amount of water to maintain.  Fallen leaves and scented flowers from the vines trailing the common boundary wall, add a whiff of delight beyond description. 

‘Anugraha’ –The dancing bricks house, Indore

Architecture must give expression to the life for which it is intended. Not only must it fully and competently satisfy the requirements of the program, but its form should resonate with the diverse spaces and activities it contains.”- Architect Shruti. C. Purohit embodies the above ideology in all her works. ‘Anugraha’, her four-storied residence- cum- office, is sheer lyrics in a space that transcends its current purpose and goes much beyond. It is a befitting portrayal of her personality, one of simplicity and elegance, which manifests itself in simple clean lines, in the respectful use of materials, in a way that makes it timeless in its appeal.

Parametric block work at East facade

Of natural light and ventilation

The Architect displays the importance she attaches to nature in the way vertical zoning has been adopted for the plot. The outer envelope has been moulded in a way that the house is sheltered from the extremities of heat & winds whole year around. Longer faces of the plot facing east and west display judicious zoning and placement of openings. Larger openings on the east facade have been provided with deep overhangs at different levels. One such overhang forms a volumetric porch with double height in front of the office space. The south facade comprises of deep recessed windows and framed projections to shade off the summer sun, while welcoming the winter one. Wooden louvers and AAC parametric block work help in screening direct solar radiation from the west, while allowing natural ventilation in the summers.

Architect's office set in a green environment.

Of materials and innovations

Identification and adoption of materials that while serving their basic function efficiently, also add a distinctive and unique character to the house, is truly a master strategy. Truly innovative among these are the parametrically designed sunscreens using AAC blocks, which not only cater to the thermal, daylight and air- flow regulation, but also provide visual screening and thereby privacy in a residence. The blocks have been  cut into conventional brick sizes, drilled to be inserted in S.S. cables and used instead of procuring any  material from far-off. While aiding in dead-load reduction, especially in double- height features, the screens add to visual delight both to the exteriors and interiors.

Parametric block work outside glass elevator.

The interior-exterior dialogue

As one enters and ascends the stairs towards the residence, it is an experience made magical by the dance of natural light filtering in through the terracotta-colored screens. The spaces inside the building experience gentle flushes of natural light and ventilation throughout the day, conserving a considerable quantum of energy per year while the diurnal solar motion results in a magical dance of the shadows.

Natural light flooding the open-plan interiors of Anugraha.

Extensive use of exposed concrete and Kota stone in various forms, colors and textures, displays both boldness and a reverence for materials to be used truthfully.

Kota stone flooring and jute cloth on false ceiling lend organic feel to the office interior.

Of ethnic Indian seating & hanging metal diyas..

Learning from and adopting the time-tested practices of Central Indian architecture, display maturity and intelligence in the thinking of Architect Shruti Purohit. On the outside, ‘Anugraha’ stands tall and proud, a perfect balance between the boldness of exposed grey colored concrete & the elegance lent by twisting, rising strings of warm terracotta colored blocks.

Ar Shruti C Purohit, Founder Director - Nine Squares Architects Pvt. Ltd., Indore

Shruti C Purohit is a seasoned Architect, Urban planner and Interior designer of acclaim. She completed her education from MANIT, Bhopal and a Masters program from the School of Planning & Architecture, New Delhi.


It is interesting to observe how One mantra led to One guiding design principle led to One primary material palette even across the states.

  • Guiding Design Principal 

Responsiveness to the context. A contemporary take, built on the foundations of Indian traditional practices. Of sustainability measures and resultant innovations. Remaining true to the essence of materials. Of natural light and ventilation. The interior-exterior dialogue. Low maintenance materials and details. Of textures, both visual and tactile. Wealth out of waste.

  • Primary material palette

Raw exposed concrete. Warm  brick finish. Up-cycled wood. Earthy Kota stone. Economical mild steel. Textured grit or dana. Organic jute and weaves.

Influenced by the contexts of the place and its inhabitants however, the designs get moulded differently under the experienced hands of the two Architects. A common material palette acquires different flavors, reflecting their individualities. The interiors get peppered with different accents, reflecting one's personal choices.

Indeed, Every Architect is a storyteller and every story is different.

About the Author

Ar Sonali Agarwal, Partner, Space & Vision, Chandigarh

Sonali Aggarwal is an Architect, Planner. Having graduated from Chandigarh College of Architecture in the year 1992, she proceeded to acquire a Masters degree from the School of Planning & Architecture, New Delhi in the field of Housing. She has an experience of  over twenty-five years of practice, especially in institutional architecture.

Also Read: The Pinnacle House is made of dreams

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