Simplicity is the common thread and the most striking feature of projects designed by LIJO.RENY.architects, Trissur, Kerala. The firm’s projects highlight the famous quote by Leonardo da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.
Lijo Reny architects, in a short span of time, has successfully redefined simple yet functional architecture. The projects showcase an effortless composition, an orderliness with lyrical qualities. Started in the year 2005, the design studio’s passion for architecture is best experienced by the spaces they design.
“Architects are like surgeons. We have to understand the client’s needs and deliver above their expectation”, says Lijo. Based in Thrissur, Kerala, the works that come out from their small studio has been instrumental in influencing the way architecture is practiced and viewed in the state.
“Our approach to a project is totally based on understanding the client and their personalities which then reflects on the project. That’s why the architects are called consultants. When a client sharestheir genuine concerns and requirements, it gives us an insight into their lifestyle. Our design is a reflection of this information”, explains Lijo.
Buildotech presents two of Ljo.Reny’s projects which not only celebrate space, but also have spaces that are evocative at the same time and simple enough to reflect the power of architecture which transcends mundane notions and trivialities – the Walls & Vaults House and the Breathing Wall residence.
Walls and Vaults House
Appropriately named, the Walls and Vaults House, the restrained single storey residence of Biju was built for a family of six. Completed in September 2015, the 3190sqft. project sits on a location (Kanjirapally, Kerala) that experiences contrasting climatic situations with long heavy monsoons and scorching sun during the remaining months. The architects used this climatic situation to help develop the core design principles for this project. The built form of the house was tucked into the site’s natural terrain. This helped in reducing the visible scale of the house and minimizing its presence from the adjacent road that abuts the three sides of the house.
The architect duo believes in using natural and local materials available so as to reduce the carbon footprint of the project. “Sustainability these days has become an overused and underused concept. To attain ratings as a ‘Green Building’, we are supposed to use certain materials. What happens if that material is not available at a location near to your project? To get it from a far-off location does not amount to ‘sustainable practice’. What we believe is that, the moment we build with honesty, the moment you use the materials that are necessary for that particular project, it becomes sustainable, says Lijo who has strong opinion against using materials just for the sake of making the project look loud. Therefore, the architects have strategically chosen naturally and locally sourced materials and colours that include the stone wall, exposed concrete, natural stone flooring and teakwood along with lush tropical vegetation. This subdues the physical presence of the house and blends it with the surroundings very well.
The stone partitions not only enclose landscaped courtyards, but also act as thermal barriers and provide necessary privacy to the desired spaces resulting in a well-protected house with comfortable interior spaces that respond to the region’s contrasting climatic conditions
Spacing of ventilation and exterior openings were a crucial factor in designing this house as the client’s son had dust allergy. Therefore, the architects took care to provide ventilation through the courtyard. Courtyard being the connecting space, architects took care to plant lot of vegetation. These vegetations acted as a semi forest which filtered the breeze and brought in clean air in the living spaces. “Ventilation is not about lot of open spaces. Just as a thief, who looks for a way to get in as well as a way to get out, air too needs space to move in and out. We advise the clients to keep the passage for air open so that the science behind providing ventilation works”, explains the architect. The house is planned in a manner that no major opening is viewed from the road from the exterior perspective.
The layout comprises of two primary linear bays of vaulted rooms. They are separated by a landscaped courtyard that remains partially open to sky. A passageway runs throughout the entire length of the house and connects each area of the home. The exterior walls are built with locally sourced granite put together using a native masonry technique.
Breathing Wall Residence
Located in Nellikkunnu, Thrissur, the Breathing Wall Residence project called for converting a ‘dingy’ home in a narrow plot, into a three-storey unconventional home with its aesthetics in order. By ‘dingy’ the architects explain, “It was difficult to know if it was day or night or for that matter rain or sunshine while inside the home. Clients Johnson Thottan and Valsa Johnson craved for a new lease of life!” The plot of 169sqmt was narrow with an equally tight public road to the west, a private road on the north, a house that abuts the site on the south and the residence of the client’s brother at the back. The design of the house was developed as a prototype for narrow plots. While designing within the possible, 6 x 16mts, footprint for the building, it became very clear to the architects that a central ventilating volume was necessary to provide both natural light and ventilation. Therefore, a centrally positioned atrium was conceived to provide natural light and ventilation. The linear foot print was divided into two east-west bays of 3.3mts and 1.8mts each to which functional spaces were allocated in the possible logical order. The central volume thus achieved was assigned as a landscaped skylight atrium with a stair that connected the two blocks to the east and west.
“We do not try and put design ideas onto the client, instead, we get inspiration from them. In this process of give and take, we discover certain materials that work well for the project.”
However, as the north and south was open, it was necessary to find a solution for a ‘wall’ that is secure, robust, resistant to the harsh tropical weather and perforated to facilitate the much-needed ventilation. The ‘Breathing wall’, in Corten Steel, became an aesthetically pleasing solution to all the functional issues posed by the situation.
“We believe that if you have fascination for one material, then we tend to forget about other materials. Corten Steel was one such discovery which went well with the plan for Breathing Wall house. Corten Steel does not corrode, it is sturdy and in this tropical climate, it forms a protective layer which gives it an aesthetic upgrade”, Lijo explains about the journey of selecting material for the wall.
Lijo further explains about ventilation and the logic behind the courtyard design and how they have created a pattern of indoor vegetation for both the houses. “We do not prefer to make compact houses, instead we fragment it. Instead of a garden outside, we bring it in. This method increases the built-up area by 10 – 15%. But this method creates a vast difference in the temperature inside the house. We try and create silos which acts as passage for the movement of air.”
Photographs: Praveen Mohandas (PM),
Suneesh Suresh (SS)