LIJO.RENY.architects, the award winning design studio based in Thrissur, Kerala has been instrumental in influencing the way contemporary architecture is practiced in Kerala. ‘Artists by passion and architects by profession’ – that is how Lijo Jos and Reny Lijo, who run this small design studio, like to be acknowledged as. Their project ‘Running Wall Residence’ is the winner of IIA KC Award – Gold Leaf for Excellence in Architecture (2012) and All India Stone Architectural Awards in Landscape Category from CDOS (2012).
The brief from the client for their residence project on plot measuring 2183.09sqm in Kannur was simple and short – “a fort like house that one can’t scale”. Situated right in the middle of one of the rougher districts in Kerala they wanted a house that looked intimidating. In response, the architects designed a building form that was the combination of plastered walls and exposed laterite wall across the built-up area of 507.93sqm, comprising 345.63sqm at ground floor and 162.3sqm at first floor.
The exposed laterite stone wall starts from the compound wall and winds through the landscaped yard. More than as a wall or as an enclosure, it is like a flowing sculpture through the landscape (reminiscent of Andy Goldsworthy’s piece at the Storm king Sculpture Park). The monotony of the huge walls is broken by the various voids given at random on the laterite wall. The laterite stone was sourced from two different quarries for the two distinct colours that from a pattern throughout the wall .The vertical joints between the laterite stones were filled with a paste of white cement and powdered laterite stone, thus visibly accentuating the horizontal lines. The continuous horizontal lines give more fluidity/direction to the meandering wall.
The long driveway leads one to the sit out from where a sneak preview is given of hidden courts and landscaped spill-out areas. From here one steps onto a clear glass bridge, over a water body that flows out as a cascade below the main door into an internal pool. Consequently, as the main door is opened one continues to walk on the clear glass, with the visual of the cascade below the feet. From here one can choose to go to the living or the dining, both these rooms opening out into a huge landscaped, spill out area enclosed by the meandering exposed laterite wall. The dining has a long lap pool with a corridor leading one to the bedrooms. The kitchen also lies just beyond the dining. The kitchen too opens up into another landscaped yard at the back with a badminton court.
The three storey high internal court with banana plants, ferns and many tropical plants, has the stairs taking one into the home theater below and the study above. The corridor above has several circular skylights competing with the circular ceiling lights to light up the area. Most of the rooms have a play of levels on the ceiling, in the form of a combination of barrel vault and flat slab at the higher level with vents to expel the hot air. This combination has brought a marked difference in the room temperature compared to other regular forms.
Once commonly used in Kerala architecture, Laterite stone has a direct visual appeal and a connection to the immediate surroundings, because of the familiarity it imparts. The usage of this familiar stone in a new language, without losing its inane nature, immediately roots the design and at the same time, acknowledges the presence of change, bridging the huge gap that has come about in the various languages of architecture that prevail.