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Size: 2700 ft2 Single Family Residence (2 Bedroom 3.5 Bath) _ 20 Acre site


Construction Type: Reinforced Concrete Frame with Insulated Brick Infill walls


Environmental Technology: Soil Erosion Control, Passive Light/Ventilation/Cooling, Passive Solar Heating/Water Heating, Grey Water Separation, Solar Photovoltaic Electricity System.


Structural Engineer: Mr. B.V. Aggarval


Contractor: Mr. Sukhdayal Singh

The Silhouette House is located within an Orange and Mango orchard. The topography of the orchard falls from the highest point, where the house is located, to a rivulet running along the north-west perimeter in a series of stepped platforms. Running along the horizon along the North to the East are the foothills and then the blue grey Shivalik range of the Himalaya mountains.


The tiered silhouette of the hills and the terraced farms are the point of departure for the design of the house which creates a primacy for enjoying the views along the North and maximizing the qualities of ambient Northern light within the house.


In plan, the house is a wide chevron with the elongated axis oriented East to West. The two wings of the chevron are the living areas in the East and the Entertaining area in the West. The living area further splits into two strands (the bedrooms in one strand and a family room in the other) so that the overall plan of the structure forms a rough ‘Y’ shape. Except for a library on the second level, all the rooms are on the ground level. The chevron shape allows for the house to restrict direct solar gain during the summer months to a limited time around sunrise and sunset when the rays falling into the rooms are not as intense as the midday sun. The angles of the chevron are a direct result of the solar vectors (latitude, longitude, and azimuth points for the early and late summer hours).


The house is approached from the West, where the house swells to a height of 20’ gradually falling to 10’ at the opposite end. This section allows for the late afternoon sun to be reflected away from the roof more easily, creating a more dramatic spatial configuration for the entertainment areas and the elevation change works in conjunction with the prevailing breeze to force ventilate the interiors.


A 90’ long clearstory skylight runs along the southern edge of the house bathing the ’rear’ walls with indirect light. There are no windows along this edge (except for small ventilation ducts for the kitchen and bathrooms). Every room in the house is lit from above with reflected Northern light creating a smooth, neutral and soft shadowed environment within. During the daylight hours, the progression of the sun has a dramatic effect on the spatial quality of the house; creating a intertwined bond between the occupants and the exterior conditions. The living areas of the house (located on the East) have direct access to low angle Eastern sunlight emitting at dawn and then moving away in the late morning.


The overall formal composition of the house emerged by plotting the progression of the sun at key timeframes during the extreme summer and winter peaks. This solar trajectory was translated into vectors that determined a three dimensional form and subsequently the size/location of openings, based on reducing summer heat gain and retaining winter solar heat. This formal matrix was then correlated with the programmatic requirements of the living and entertaining areas vis-à-vis access, view, privacy and circulation and forced ventilation.


The configuration of the house, both in plan and section, also takes advantage of the prevailing breeze that blows East to West. The two strands along the living area of the house in the East act as a funnel to capture the breeze which then moves through the length of the structure and exits from the top of the clearstory skylight at the opposite (Western) end. Along this path, the exterior section of the house rises up causing the air outside to compress and move faster ostensibly creating a vacuum that actively sucks air from the interior of the house. The entry funnel of the house has a wet sculpted fountain that mists the air upon entry creating an effective desert cooler during the hot dry summer. Manipulating various internal partitions allows for select parts of the house to be naturally ventilated while others might be conditioned by the HVAC system.


The house construction system employs double cavity walls packed with rigid insulation and an insulated green roof. The support frame and roof spans are constructed in reinforced concrete resting on a spread footing foundation. This systems helps in maintaining the indoor climate at a comfortable level without the aid of any mechanical or electrical system. The green roof in particular acts to moderate the effects of the intense midday summer sun. The roof forms a part of the landscape that begins at a sunken garden and terminates at the Western apex; mimicking the silhouette of the distant mountains.


Although the house is approximately 2800 ft2 and it blends into the terraces of the orchard, it has a dramatic presence on the immediate gardens that face it and seems much more imposing than it is.


The interior finishes are predominantly white plaster walls and a black terrazzo with ‘zero-zero’ recycled marble dust particles. The bathrooms and some interior trim are clad in a local rough cut ‘Kota’ stone which has a lustrous deep green-grey finish. The windows are either glazed with double paned 8mm glass or in polycarbonate panels depending of the desired translucency.


The exterior of the house steps from a partially shaded porch into a progression of gardens that terrace towards the rivulet along the north. Along the living area is a swimming pool with an infinity edge opening up towards the drop-off along the North offering amazing views of the mountains.


While the house design is a direct result of passive energy systems applicable at that unique location, the building systems incorporate active power generation and sewage treatment systems to augment the performance of the house. Born out of necessity, the site faces severe power cuts lasting up to 10 hours per day, The project employs a solar fluid heating system for water and winter space heating. There is a solar photovoltaic power grid attached to an AC/DC inverter and a lead free battery bank for powering lights, security system and other essential electrical loads. The water, pumped from an onsite tube well and stored in an overhead tank, passes through a grey water and black water sewage system. The greywater is naturally treated and then allowed to percolate into the soil; recharging the ground water. The solid sewage is dried via a succession of ‘leech pits’ and then compacted into an underground storage bin.


The overall concept of the Silhouette house design process was to create a method for the self-determination of the form based on the existing parameters of the site matched to the programmatic requirements of the client. This procedure of self-determination was facilitated with a great degree of precision using exact site measurements and three dimensional computer modeling. The project thus evolved without, or in spite of, the stylistic prejudice of the design team.

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