The Lattice House: Celebrating Imagination

Lalit Gupta

Every city in every country has a soul, a character of its own. It’s true that the people, the city dwellers make the city into what it really is at heart, however one can’t deny the role that a place’s landscape (or in this case, cityscape) plays to formulate a vision of it in our head.
The old Jammu, commanding a vantage point overlooking Trikuta Hills and the River Tawi skirting it as a crescent, presents a picturesque spectacle of a hill city. Once enclosed by a wall and entered through gates, the old city’s architecture is said to have evolved through last few centuries. With its palaces, mandis, temples, ponds, a maze of meandering lanes surrounding mohallas, opening up into bazaars and joining dhakkis that delineated the terrain, the city of Jammu has a character marked by some beautiful houses of distinct versions of styles and looks.
Jammu city’s vernacular architecture exhibiting an array of from post-Mughal, Indo-Sikh, and colonial styles, saw the advent of new building designs and materials in the post-Independence period. The city’s new suburbs, like Ambphala, Rehari, Canal Road, with its new houses built by the elite emerged as models of materials and aesthetics.
A new chapter in modern urban planning opened up in 1950s-1960s with coming up of housing colony of Gandhi Nagar. Its sector-wise layout, a grid of crisscrossing broad roads and plots for row houses with public parks, allotted to mostly govt. servants and citizens according to their socio-economic station and status, led to the construction of houses which as per Govt. approved housing plans, exhibited a kind of uniformity in facades and setbacks.
In the later-day housing colonies like Shashtri Nagar and Trikuta Nagar, Jani Pur, Chhanni Himmat, Roop Nagar, the lack of strictness in following building norms, provided an opportunity for the middle class to give vent to individual fancies in design and material as a house also became as a key site for deploying to demarcate middle-class distinction as well as cultural capital. After the 1980s, in both urban and rural areas people have been investing in building and improving their houses by using new designs and materials and filling their interiors with new kinds of stuff from new places. It is commonplace to see new houses with pillared concrete verandas, mirrored windows and inside and outside walls and gates clad with multicolored tiles.
In reference to outstanding original and creative designs—apart from houses like that of Pandit Trilochan Dutt in Gandhi Nagar designed by well known architect Achyute Kanvinde who had come here to design Jammu Motel, and a few recently designed houses by Sanjay Tikku—the architectural designs and choice of materials in new houses in Jammu are by and large a replica or appropriation of building styles and fashions practiced in other major urban centers of the country.
In the background of the display of multiple aesthetics, and the Jammu city in a perpetual struggle to catch-up, it is the construction of a few recently constructed new private houses with novel approaches to design and materials that seem to bring a gush of fresh air in the otherwise dismal urban landscape of the winter capital.
One such recently newly constructed house, is ‘The lattice House’. Built on the immediate left of the entrance gate of the Tawi Vihar, Sidhra, the rapidly expanding suburb of the Jammu city, it has been designed by son of the soil, Sameep Padora, presently the founding principal of Mumbai-based architect studio Sameep Padora & Associates, ‘The lattice House’, stands out and catches the eyes of the passers-by as a sharp marker visible from distance mainly due to its bold design and material singularity in sharp contrast to its surroundings.
The house which has won ‘Wallpaper Design Awards 2016- For Best Private House’ for its bold and novel design, also finds a place in the latest book ‘50 modern Houses of India, the First Interactive Architectural Book published by Skyboard Books.
This stand-alone house constructed on an area of 5000 square foot, is a two-storey, four bedroom family home. Structured as a solid and grounded stack of simple cubic volumes that rise above the diverse surrounding structures, the distinguishing feature is the distinct way in which cubic volumes of the house are deconstructed.
Attracting everyone for its pleasant contrast, the characteristic feature of ‘The lattice House’, is that instead of solid walls that traditionally are the defining element of a home, it is entirely wrapped in a wooden screen of vertical timber battens.
The dense array of wooden battens, that engulf the house while giving the building’s exterior a solid and impenetrable feel, also fascinatingly impart a kind of airy lightness to the structure. It is this single pronounced wooden element amazingly not only lightens up the structure but also regulates the amount of sunlight that enters.
According to Sameep Padora, “the intention was to give the building’s exterior a solid and impenetrable feel, thus addressing security concerns relating to the house’s infrequent occupancy (being a second home)”. The firm geometries of the house, as the formal strategy attempt to visually organize and situate the context. The stacked configuration of offset boxes references the way other buildings in the area expand vertically over time as the occupying families grow, Says Padora.
Internally, the house is split into two levels–a ground floor used by the owner’s family and an upper storey with an identical plan that can be rented out. To accommodate the owner’s request for a layout suited to entertaining friends and family, the kitchen is flanked by a garden on one side and by an open-plan living and dining area on the other
Solid partitions have been avoided in the main living spaces to maintain a bright feel and continuous lines of sight between the various areas, while bedroom suites are located at the opposite end of the plan from the garden to maintain the interior’s openness. Rooms on the first floor open onto balconies screened by the timber cladding, which also conceals services and storage on the building’s roof.
The Lattice House is a successful example of addressing the need of private clients, like the owner Prateek Hak, who are approaching architects to design homes that are symbolic of social standing, wealth, and lifestyles.