Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Setting your sites right

Site conditions are an important part in the planning process. There are linear sites, continuous sites and irregular geometry sites. An architect has to look at factors applicable to particular needs, site conditions and its location.

WISHES, desires and dreams become a concrete reality only if there is perfect coordination of minds. Exclusive designer homes call for an analysis of different factors peculiar to them. Every house has a theme, a character attached to it, defined by many factors such as the user's needs, site conditions, location and climate.
The site conditions are an important factor in the planning process. They are defined by the shape of the site, orientation of the site, and the frontage, to name a few. The shape of the site can be classified into linear sites, continuous sites, irregular geometry sites and normal sites.
Continuous sites are continuous building areas as in Purasawalkam, George Town, Ayanavaram, and so on where the Corporation itself allows you to build houses without leaving setbacks. Areas of the economically weaker sections in Ayanavaram and artisan plots in Anna Nagar are also some examples. In such cases, allowing wind tunnels, creating one or more sun courts, letting direct sunlight into the house is suggested. Front facade opening into the street is vital, allowing for breeze and light to enter. They will have more openings and sliding wooden windows. The inner rooms shall not be of the conventional brick walls, and have enough openings to allow the wind to flow. It will be ideal if there are open areas providing for air flowing through the building.
Staircases could be used effectively to get sunlight and air, through natural air draft. Bigger rooms in the front and the rear could be a more efficient planning option.
In linear sites, the sites have a large length-to-breadth ratio. They are similar to the continuous sites but for the factor that setbacks could be provided. The other design parameters are similar.
In irregular sites, all sides are at varied angles. In such cases, the plan should follow the outline of the site, rather than a rectilinear form. But the internal areas will have odd-shaped rooms. Shelves, niches and wardrobes can give a clear shape to the rooms. Irregular pockets can be used for store room, service room, prayer room. In the first floor, irregularity can be controlled by means of `cantilevering' the building.
In all the above cases, we are looking at achieving well-lit spaces with ample greenery and good views. Courtyards could serve this purpose. In most cases, people just prefer the landscape near the front entry. We should rather be looking at fore courts, as courts have been more relevant in city planning. As a general trend, the master bedroom is on first floor, which does not have any contact with any form of greenery. The landscape on the ground level is only a visual delight, but one can never feel it and be close to it. Rather provision of part courts/terraces could be an option. Similarly, small sit-outs cannot be used for family get-togethers; a larger sit-out with plenty of landscaping is needed. Now to the different categories — a courtyard house, a split-level or a multi-level house, an organic or natural form house or a futuristic house.In courtyard houses, there is a central court that provides light and ventilation for all the rooms around it. Most of the activities happen around the central court. By multi-level or split-level houses, we mean a ground floor, a mezanine floor and a first floor arrangement where the mid-landing of the staircase leads you to a mezanine level and the top landing to the first floor. Organic or natural form houses have a free-flowing plan form, just as in nature.
(The author is chief architect, Murali Architects, Chennai)

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