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An artist's natural den in a concrete jungle

DNBAN24158 | 5/1/2010 | Author : Bhavathi H G | WC :1294 | Business & Economy

Plunging 10-feet below the ground level, stage actor C R Simha's home – Guhe – has nothing that is ordinary. Roofless puja room, seamless living spaces, amphitheater within the residential premise leave DNA property's Bhavathi H G more than awestruck

At 'Guhe', simplicity has been mixed with innovation to churn out a cozy and a truly environmentally-friendly home.
This den — as the name signifies – has been the abode of theatre artist C R Simha for 19 years now.
Nothing close to ordinary, this home has been featured by a UK-based TV channel as one of the 75 extreme homes in the world. Apart from having caught the attention of the international and domestic media, it has also been a subject of curiosity and learning for hordes of architects and students.
When Simha started building his home on a 50X80 (around 4000 sft) plot, gifted by the government in honour of his work as a stage actor, he had only two things on his mind.
The first was to build a home with an open air amphitheatre that would be a meeting ground for theatre artists and the second was to be as 'green conscious' as possible.
And from these two yearnings of Simha emerged the Guhe, a house which makes optimum use of natural light and air through most easily accessible materials. The building has used very few synthetic materials.
Today, it stands as an example of what endless possibilities can exist with just a little innovation even when odds are stacked against you.
Ironically, when Simha first saw the plot, his reaction was – "what am I going to do with this pit?"
Pit, it surely was — being 10 feet below the level of the street. His son Ritwik Simha reminisces; "Though, my father didn't see a very positive picture of what it (the plot) could be. He had one thing clear. He wanted to build an open air theatre and that's where it all started. Everything was built around it."
And it was K Jaisim that Simha found most suitable for the job to build his dream house. Describing his architect, the stage actor says; "Jaisim is one of the most unconventional architects who uses cost effective and nature friendly methods for his buildings."
"When we (Jaisim and him) first met, we knew he was the one to build the house. It was a competition of who could come up with the craziest idea. When we suggested we build an open-to-the-sky puja room inside the house, he was more than willing to take on the challenge. Anybody else would have freaked out."
Simha's home is unconventional personified. Every corner of Guhe residence beats convention with a vengeance.
Be it the huge allocation of space for the amphitheatre – built on 60% of the total plot area — or the depth at which the home is built – 10 feet below the level of road — or one living space flowing into the other with practically no partition between rooms except for the bedrooms and bathrooms.
Another striking feature about Guhe is use of natural materials. Jaisim has built very few concrete walls and used hollow brick for windows. The architect has used steel and cement very sparingly to make the house as environmentally friendly as possible. Even the furnitures around Simha's house are made of bamboo and cane, including cupboards and wardrobe.
Disposable scraps of wood from containers of industrial goods were used to build the doors. Simha says, "The wood used for the doors was brought from a dealer who was disposing off the wood at Bamboo Bazaar for just Rs 1,200."
The doors were put together and encased in an iron frame. No varnish whatsoever was used on the wood. Even the floor tiles and stone walls were left as it is. Ritwik says, "They haven't received any finishing touches. The stone isn't smoothened nor is the tile painted on. Apart from being cost effective it also adds to the natural effect."
A large part of Simha's house is hidden as it was built from bottom to top, the huge pit that was it was. Tall trees on the premise not only filter the polluted air but also block the blaring noise coming from the vehicles plying on the 100-feet ring road where the home is located. Guhe is also a lesson on how use of environmentally friendly material can keep buildings naturally air conditioned. Jaisim has done an amazing job on this.
He has used Hourdi clay hollow bricks along with stone for walls and roof with minimal use of energy intensive materials like steel and cement. The hollow tiles act as a natural medium that transfers the collected heat when the air is cold on the inside and bringing in air when it is hot outside and thus keeping the house cool naturally.
The tiles which are placed with the hollowed surface facing in and out make for windows all around the house. Another interesting space in the house is the puja room which opens to the sky with stone slabs and a mesh acting as roof.
"What do you do when it rains?"I ask. "The water flows in," is Simha's simple answer.
A little depression in the puja area keeps water from getting into the living room which is located within the same quarter. The water collects and seeps out through a drain. "This way the Gods are healthy too with the natural light and air," Simha jokes.
"It's a beautiful sight to watch the rain from here," adds Sharada Simha, the actor's wife, sitting in the living room open into the puja room.
Sharada opted for an open kitchen. She wanted it to be a vantage point from where she could afford a good view of the living room and rest of the house.
"I did not want it (kitchen) to be separated from the rest of the house so that I do not feel secluded when cooking in the kitchen," she says.
The roofless puja room helps her gauge the time of the day. "The shadows change according to the sun's position. You can tell the time from this. As the day progresses, the ambience of the room changes too," she says.
When the lower portion of the house was being built, the architect decided to balance the beams with a stone column in the middle. But a plane and forlorn stone column standing at the centre didn't appeal to the Simhas.
After several sessions of brainstorming between themselves, they came up with the idea of sculpting the stone column. "We pondered for a long time on the question of whom to sculpt and then we zeroed in on Charlie Chaplin, the actor without language or any barriers whatsoever, and an idol for generations of actors."
Simha roped in noted sculptor and architect, John Devraj, who worked tirelessly for four months to bring to life the 10-feet tall, 3-feet wide statue of the actor comedian from the stone column. Chaplin looks like he is taking shelter under the umbrella-shaped roof that gives the impression of spokes of a wheel.
The roof on the upper level is made of the same hollow bricks used on the walls with a fiberglass doom at the center to let in sunlight.
But it's the amphitheatre that is the highlighting feature or the soul of Simha's house. It's right outside the living room and gives a sense of seclusion due to the level at which is built.
At 10 feet below the street level, one can see or hear nothing of the road or its traffic. The Simhas have very intelligently cut off the street noise with tall trees surrounding the amphitheatre.
With a seating capacity of more than fifty, it has been witness to many rehearsals, poetry readings, musical evenings and family get-togethers. It was also the venue for junior Simha's marriage and several other such momentous occasions in the family, making it a den – Guhe of happiness and fond memories for the Simhas.

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