A House Inside a Gallery Amidst Nature
A house is more than a dwelling, it is a philosophical enquiry. The plan, in delineating the particular rooms in the house, maps the contours of human relationships, and the relationships to the world around. The Goswami house, with its inclusion of a gallery, with it's particular siting in an exquisite landscape, and with its situation as a second home away from the city, is a dialogue between nature and humanity that finds it's expression in art. The protagonist for nature, as it is so often found in Indian culture and society, is the tree, whose architectural potential is elucidated in the above poem by Tagore which serves as an eastern counter to western treatises of origins of architecture. The fundamental idea of the tree as a space for social gathering and hence culture, is abstracted to the creation of architecture. This moves beyond a purely formal description of the tree, which has consumed much of architectural production, and instead defines a political and social development from such origins.
The tree gives definition to the land, it interacts with forces of nature; light, wind, rain, to produce wondrous sensations of music, colour and scent. It is a place of shelter, to find underneath the tree's boughs; shade, dryness or safety. It is also in result of this, a place of human gathering, a social space. It is in essence, an architecture, of the most classical definition. It is through tree that Tagore speaks of the fundamental connection that resides between nature and man. It is a spiritual and cultural connection rather than a utilitarian or economic one. Humanity finds itself amidst nature, under the tree the art of peace is learned. The architectural potential of the tree to create shelter, beauty, and permanence allows for social interaction, dialogue, story telling, and art. It is in this way that the specific space of nature that is the tree becomes the archetype for all architecture. It is the idea of the tree as a place for human gathering, artistic expression, sensual experience, and sheltered dwelling that Tagore describes, which is contained within the architecture of the house.
Where does the tree manifest itself within the house Not as imitation, but in abstraction in the very idea of the house itself, and as reality, as trees within the courtyards of the house, framed by the galleries and walls and as much a part of the architecture as the concrete material of the structure.
The architectural form of the house evokes the primitive form of the tent. It's concrete roof and walls describe a tautness produced by draped fabric. The pitch of its roof is reminiscent of the great gathering tents of occasion. It stands proud and vertical in an otherwise organic landscape. It is a type of shelter that intrinsically emphasises the connection between man and nature due to its transient and precipitous being in face of natural elements. In the evolution of shelter; it is what comes between the shelter of the tree and constructed architecture. Volumetrically, in positive space it could be read as tent-like, it could also be seen describing the negative space, or cast volume, found underneath the boughs of a tree, with its hanging branches gently swooping to the the ground they grow further from the trunk.
The house is composed of nine rooms forming a square plan. The proportions of each room are roughly square yet have been gently adjusted to accentuate views and cater to their various functions. The four corner rooms and the central room are courtyards. The rooms adjacent to the two rear courtyards are the children's bedrooms while the room adjacent to the central courtyard looking towards the east is the main bedroom. The walls that partition the house between the bedrooms and living rooms have been "thickened" to contain the bathrooms and storage space each room requires. The living room, the front-most of the house, lies between three courtyards, two of which are entirely open through glass, and the central courtyard is partly visible through the dining area. The transparencies and adjacencies within the house bring nature directly into the rooms, creating larger spaces that contain juxtaposing, yet enriching qualities.
The gallery encircles the rooms of the house. It frames the courtyards thereby including the exterior within the gallery space. The gallery space in front of the rooms is an open verandah and an extension of the room. Defining these spaces are small steps the mediate the different levels of the house. The Gallery occupies the space between the exterior and interior. Just as it is the process of art that transforms nature into culture, the gallery resides at this intersection between the social space of the house and the exterior space of nature.
Leaving the everyday behind to venture to the house is in itself a process of distancing, removing oneself from the routine to seek rejuvenation, solace, different perspectives. The architecture of the house aids in this journey of estrangement through it's situation in the landscape. The house sits counter to the slope of the hill, forming a topography unique to itself. On entering, one proceeds up a thin stairway, leaving the ground behind, and steps over a threshold at the door. The primary room of the house, the piano nobile, thus floats over the landscape, creating both distance and privacy, and unrivaled views. The rooms step upwards towards the rear, but at a gentler rate than the site, forming a sunken terrace for the rear-most room that is both private and reflective in its disposition. The landscape is framed like pictures, achieving a detachment from the worldly surroundings, from the city, from life outside, from work, from the everyday problems and stresses.
In this distancing, perhaps the definitive factor of philosophising, the Goswami house can be a place of introspection, as the tree is often seen as a place of ascetic habitation. It also can be the opposite of this, a social space for gatherings of all kinds, a special retreat for a party. The rooms allow for this duality through their configuration of adjacencies and inclusion of courtyards. Just as the tree in Tagore's eyes, defines all life, the house also provides such a framework for domestic, social and artistic life.