The House In A Hill

An Architectural Truce Between The Natural And The Superficial

You would be forgiven for never having seen a house quite like this one, mainly because it entails a long drive up into the mountainous landscape outside Mumbai and is built into the hillside of a UNESCO world heritage site. A Riparian is someone who dwells by a river, in this sense it is the perfect title for the project, as outside the large windows of the house an undulating river winds its way through the lush greenery.


In the midst of all this agriculture, architects Shefali and Robert have managed to build a home – not just an art piece or a homage to sustainable living, but a home. With views over the Irshalgad hill fortress to the east and perfect sunset viewing from the west side of the house, the grassy roof blends into the hill and partially obscures the house from view. In a sense the house offers a lifestyle of luxury, with a pool and a rare opportunity to live on a world heritage site, yet in another sense it is an unexampled of understated simplicity.


“The house is located in a tropical climate with very hot summers. It was very important to make sure the house was cool without having to rely too much on external energy sources. So we placed the house partly underground and under a roof covered by earth and grasses. We oriented it towards the west which has natural cool breeze from the river. Having courtyards to the rear of the house helps this wind to flow through and ventilate the spaces naturally. –Architecture BIRO”

Every detail of the house has a purpose as well as a pleasing visual, it is a constant dialogue between interior and exterior, the natural and the manmade. The the grass covered route, for example, serves to keep the house cool as well as helping blend the house into the environment and add to the element of magic that the structure exudes. It is almost akin to the hobbit houses Tolkien has familiarized us with, except with ample light and exotic materials such as bamboo and Indian limestone.


The Riparian House shows the possibility for connection, for conducting a modern life without residing in a concrete jungle and the scope for thoughtful change in previously untouched landscapes. We got the architects opinion on this humble river-side fortress.

The Plus: What was the brief you were given?
Architecture BRIO:
The brief evolved and changed multiple times during the design process. Different points of view, changing expectations and a more evolved understanding of how you could live in this kind of climate and landscape made us relook at the design several times. But besides the functional brief of number of bedrooms and living spaces the clients gave us a free hand in the design of the house.


TP: The house is surrounded by nature, how did you take this into consideration when designing the structure?
The site is a steeply sloped land on the edge of a perennial river. Besides the riparian landscape along the edge of the river there was no real landscape feature on the land itself. There is a flattened portion at the top on the land which became the starting point of the design. We decided to continue this landscape over the roof of the house to give the clients open flat area to use and entertain on. It was during the excavation of the house that large rocks came exposed and we decided to leave them exposed as seen in the courtyard of the kitchen. The remaining landscaping was done to complement the slope of the land and the existing landscape of the region. The landscape changes dramatically during the seasons from a lush verdant green in the monsoons to a dry pale brown shrubby landscape in the summer. The plantation of drought tolerant fountain grasses mitigates this transition to a dry landscape, while also relating to the riparian landscape that exists along the river.


TP: How does this project differ from other work by Architecture BRIO?
All our projects are very different. Our work is mostly in India but India itself is very diverse in terms of climate, people and landscapes. We work for private clients, institutions and self initiate projects for the urban poor and underprivileged. However there is a common underlying ethos to our work and that definitely derives itself from the context and the parameters that we have to work within. It is often the confrontation between the “man made” and “nature” that we look to find a juncture between. In this case the house becomes part of the mountain and the riparian landscape of the river.


TP: The house is logistically thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing, how do you find the balance between functionality and beauty?
This comes with having a very intensive and thorough process of design. At every stage the original ideas have to shine through and reconfirmed. However We feel a project becomes more layered and complex with every iteration and this adds to the beauty of the design.