Written by Ankitha Gattupalli

Residential architecture in India is a direct reflection of the ethnic practices and lifestyles led by its diverse citizens. The earliest houses were developed as units of larger community-centric settlements. The architecture of Indian residences is deeply enmeshed with cultural values – usually centering on the ideas of family and community relationships. A single home often shelters a large joint family and meets the needs of various age groups under one roof. Multigenerational living demands a unique spatial syntax to foster connections.

The joint-family system offered protection and identity in Indian society, allowing for deeper connections among generations. The tradition offers support in times of crisis and social interaction between diverse sets of people. An antidote to rising house prices, and the cost of child and elderly care, multigenerational living remains relevant to the modern Indian. The living pattern manifests in the built environment as clustered settlements, add-on floors and rooms, and the fabled courtyard.

Courtyards are a fundamental entity of Indian architecture, evolving from the need for access to sunlight and ventilation indoors. The feature soon took on a social character as the heart of the home where activities would range from morning chores to evening relaxation. The courtyard enabled visual connectivity between rooms and floors of a house, allowing family members to feel connected throughout the day. It evolved into an important cultural space of the house and often served as an extension of public indoor spaces. Courtyards were also shared between neighboring units in cluster settlements. 

As a social space, the courtyard meets the needs of community-focused Indian society by offering a climatically comfortable place for people to gather. It is a flexible space that could be used for any activity. In the words of Indian architect B.V. Doshi, the Indian attitude of frugality is displayed in the built environment with versatile spaces such as the multi-use courtyard. They bring together the aspects that make up a home – protection from the climate, connection to culture and traditions, and the creation of communities. 

Urbanization in the built environment is tied to the changing family patterns in 21st-century India. The number of nuclear family units is on a mild rise, especially in cities. Towering apartments and single-family homes have cropped up to meet this new demand, leaving behind social elements of vernacular architecture. Defined rooms such as offices, foyers, and balconies are replacing the versatile courtyard in modern residences. Spatial constraints, developers’ attitude to the “seemingly dead space”, and the changing activities in Indian households continue to threaten the classic courtyard. Local architects, however, are promoting the typology as a tool to cultivate interconnectivity in increasingly private homes.

Contemporary architecture in India boasts a revival of traditional materials, techniques, and typologies. The courtyard as an architectural element is promoted not only as an element of nostalgia but as a magnetic space that unites people. Joint families require custom-designed homes to maintain strong familial bonds, rather than generic and repetitive apartments. These modern multi-generational homes explore new modes of domesticity:

Stacked House / Studio Lotus

Daylight, ventilation, interconnectedness, and privacy inform the design of this New Delhi residence. The house was formulated as two interconnected duplex apartments for an extended family of six – the client, his wife, and two children in one apartment, and his elderly parents in the second apartment. The design exercise began with the intent to create a strong visual connection between the different units while keeping the spaces airy and well-lit.

The building evolved into a series of vertically stacked volumes – two staggered duplexes around a central and rear courtyard. The courtyards facilitate a sense of connected living and allow light and ventilation deep into the lower floors of the tightly packed building. Multiple balconies and walkways connect the living spaces and articulate the internal courtyard. It is also flanked by verandahs that are outdoor extensions to life within the house and a place for different family units to be able to chat across from the space they occupy.

Never-Apart-ment / Spacefiction Studio

Designed for a tight-knit family in Hyderabad, Never-Apart-ment reinterprets traditional horizontal spatial arrangements into an interconnected vertical communeHousing three generations – with the space for a probable fourth in the near future – the building employs double-height courtyards as extensions of living spaces to keep the family connected. These lofty spaces are scattered in internal areas and along the perimeter of the house. The courtyards also reduce the scale of the building visually and open out to expansive views of the neighborhood.

Reflecting the needs of a modern household, the apartment provides privacy internally and from neighboring units by using metal louvers. The top floor currently holds recreational spaces that could later be used to construct an apartment for the next generation of the family. In addition to the courtyards that pierce through the building, staircases also serve as visually and spatially connecting spaces. 

House on 46 / Kumar La Noce

The residence located in the city of Bengaluru houses a father and his two adult sons, one of which is married. The design intended to negotiate aspects like domesticity, nature, and privacy to create an adaptable and dynamic layout. Set on a tight urban plot, the contemporary multigenerational house is comprised of four levels. Each level above ground features a covered balcony that allows for formal and informal social interactions. Ruby-red metal screens that make up the façade enclose these multifunctional balconies which act as an extension to the living zones.

An internal open-to-sky courtyard connects all the floors, sharing light and ventilation from a common source. This versatile space functions as an extension of the living space and expand the volume of the living space beyond its compact floor plan. It serves as a visual connection between the floors while allowing for climatic regulation of the entire house, ensuring a constant stream of fresh air, especially during the hot summers. 



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