Atop Parsik Hill in Navi Mumbai’s Belapur, lies a multi-generational home.
Spread across 5,000 sq ft, 46 ft wide and 82 ft in depth, it stands in stark contrast to the overtly luxurious homes and 20-storied towers that congest the cynical city.
This green home, made of recycled material, exudes joy and warmth, much like the members from four generations of a family who reside there.
A collage of recycled windows and doors from demolition sites adorn the front. Structural columns of granite stone and solid wood that are a hundred years old, hold up the roof, of a pavilion atop the terrace.
A rainwater harvesting tank of 50,000 litres takes up the center of the ground floor. Its walls are wrapped with stones left behind from the excavation process. A load-bearing metal structure holds the three-storied home, which overlooks the hills.
The archaic and modern elements, though disconnected when viewed from a distance, form one big masterpiece. ‘Collage House’ as christened and built by renowned architects Pinkish Shah and Shilpa Gore-Shah, it has won several awards on the national and international levels.
This is the story of how it was built.
In an interview with The Better India, Pinkish Shah and Shilpa Gore-Shah, whose career spans two decades with a vast portfolio ranging from building schools to homes, give a glimpse into their labour of love. The couple have also works exhibited in Germany and the USA.
“The journey dates back to 2008. When the project came to us, there was no specific requirement to make it green or eco-friendly. But this was also a period when, as part of the architecture fraternity, we saw how homes were being made with mass-manufactured products that were being labelled ‘green’. Factory-made products were fast-replacing our traditional artisans and craftsmen. Though tagged sustainable on paper, the resultant spaces lacked soul or the warmth and joy that a home exudes. We decided to take the road less taken. For us, our biggest source of support was our client—who represented a big multigenerational family,” says Shilpa.
The inspiration for the home also came from how people in informal settlements like Dharavi used recycled materials to build their own houses.
“You always come across how the poor look up to the rich for inspiration. We wanted to flip that around and see how structures from informal settlements could give us lessons for a recyclable home,” Pinkish shares.
It took the couple almost a year to design the home and get it approved. What followed were several trips to different corners of the city. From the glass market in Dharavi to Chor Bazaar, from the scrapyards of Do Tanki in Mumbadevi to the crowded lanes in Crawford Market, the architects, as well as the owner of the home, scoured the city to source aesthetic and sturdy raw material.
“What worked for us was that despite being busy, the client would always make time to travel across Mumbai over the weekends. His large network helped us tap into different markets and find just the right dealers.”
Was it time-consuming?
You bet. One trip meant spending hours in godowns and yards of old shops. Sifting through abandoned and leftover material, they would negotiate for the best prices.
Whether it was metal offcuts for the pipe-wall or sheets of textured and coloured glass for the windows, the artisans and traditional craftsmen would always salvage these once they reached the site to the best of their abilities to fit the ambience of the home.
“One of the gems that we discovered during our excursions through the city was the Do Tanki yard. It was a life-saver. From an extensive collection of old doors and windows, to furniture from demolished sites, wooden rafters—they had it all,” Shilpa recalls.
She also adds how Burma teak rafters and purlins are used for the entire flooring of the bedrooms on the second floor.
Pinkish continues, “Similarly, three different shops in Dharavi were instrumental in procuring beautiful collections of old, textured glasses for the windows. It is breathtaking when sunlight refracts through the coloured glass and lights up the room. We struggled a bit while looking for old hinges, locks, and stoppers because new hardware just wouldn’t match the old windows. Until we met a dealer in Chor Bazaar. Though he did not have old handles or locks, he had old moulds that were once used to manufacture them. He agreed to make handles, locks, and hinges especially for the project.”
Much of the space on the ground floor is taken up by the rainwater harvesting tank, the service area, the parking space, and a vegetable garden where salad leaves, herbs, green tea are grown. The paved parking area for three cars is lined with a brick entrance and a drum of stacked glass. Built-in planters hold plants and creepers everywhere, allowing green to overtake the building.
The rest of the ground floor has a puja room, an entrance hallway, a guest room and quarters for their six staff members.
There is a living room, a dining room, kitchen, and one master bedroom for the family on the first floor.
What makes the home traditional is also a courtyard in the center of the living spaces. It is the common area where the family can spend time together and strengthen their bonds, much like the olden days when courtyards always buzzed with activity.
The second floor has three more spacious bedrooms, the designs of which balance history and modernity.
In one of these guest bedrooms, the lamps are made from papier mache with recycled newspapers and paper pulp along with a screen also sandwiched between two glasses in a door.
The terrace/rooftop uses seven 100-year-old structural columns in granite stone and solid wood, which were obtained from a dismantled home in Cochin, to hold up the roof to create a pavilion that enjoys fantastic views over the landscape of the city.
Made from lightweight steel and glass, the pavilion has solar panels on top.
Apart from the artistic floating staircases, the home also has an in-house elevator. Chain link mesh is used to decorate its enclosure and provide the illusion of open space.
It is inspired by old elevators in the historic buildings of Mumbai’s Fort area.
The washroom mirrors resemble the beauty of sheesh mahals where the three walls and the ceiling are clad in individually cut mirrors, often found in old palaces and forts. When lit by a single lamp, it creates multiple reflections and multiplies the light innumerable times.
One of the wardrobes is clad in 200 carved wooden and metal fabric printing blocks, which were sourced from an old textile printer who shut down his business. The innovative use of the hand-printed wooden blocks made the process special for Pinkish and Shilpa.
Since the windows are big, there is abundant natural light in every room. So during the day, there is absolutely no need for artificial lighting. Since it is located atop Parsik Hill, there’s always gusts of breeze, so you don’t need the fan either. The hot water requirements are met, thanks to the solar water heating system.
All the water collected on the roof is collected through the ‘pipe wall’.
Crafted using metal tubes/pipes sourced from the wholesale metal market in Kalamboli, they resemble structural bamboo columns and act as rainwater downtake pipes. They filter the water in four different tanks before collecting it in the large rainwater harvesting tank on the ground floor. The stone wall that wraps the 50,000-litre tank comes from the site and what was excavated during the foundation work.
Water from the tank is also used for the family pool. Before you think the water is wasted, Pinkish points out that the water is filtered and restored to the tank at equal intervals.
When I ask him if the cost of building such a home is high, he signs off, saying, “I wouldn’t say it is cheap, but it isn’t expensive either. The costing is very similar because the labour required for a project like this is substantial—but at least it goes to the multitude of serving artisans and craftsmen who build with their hands and skills. But the underlying principle is creating and living in homes that don’t add to the woes of mother earth whilst creating a beautiful place to live.”
If this story inspired you, get in touch with Pinkish and Shilpa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out more pictures
The floating staircase
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)