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A home in New Delhi that makes a solid case for courtyards in city life

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On the outside it’s a windowless monolith but within, Anagram Architects has created a bright and airy home with a courtyard—perfect for a joint family in an urban setting

How to live in a house that is open to the elements in New Delhi

The Anagram Architects office calls it the Cleft House—a name it earned from its indented shape which is the result of varied floor plans across four levels—but I would much rather call it The Introvert. It’s not the three levels of security our team had to clear to gain access to this residence in north Delhi, but its windowless façade that makes it seem like a brooding, introverted character. “In a typical house in Delhi you have large windows in the front or balconies, but [this plot] didn’t have a good view, and there’s too much noise and dust. Also, the client was very particular about his privacy,” explains Vaibhav Dimri, principal architect at Anagram and the one heading this project.

With all the natural elements blocked out from the front, Dimri created a courtyard at the heart of the house to ensure light and air circulation. “The courtyard typology works really well here not just because there is no view, but also with the climate. A typical courtyard house reduces the number of surfaces where the heat gain can happen. But we tweaked it a little and created an urban conditioned space. We covered this courtyard on top and made it rain sheltered; the wind can flow through, since the structure is open from the front and back. A large evaporative cooler throws in conditioned cool air, but doesn't consume a lot of energy.” With four levels stacked on top of it, this really looks like a contemporary interpretation of a courtyard. Guests love it, says Priya Kumar, the lady of the house. They think “it looks like a hotel, since there is a glass lift and balconies.” Having said that, the swirling staircase is a dramatic architectural component that immediately catches your eye when you enter this home.

Standing on the ground floor, looking up at this rather tall courtyard, one can see why the architects named this project Cleft House. The two floors in the middle jut out into the courtyard, creating the impression of a dent. These floors—the first and the second—house the private living quarters of the Kumar family. And to maximise the square footage available here for the bedrooms and lounges, they were made to extend out into the courtyard.

cleft house exterior

The exterior of the Cleft House—finished in white and black Indian marble—has a gap in the middle, to which it owes its name.

Then there is the metaphorical implication of the project name. “In an urban scheme of row houses, this actually makes a dent,” says Dimri. Priya’s husband Munit was very clear about what he wanted as his joint family home; the brief was “build something I have not seen before”. Did the architect deliver, I ask Munit? “People are amazed to see this house, they want to see it again and again.” That is a ‘yes’ then. 

This is the second in the two-part series on the Cleft House. In the first part we see how the family of six uses the seven-floor building.

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