In our series, The Way We Live, featuring homes, people and the way private residences are created, we visit Cleft House. Designed by Anagram Architects this one-family building has a pool, courtyard and terrace garden. In the first part we see how the family of six uses the seven-floor building
Gujranwala town in north Delhi is a curious assortment of residences. Precariously-stacked matchbox-sized houses, unfinished ones still awaiting a coat of paint, and somewhat brawny ones with moldings competing for attention with the “designer” homes. As I navigate the narrow lanes of this colony next to the GT Karnal industrial belt, I avoid the house numbers and focus on the façades. Having seen pictures of Cleft House—as Anagram Architects calls their project—I’m certain that I will be able to recognise it.
Soon enough I spot a building which looks like a block of white marble with a crack in between. This 15-meter tall structure is home to Priya and Munit Kumar, their two boys, and parents.
The fortress-like exterior of the residence often deceives passersby. “People are curious about what is inside; they think it is suffocating, they ask us how do you breathe? What kind of light do you get?” says Priya. So, does it get any light? Absolutely. Is it well-ventilated? As ventilated as a house in the polluted national capital should be.
The clever guys at Anagram made this possible by building the family of six an inward-looking house. This residence doesn’t rely on a glass front or big windows to harness the light; it has a rather tall atrium doing that. Spanning four of the seven floors of the house and covered with toughened and laminated glass on top, this space, positioned right at the entrance, acts as a light well for all the rooms. It is sheltered from the street’s noise and unimpressive views by the monolithic façade and yet flush with natural light from the top.
This atrium is the both crown and heart of this house. From here you get a glimpse of the living quarters shared by the three generations; the first floor is home to the senior-most residents and is outfitted with a puja room; the second, occupied by Priya, Munit and their sons, also has a screening area; the third is for guests and has two bedrooms. The ground floor is where the family congregates, they ignore the main 12-seater dining table and eat their meals at the smaller one next to the kitchen and then plonk themselves in the adjacent lounge from where, thanks to the atrium, one has a view of everything happening in what is essentially a family building.
Stay a while and you might catch the pundit rushing up to the puja room, or the gardener making his way to the terrace to water the neat little garden up there, or the boys heading to the basement for a swim in the lap pool.
Yes, a lap pool! “When you’re making a house you realise that everybody likes water, but doesn’t have the luxury of large farm houses,” says Vaibhav Dimri, principal architect at Anagram Architects and the lead on this project. “From day one, Munit wanted a pool, and he specifically wanted a lap pool. So we have a 40-feet long pool in the basement which structurally makes for an ideal place.”
To make the space feel luxurious and less like a dingy basement, Dimri had to get in some natural light here. Once again, the atrium comes into play. As I entered the house, completely taken in with the scale of the central features, what I nor most guests realise is some of the floor beneath our feet is made of glass. And through that, the light that floods the atrium also seeps down below, brightening the underground-level of this structure.
Anyone on the outside, wondering how there’s light inside this building, if only you knew…
This is the first in the two-part series on the Cleft House. In the second story, Anagram Architects shares the design and architectural tricks of the family building.