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This eco-friendly Haryana home is ornamented with shadow and sunlight

Sachin Rastogi of Zero Energy Design Lab talks about creating an eco-friendly home on a plot of barren land, and how simple, passive design can make a significant difference towards sustainability

In a small township outside Karnal, Haryana, a palatial home for a joint family has created its own mini ecosystem. Designed by sustainability-focused firm Zero Energy Design (ZED) Lab, House Under Shadows was an experiment in reclaiming the earth in a manner that was eco-friendly, unobtrusive, and even beneficial to the natural flora and fauna of the area. “I still remember, when we first scouted the site, we weren’t able to stand there for even five minutes, we were so desperate for shade,” says Sachin Rastogi, one of the lead architects on the project. “The first thing that came to my mind was [that] we needed to create shade to create liveable conditions—and that’s where we got the idea of creating this canopy.”
The property is divided into two separate homes for brothers, each designed to be a mirror-replica of the other. Each home offers the privacy of a discrete structure, while still connected to the other through the shared entrance and double-height canopy.
The two wings are kept visually coherent via standard wood ceilings, crafted out of a locally sourced, rapidly renewable wood species, and entrances clad in a dark, leather-textured Gwalior mint stone. “It is a mix of choosing principles from the past, and expressing them in a modern way,” explains Rastogi, “[As well as] choosing materials and re-expressing them in a modern Indian vernacular.”
The canopy—which is crafted in digitally modelled, fibre-reinforced polymer set on an MS (mild steel) framework—is meant to replicate the experience of being in a rainforest, where filtered sunlight dapples through leaves. “We wanted to keep the roof as a very organic element,” says Rastogi, “so it doesn’t take away from the natural elements with which the house is built.” The canopy also serves the function of making all outdoor areas—including the swimming pool—accessible at all times, including during the harsher summer months. “Throughout the day, the shadow patterns keep changing and the same spaces have a different experiential quality,” he adds, “During the night, the dark colour blurs with the night sky.”
Inside, the wooden roof decreases the impact of sunlight during the day. Nine-inch-thick stone-clad walls, double-glazed windows and a careful arrangement of entrances and windows have helped reduce the thermal mass of the house, and enhanced the cooling efficiency by 20%. The clients themselves planted a variety of trees around the house, carefully placed so that they provide shade and fragrance. “I have recently realized that a lot of birds come and sit on the canopy, and it really enriches the environment,” Rastogi says, “I see more and more nature coming into the house, which is a pretty interesting result of our design.”


The entrance is a palatial space that connects the two wings of the house. Clad in cooling Gwalior mint stone, the entrance sees a diffused interplay of light and shadow, which makes it accessible throughout the day. The entrance doors, which are 13 feet tall and 5 feet wide, extends off an MS-frame partition that doubles as a vertical garden. The Laminam finish creates the texture of rusted iron, which brings a sort of rustic aesthetic to the otherwise expansive, contemporary space.


The structure of House Under Shadows was inspired by a neighbouring hotel called Noor Mahal, which was developed along the lines of a haveli. “Traditional havelis were developed with a standard layout: You have a public street outside, and then you have a courtyard which is an internal [open] space, surrounded by a deep veranda all around, which encourages socializing.” The courtyards in both houses have been fitted with an infinity pool, which serves the additional function of cooling the air and thereby creating a favourable micro-climate within the property. “It also lights up beautifully, and the diffused reflection of the sunlight creates a beautiful ambience,” explains Rastogi, “The sound of the water following down, the edge of the pool, and the view of the greenery beyond has a very soothing impact on the entire home.”

Living Areas

The living areas in both houses are set towards the northeast, while the sleeping areas are kept at the southwest; this reduces the thermal mass in the bedrooms and allows them to feel more cosy, while the living areas are kept open, and “blur the boundary between inside and outside”, as Rastogi puts it. “It is almost like living in a veranda throughout the day.” The ground-floor living rooms and lounges open towards the garden on the northeast, with glass partitions that offer a sense of visual continuity between the two environments. In between the lounge and living room is a bar, which serves as a small transitional space between the two public areas of the home.


The ground floor has two bedrooms—a main bedroom and a children’s room—each of which has an en-suite bathroom and dresser. The two rooms are separated by a semi-open courtyard, which is a natural extension of the central courtyard. The main bedroom has its own private garden on one side, and a veranda overlooking the courtyard on the other—so the clients have a range of outdoor spaces they can enjoy, depending on the climate and temperature. “The courtyard is so close to the bedroom that you can open your window from the bedroom and put your legs into the water,” says Rastogi.

Multipurpose Hall

On the upper level is a multipurpose entertainment hall, inspired by the traditional chhatri of Noor Mahal. “These are very elaborate domed spaces where artists would sit and perform,” explains Rastogi, “We didn’t replicate the dome, but we used the same idea, and created this enclosed hexagonal glass box that allows you panoramic garden views.” In the evenings, the hall is open to the elements, which creates an almost ethereal ambience.

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