Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Invisible Garage by Indie Architecture
February 21st, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
My mother is a liberal democrat who supports environmentally conscious legislation and business. So naturally, she opposes sprawl. I was recently driving with her through a 1990s suburb where the houses are built very close to one another, less then 10 feet apart. She said to me, “I don’t know why anyone would want to live right on top of their neighbors like that.” She’s not alone in having these competing, yet understandable, points of view. When discussing sprawl as an urban condition, there is no lack of vitriol. But at the scale of the house, most people want their space. As historian Robert Bruegmann points out, very few critics of sprawl believe that they live in it—it’s a place that is further out, less sensible, and less tasteful than their own neighborhood.
Given the nearly unanimous opposition to them, it is surprising that the suburbs still exist, let alone thrive. But they are the dominant mode of urban growth worldwide. This project is a hypothetical alternative to established suburban models—with house prototypes and a block layout that accept sprawl, but reconfigure it. Houses have a long, low sensibility with windowless facades and elevated courtyards. They are amassed at the perimeter of the block in a dense, but porous ribbon. The opacity of the houses’ envelopes enables them to be located very close to the sidewalk—they don’t need the distance that typically separates the domestic realm from the public street. At the same time, their interiors are open and light.
Four new types of garages, each with a different mechanism for opening the door, are seamlessly integrated into the house forms. Proposing a new strategy for addressing the age old problem of how to hide the garage, they are invisible when closed. The mechanisms for opening the garages are also designed to reduce the need for driveways and alleys. Ground area that is freed up, in conjunction with the minimal front yards, amounts to large houses and a generous amount of open space. A large courtyard at the center of the block is available for collective use, smaller courtyards on the upper levels of the houses provide more isolated outdoor areas, and paved terraces underneath cantilevered parts of the houses function as covered patios.
The project makes a case for experimental form in suburban architecture. Rather than viewing the suburbs as a problem to be fixed or as an amalgam of morally bankrupt development strategies, it suggests ways to tweak the suburbs. It’s a matter of considering what could be designed instead of what should be.
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