Palmyra House

Mumbai, India
Studio Mumbai

Studio Mumbai names two louvered boxes Palmyra house after a popular Indian tree.

By Prathima Manohar - This is an excerpt of an article from the April 2008 edition of Architectural Record.

It is said that the Palmyra tree can be used in 800 different ways. Its leaves make fine hats, thatching, umbrellas, mats, and baskets; its fruits and their sap, popularly called toddy, are a local delicacy. Architect Bijoy Jain, however, is perhaps the only person who has named a house after it. He designed the Palmyra House with signature louvers made from the tree’s cut, dried, and locally harvested wood, setting a course of using sustainable, regional materials to guide the project.

Palmyra House
Photo courtesy Studio Mumbai

The Palmyra House is set in a working coconut plantation. So as not to disturb the land, much of the house was built by hand by the architect's longstanding team of carpenters.

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Located in the Alibaug area of India where this hardy species grows in abundance, the house evokes an amalgam of vernacular architecture and contemporary design. Jain relied on his intuition to guide his process. “There is a constant struggle to understand the sense of that intuition and finding a method within myself to be as honest to it as possible. In this case, it was about a light, air-filled volume,” he says.

In the end, the architect built not just one volume, but two louvered wooden boxes in a functioning coconut plantation in Nandgaon, a quiet, sun-drenched land of palm trees where time seems to stand still and the natives go about their daily chores as they did ages ago. However, given that India’s restless financial capital, Mumbai, sits just an hour across nearby Mandwa Bay, the area has long been favored by wealthy Mumbaikars seeking weekend homes and a place to relax. Not surprisingly, the region is dotted with exciting new architecture commissioned by some of India’s richest clients. Palmyra House serves as a vacation home for a Mumbai-based entrepreneur and his family.

Accessed by foot, roughly 165 feet from the road, the house’s two rectangles encompass 3,000 square feet and are anchored to a stone plinth. A 25-foot-wide open court separates the buildings, with a pool that alludes to the plantation’s 80-year-old system of stone aqueducts. The house offers dramatic views of the Indian Ocean and was situated to disturb as little as possible the densely planted palms on the 1-acre plot.

Prathima Manohar, an architect and writer living in Mumbai, is currently at work on a book about contemporary Indian houses.

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