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An unusual canvas


The roof and five-foot-high exterior walls define the spaces inside the house. The space between the low walls and roof has no conventional window shutters or grills


Dining area on the left




Bedroom with canvas roof


Niches, jaali parapet walls and a perforated columns


Dining area


Painter Louis Molaes and danseuse Veronique Domingo's "temporary and open" house looks as if it has sprung up out of the earth on a rainy day in Auroville.

This Artist's home is madeof the material he is most comfortable with - canvas! Louis Molaes believes that for a house in India, all you need is a roof above your head - everything else can be organized to suit your lifestyle. So when he decided to build himself a home, he simply made that conviction a reality. Just a roof for protection from the sun and rain, with a low wall defining the boundaries of the house - a simple idea of shelter indeed.

Because "there is nothing permanent about life (which is only an illusion)!", Louis decided on a lightweight roof which, unlike a conventional permanent roof, didn't have to last till the end of time. He wanted a temporary house that was open and airy and didn't make him feel bound, imprisoned or fixed to a certain place. Something that could be put up as easily as it could be razed to the ground, so he could move from place to place...

These werte the thoughts with which he began his research... Architect Frei Otto had always intrigued and fascinated him - especially his large free-flowing, modular, hi-tech roofs. But since hi-tech metallic structures didn't seem appropriate to the rural Indian context in which he lives and works, he went vernacular. He employed bamboo instead of steel. And canvas - the material he worked with every day - to cover the frame.

Then arose the question of waterproofing. As much as he would have preferred another material, Louis resorted to the quickest and cheapest option - plastic sheets! But as plastic was obviously not aesthetically pleasing, 'agro-fabric' went over the plastic. With this triple protection the roof was ready. The canvas was stretched and fixed under the bamboo frame and the other two layers - plastic and agro-fabric - over the frame. Not only was this assembly lightweight, it also proved more economical than other roofing material available. Also, the support structure needed for this lightweight roof was minimal. The simplistic nature of the foundation reduced the cost.

With the major issue resolved, Louis had to address the walls. He realized he needed the walls only to define the actual area of his living and working space in a way that did not compromise his view of the nature outside. The quasi-outdoor feeling in the interior was important. So up came walls five feet high with the space above taking care of ventilation. Louis was unconcerned about thieves and didn't mind the presence of insects, scorpions and the like inside his house. So the space above the wall is not enclosed by grills or window shutters. It was simply left open. Interestingly enough ever since he moved into this 'open' house, it has never been 'broken into', unlike his previous house, a super-safe conventional place, which was broken into on various occasions.

With the 'whole' house in place, Louis, with his contemporary dancer wife Veronique, organized all the areas of a conventional house in the resultant circular space around a central staircase. The common areas like the kitchen, bathroom, storage, studio and the living space surround this staircase that leads to the bedrooms upstairs. A wooden floor separates the two levels while the free-falling bamboo roof creates varying and interesting volumes in the bedrooms. Openings for windows were created by leaving the bamboo frame uncovered by the triple layered roofing cover. An elevated circular cut-out in the centre of the roof further helps the movement of air between the bedrooms.

Louis says he approached his house in the same way as he does his canvases. He kept looking at it from a different angle every day, adding different strokes here and there, studying and changing it from day to day, till finally one day, it met his approval. He worked on-site, with only an initial basic plan of measurements. From then on, every idea and decision was impromptu. His simplistic expectations from the house and his approach seem to have worked. Louis extended his enthusiasm to designing the light fixtures and other paraphernalia around the house as well. The local bamboo workers were allowed the freedom to improvise on the form of the roof ,during the assembly. When the roof first came up, Veronique practiced dance in the large free space underneath. But later, with the built-in levels and furniture, practices had to be limited.

Unlimited ingenuity and limited resources combined to bring this unusual home into being. But one can't ignore the fact that the confidence with which Louis built the house came from his brief experience of working on interior design in France. His house in India was the first real architectural project he has ever worked on. The realization of his research on alternative light building material has now motivated him to continue his search for alternative roofing solutions. .

- as published in "Better Interiors "
October 2005
Text written by: Sheril Castelino
Photos: Pino Marchese


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