Site-Visit: Ice Factory and Coconut House by Ini Chatterji – Film by Matter

Architect Ini Chatterji’s studio and workshop – the ‘Ice Factory’, and the Coconut House coexist in the beautiful landscape of Olaulim, Goa. The images and film attempt to capture the ‘atmosphere’ of the place.


Noon

The Ice Factory is an old shed on the site re-purposed to be an architecture-making workshop for Ini Chatterji and his team of carpenters and builders. The volume inside the old shed is scrubbed clean and organised for the new function. It used to be an ice factory before it became the Ice Factory. In a conversation, Ini Chatterji recollects the shed resembling a 70s Hindi film fight set before he took it over as his workshop. The space inside holds a curious collection of objects – models of projects, sections of timber, plumbing joint samples, an old fan, electric guitar, some files and one large table apart from tools and equipment to shape wood. This is where experiments are made and prototypes tested before they move to the site – often to actual scale. It is a bare, industrial structure with a beautiful volume. It precisely reflects the process specific to Ini’s architecture.

A prototype pavilion stands in the orchard. It is a to-scale structure built in soft-wood with intricate wood – steel joints and composite sections for the roof that is bent to a profile-radius. This is an experiment – an approximately sixty square-meter space for a quick-to-assemble structure to be erected in the CRZ zone where buildings cannot have permeant and heavy footprints. It was created to test the idea and it disappears as quickly as it appears on the landscape.

The Coconut House is a permanent structure. Designed and built by Ini Chatterji for his mother, the structure is made in salvaged coconut wood from trees which are felled after surpassing their productive life. Butterfly roofs sit lightly on a timber frame anchored to the ground by steel joints that transfer the weight of the superstructure to the plinth and in some cases to concrete columns. The seemingly light frame is designed on a 1.9 meter horizontal grid to avoid wastage of the infill material – marine plywood. Coconut batons create a filigree of screens that permeate light and breeze throughout the pavilion. Light filters in and air moves around. The sounds of the landscape can be heard from all spaces in the house. As the clouds make way for sharp sunlight, one can observe the precise shadows cast on the floor and the screens moving slowly with the sun. There is a constant presence of changing time in the house.

Dawn

While light comes in from the protected west in the day, early mornings are different. Much before the Sun casts its light on the house, the blanket of mist that engulfs the valley every night slowly condenses into dew that collects on the roof. The house wakes up to sounds of Brahminy Kites and sunbirds with a cacophony of crickets in the background. The mist rises and the first rays of the sun pierce through the timber structure creating geometric shadows on the furniture. As the time goes by, the light becomes sharper. The mist condenses revealing the orchard and fields beyond.

Dusk

Evenings are characterised by slowly changing light in Olaulim. As the intense west-sun sets, the sky transforms into a canvas of moving spectrum of colours. A few lamps in the house are turned on and the image reverses. Now, one looks at light filtering out from lattices of the house in the landscape. The building disappears; only light remains.

Monsoon

The landscape changes and makes way for the fresh green.

Discussion

Excerpts from a conversation with Ini Chatterji:

1. This land wasn’t like this… 

2. The Ice Factory itself looked like… 

3. Once we were convinced that the wood… 

4. Coconut is basically a tube… 

5. An agricultural crop, it’s not a jungle tree… 

6. The first few months… 



Photographs and Film: Matter © 2018.

Site-Visits are project reviews on Matter visited by the designer  / critic  and scripted after a dialogue with the author/architect. Write to us on think@matter.co.in if you wish to review a project you know OR if you wish your project to be reviewed on Matter.

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