• Svasti – The Banyan Tree | ESSTEAM

    Snehal Shah Residence, Svasti – The Banyan Tree | ESSTEAM

    ESSTEAM Having worked on nearly 500 design projects in the last fifteen years as a principal, nothing can be more challenging than designing a villa for self. So many ideas, so many possibilities and so many aspirations! All of this comes down to the vision that we as an architect couple created for our own house, ‘A dwelling that exhibits a mature restraint in cutting out all that is unnecessary, and welcoming all that is right and aligned to the principles of nature’.

    With this clarity of vision, we set upon the beautiful journey to realise our dream on this 1500 square metre piece of land, part of a gated residential society at suburban Surat, developed by fourteen acquaintances and friends. The spatial requirement for private spaces included four bedrooms, one for my mother, one each for two kids and one for ourselves.

    The plan consists of four ‘C’ shaped walls – two facing north, and two facing south. This essentially generates two independent building blocks dividing the plot into three courtyards.

    The linear block facing the north court takes care of the public areas like living room, hobby room, dining and the kitchen.

    All these spaces directly open into the north court which is the formal lawns directly accessible from the street in case of larger gatherings.

    The other ‘C’ shaped block faces the South Court and houses four equally sized bed-room, two on the ground floor and two stacked above them. This makes the South Court the private court meant for family sit-outs.

    As one enters the house opening a giant door between the two blocks, comes a real surprise – that of the Centre Court or in a more traditional sense, the Chowk.

    This is a large non-programmed space which holds the entire house together. This naturally lit space allows both the private and public, the formal and the casual, and the outside and the inside to come together.

    After having derived a very simple orthogonal plan for the house, deciding the material palette for the house was the next challenge to practice restraint.

    Form finished concrete walls and ceiling – just one material was the answer to create the entire shell of the house. For the flooring, furniture and fit-outs, keeping the maintenance aspects in mind, we made a filter of not using materials that would last for less than twenty years, so concrete floor, Indian sandstones and granites & solid teak wood, aluminium, stones and glass for furniture.

    The heavy flush doors got replaced with good quality natural finish anodized aluminium doors and windows.


    With a firm belief of wood being a truly renewable resource, all the bedrooms were designed using just one material – open pore polished natural teak wood procured from a forest, just about 100 km from the site.

    The furniture exemplifies the craft of making solid wood furniture making with a huge emphasis on interesting and intricate wood joineries.

    The bed and window dressing of each room gives a color and character and individuality, and are inspired from the works of four master artists viz. S H Raza, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Klee and Georgia O’Keefe. Fusing of interesting Batik works adds lot of authenticity and depth to the bed and window dressing ideas.

    Now, having created a highly functional canvas, the house was ready to accept a thematic overlay of nature which would provide further meaning and identity to the house.

    My wife, an architect, artist and photographer, intervened with a giant banyan tree, with roots in the South Court and foliage spreading all over the Chowk and the public spaces of the house, till its branches peep out into the North Court.

    This sets the visual tone of the entire house as one keeps seeing the tree in parts from almost all the spaces and hence relating to the wholeness and the massiveness of the tree.

    This gesture also gave a clue for the selection of the stones to be used in the house for flooring, bathrooms, furniture and landscape.

    A very rare kind of brown granite for the trunk was sourced and to go with it, the other stones selected were Kotah stone (mirror polished as well as river washed), and a beautiful green sandstone from Rajasthan.
    The ‘Jungle’ theme resonates in a rather subtle way through some interesting colorful artworks and photographs occupying various locations in the house.

    Most of the artworks viz. the Peacock, and the Ganesha, are designed or photographs are clicked by herself giving a great sense of ownership on the overall creation of the house.

    Out in the North Court lawns, is an interesting installation by her ‘Soulebration’, about a group of forest aborigines celebrating life every day.

    Some other creations by artist friends include the ‘dragon flies’,  ‘the three monkeys’, ‘the sunflowers’ (on the outdoor dining up-cycled from a traditional cartwheel), and ‘the wild flowers’ (created from the scrap of bicycle parts).

    Aligning to the principles of nature was a very important part of the vision. The house is a serious endeavour to address the key issues of sustainability that the design profession needs to address in all the projects. To do our bit, for the cause of the globe, we made up our mind to do all that we could right from the concept stage.

    As passive aspects of the design of the house, the house addresses two key issues. Interestingly, we had simulated the model of the house for natural day-lighting, shading elements impacts on the heat gains, and wind flow through the various spaces of the house.

    Project name: Svasti – The Banyan Tree

    Architect’ Firm: ESSTEAM


    Contact e-mail: [email protected]

    Lead Architects: Snehal Shah, Saloni Shah, Sagar Gandhi, Maher Desai

    Project location: Surat

    Completion Year: 2017

    Gross Built Area (square meters or square foot): 625 SQM

    Photo credits: Ishita Sitwala

    Photographer’s website:

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