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May 14, 2024

This 5,000-square-foot villa in Tamil Nadu is designed like a giant ship

Come rain or shine, you can count on architects Vignesh Sekar and Shamini Vignesh to show up to a job site. Referencing their latest project, a villa in Tamil Nadu shaped like a ship, the co-founders of Madurai-based architecture practice STO.M.P quip, “come rain or rain is more like it.”

The entry from the road was designed in the manner of Padippura, a traditional arched gateway on a path leading to a main building. “As per Kerala Architecture, it is ideologically intended as a perch for passersby in the event of adverse weather,” says Sekar. The steps are made of granite and the gate of reclaimed coastal wood planks.

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A view of the facade.

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“We brainstormed over the summer, and tried executing over the monsoon. But construction and rain don’t go hand in hand. The nearby plots of the villa became swamps and sponges, and because of the stagnant water, the soil on our site started to separate.” Excavation wasn’t an option, and the architects were left with only one alternative: pivot, pronto. And so they did, but not before considering that the abundant water may be a sign from the universe to try something new.

Marine Manifestations

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The double-height volume of the living room is tempered by the slope of the amphitheatre above. The space enjoys plenty of natural light thanks to a court on the south and a tall wooden door to the north. The slit windows above the lintel open the space up to the sky. The sofa, dressed in a Cyanotype cover by STO.M.P Goods, offers a perch for reading and reflection. The coffee table is a custom design in wood and Indian Arna white marble.

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The dining room is an oasis of light, thanks to sweeping windows that ensconce it on either side. The resin dining table is from Diya Lighting Studio, New Delhi.

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A curved concrete roof tames the hard lines of the dining area. Oriented along the east-west axis, the space invites both the morning and evening sun.

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“As a practice, context is something we always draw inspiration from. Thoothukudi is the sea gateway to Tamil Nadu and is known for its pearl fisheries and shipbuilding industries. Water is a mainstay,” avers Sekar. Why not, then, use it to buoy the architecture—if not literally, at least figuratively? So was born the idea of a house as a docked ship, each component, material and space inspired by a nautical counterpart. He and Shamini, and their team—which included project architect Karthik Vasuki—started with the facade, opting for an exposed brick palette which they sculpted into wave-like parametric projections on the first floor. They espoused a similar approach for the walls, elevating them in marble plaster and supporting them with metal columns and handrails evocative of a steamship. No surface was exempt from thalassic treatments, not least the floors, which the architects covered with slabs of Kota, Kadapa and yellow Jaisalmer marble to inspire the tilting tide. As a finishing touch, they emblazoned seashells onto the roof, as a metaporical hat-tip to the coastline.

They christened the villa in Tamil Nadu Billy O’Tea after the namesake boat in the song Wellerman by artists Nathan Evans and Santiano, where the sea vessel in question is mercilessly bedraggled by the wind.

Also read: Exposed brick envelopes this earthy Vadodara villa

Cooling Cocoon

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The architects arranged the private spaces around a central courtyard that blurs the line between nature and nest.

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