in thick vegetation, Rolf Lieser's expression of home makes a sudden
appearance. The fluid sweeps of roof, the flora, the close contact
with water, all create a total surprise.
The house reflects freedom, experimentation,
innovation. Primarily an artist, Rolf Lieser felt no architect could
express his needs better. He would be responsible for his own house.
With a year's experience in a construction company in Germany, he
was confident about the physical realisation of his ideas.
Rolf also knew his involvement would result
in economy and efficiency. After all, he was also the contractor
- always at the site during working hours, instructing and supervising.
And then, only after working hours, purchasing materials and planning
the next day's work in detail. Working drawings were never drafted,
only a detailed model used to communicate with the labourers, as
Rolf mostly operated on spontaneous decisions, Only the structural
system could be accurately pre-planned, leaving scope for several
improvisations during construction.
The couple and their two children required living
spaces, and separate store house and toilet facilities. The older
daughter, Surya, needed a separate house. Four structures resulted
around the central garden. The areas of the main house were arranged
in three hexagons. The internal walls formed smaller circles inside,
and freed themselves from this structural order. The ground floor
houses the sitting room, studio, and dining and kitchen areas. The
bedroom is above the atelier.
The roof silhouette and substance
The choice of roof was significant in shaping
the structure, and in regard to the economy. Keet woven coconut
palm, the most popular local roofing material, was cheap, but looked
too raw and unclean. The more recently developed ferrocement was
"too cold". So a vermiculite concrete roof developed,
following the ideas of an Australian visitor. It was constructed
with 12ft long palmyra beams supporting a network of pacca-maram
reepers at 150c/c. the secondary beams supporting the roof were
only introduced after the roof settled.
framework allowed a variety of fluid roof shapes. Bamboo mat was
stretched over the network, and coated with lightweight vermiculite
concrete. The vermiculite results when mica, heated to a high temperature
of 1,000 degrees, expands about 20 times in volume. It replaces
metal aggregate in concrete. Rolf used a mix of 1:1.4 cement-sand-vermiculite
by volume. The thickness of the vermiculite concrete coat was only
4cms; no steel reinforcement was required. Unlike ferrocement, this
material was also a good heat insulator. And it could be made at
half the cost. The 160m2 surface area cost Rs.20,000.
Rolf attributes the notable coolness in the
house, in the absence of fans, to good cross-ventilation. After
all, the heat-insulating qualities of vermiculite could not be exploited.
Not only is a minimum thickness of 10cms required for effective
heat insulation to work, but it must be aided by controlled openings
in other areas of the house - indispensable for Rolf's lifestyle.
Easily available, granite pillars of uniform
rectangular cross-section and irregular surface are the main roof
supports. The column junctions and intersections of multiple beams
are interestingly concealed for a cleaner junction by gradually
deriving a hexagonal cross-section at the capital from a rectangular
shaft. The column treatment is repeated below, at the base. The
columns are slightly inclined towards the inside for better structural
continuation of the roof curve. Only the two columns marking the
entrance differ. They are in ferrocement, as the granite piers cracked
during construction. The non-loadbearing partition walls are 225mm
thick - in burnt brick and cement mortar. A concrete ring exits
60cms below ground-level; another 2m above.
are largely responsible for the character of the house, although
they came about spontaneously during construction. Brick jaalis
were found too rigid and defined; glass too ordinary. So, 3-1/2mm
wires were left protruding near the openings. Chicken-wire mesh
was later hung from them, and finished with a cement-sand mix. The
convex profile resulted automatically. The terrace railing was similarly
The entrance door is a steel frame with chicken-wire
mesh. A cement-sand-vermiculite mixture is sculpturally applied
as a mural. The panel is then given a varnish coat, and vermiculite
flung at it for a more natural texture.
The other shutters are coloured glass panels
directly fixed into the wall. These are, of course, susceptible
to vibration and temperature fluctuations. Shutters of openings
in the roof, from interesting tables on the upper floor, are painted
blue on the exterior creating an illusion of the continuity of the
A water channel runs around the house, warding
insects off. Coconut trees shade the roof, keeping it cool in the