A Street Room

September 2011
Words by Aaron Peters
Images by V&P

A small street side abode in Jodhpur, located on a protruding bend in the warren-like laneways of the old city, projects itself into the public realm. It is relatively straightforward in its composition. One volume, two split-level floors linked by a simple concrete stair, and a collection of three humbly wrought openings. Despite its humble construction, this small room manages to emit a delightfully civil charm and enlivens its setting.

The room is relatively prosaic in its adornments; it is the composition and synergy of its parts which make it memorable. The entry off the street is abrupt, the transition is momentary but pronounced. The simple internal stair is visible through the doorway. Here a subtle innovation occurs: the skewed geometry of the plan results in a misalignment of the doorway to the plane of the rear wall of the room and to the axis of the stair that follows it. The receding lines created by the superimposed geometries seem to draw one into the space. The act of stepping up off the street to ascend the stair feels both compelling and intuitive.

A second subtle innovation occurs at the top of the stair. A piano nobile, raised about a meter above the level of the landing presides over the street. The shift in the internal terrain of the room is clearly articulated behind the façade by a large window whose sill is set flush with the floor surface of the raised piano nobile. The sectional diagram of the internal room is registered in the façade of the building. An impression of the volume behind is felt, despite being largely concealed.

The external viewer is permitted momentary glimpses of the interior as they pass by the space. The vibrant blue paint of the rear walls and a sparse assortment of furnishings are beautifully composed behind a muted external skin of masonry, punctuated by the three aforementioned apertures: a latticed opening above the doorway, the dual leaved timber entry doors and the large timber shuttered upper level window.

A lack of depth in the room forces the occupants toward the street. In many cases this lack of depth would be confronting and uncomfortable, but the separation of the internal floor level from the street, by virtue of its elevation over it, provides sufficient perception of privacy and security to allow the room to function a secure vantage point.

The narrow twisting street, lined with tightly packed buildings limits the amount of exposure to which the occupants of the room are subjected. They cannot be spied from afar due to the contortions of the laneway, and therefore cannot be monitored or exposed. Anyone wishing to study the room must do so in full view of the occupants, within earshot.

This room profits by its association with the street, but also enhances it. By revealing its internal workings, the room enlivens its setting but also suggests a voyeuristic perch on the periphery of the public realm; an attractive ornament to the streetscape.

Street-rooms such as this compel their occupants to maintain awareness of their environs, and by extension, of their community and their role within it. This relationship is made even more potent when the room in question ensnares the bystander by giving something of itself back to the street.

This Jodhpur Room offers more than just ‘eyes on the street’ - it is suggestive of comfort, refuge, vantage and society. The room subtly compels the bystander to enter, discover and partake. At the heart of all of this is a sense, whether true or otherwise, that civil rooms might engender a more civil society.