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The vault catches the eye

A dining space built amidst lush green surroundings. By Nandhini Sundar

A dining space built amidst lush green surroundings. By Nandhini Sundar


When an eatery is built amidst thick greens, water and surrounding hills, the dining experience proves to be totally relaxing, rejuvenating, not to mention romantic. But when the exhilarating setting is teamed with an expansive brick vault, leaving the walls totally open to connect with the landscape, the experience proves to be not only exquisite but also one filled with awe. 

The dine-in designed by Architect Senthil Kumar Doss of Play Architecture serves to be just that, built over a lush green valley in Sakleshpur. The 12-acre site is surrounded by green hills and a lake, where a stream branches off from the lake to snake through the terrain and thence into the thick rainforest landscape.  Roofed with an iconic 16.5m span brick vaulted structure, the 2,500 sq. ft restaurant is totally open visually on all sides, to feast on the abounding exterior greenery.

The vaulted experience
| Photo Credit: Play Architecture

Timbrel vault 

“The Timbrel vault adopted here follows the traditional 800-year African technique that also became popular in Spain four centuries back yet lost its ground couple of centuries later. Fortunately it was revived by Raphael Guastavino in the United States and recently by Architect Peter Rich in South Africa”, explains Doss on the technique used in building the clay tile vault. 

The 150mm thick vault is built with thin laminated clay tiles which come in five layers, each layer made of 15mm clay tiles, with the tiles laid in different patterns so as to crisscross and strengthen the structure. “The layers serve as the structural sandwich with each direction of the pattern laid adding to the tensile strength”, explains Doss. The entire shape of the vault is built using thin steel rebars, which served as the temporary support to hold the first set of tiles. 

According to him, traditionally wood was used as the temporary support to create the form. “We chose thin 8mm steel grids instead of wood”, he clarifies. Incidentally, given his firm belief in putting waste to good use, Doss repurposed this form work in steel into furniture, railings and other components in the structure. 

Flowing with natural forces

The catenary-based double curved, thin tile vault reflects the principles of ‘resistance through form’, with the vault built using axial compression. “This makes the structure strong and long lasting”, states Doss. Further, the form of the vault and its structural forces follow the direction of water flow. “This was done to ensure the man-made structure is tuned totally to the forces of nature”, he points out. 

Interestingly, the structural form was built hands-on, with no structural analysis but merely using structural logic with the help of local people who were trained. “The foundation as well as getting the right force lines in place to support as well as retain the finished vault was guided by Architect Peter Rich”, Doss adds. “The final form that came about is form active and permits the structure to gently transfer the forces to the ground. This functional feature enabled us to execute this large span”, he elaborates on the technique. 

Incidentally, the brick vault, sweeping over four arches that form the four openings of the 1500 sq. ft covered dining space, is strong enough to walk over. “We tested the strength after completion by having 20 people walk over it”, smiles Doss. “But the gradient of the sweep is quite sharp and this makes the climb and descent a challenge”, he cautions. 

Salvaged pipes 

The semi-open dining area as well as its accompanying outdoor dining space is built over the valley, where a stream lazily meanders through the depression formed between two elevated topographies. A dense set of trees mark this shallow valley. To support the 32mm thick Sadarahalli stone slabs that form the floor over this valley, Doss used salvaged GI pipes, which, given their thinness, blend seamlessly with the already existing set of tall trees. “This aided in visually negating the structural support under the stone slabs”, he points out. 

Glass walls

The restaurant comes in two sections, the interior dining experience featuring under the semi-open vault, which opens on to an exterior open-to-sky dining space. The interiors are seamlessly connected to the exterior dining area and thence to the thick greens, hills and water through the glass panels and doors under the large arches of the vault. “The glass walls needed to be in place as this region is extremely windy with abounding rains that wet the interiors. The glass walls ensure the interiors are protected from harsh weather, yet the connect to the exteriors is complete and unhindered”, Doss clarifies. 

Multiple challenges

Given the intent of the structure and the setting of the eatery, the décor is minimal, the seating done in steel and glass to blend into the surroundings. Incidentally not a single tree was cut while erecting the structure, the form fused into the landscape to blend in. Yet the execution was not easy, Doss adds. “The high water table of the region brought in multiple challenges, especially while erecting the concrete columns for support under the Sadarahalli floor. Added to this was the ceaseless downpour in this region that lasts over six months.” 

Given the unconventional nature of the structure, Doss attributes the successful completion of the work to his client Sentinel Adventures “who extended unconditional support.” He is also quick to acknowledge the full funding of the initial research of the vaulting technique to CARE School of Architecture, Tiruchi, “without which we would have been unable to execute.” The structure recently received the prestigious World Architecture Community Award for its exemplary execution. 


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