Coquetting With the Waves: A Chennai Home Writes Love Letters About Its Regional Designs

This home takes notes on Chennai’s indigenous architecture and embodies its fluid characteristics while altering it to fit the family’s flourishing needs.

Coquetting With the Waves: A Chennai Home Writes Love Letters About Its Regional Designs

As summers advance with guns blazing, we often fantasize about; idling on a sunlounger, on some beach propelling cool gusts of balmy air, combined with the splash of waves crashing. In a similar attempt, ‘Alai’- loosely translated to waves in Tamil, sets up its sunbed just a few meters away from a beach in Chennai. To further aid in cooling its residents, Studio DCode takes them on a stroll down memory lane, borrowing design features prevalent in the region.

“Though the city is growing vertically now; we still enjoy our courtyards, our thinnais, there is always enough space for children to play around in the houses” reminisces Harini, a partner at Studio DCode.
Nuances of being in a Tamil household. Watch the complete video on Buildofy.



Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Plot Area

5,200 sq. ft.

Built-up Area

4,200 sq. ft.

Number of Rooms


Completion Year


Vaastu Compliance



To travel back in time, a young couple’s weltanschauung compelled them to approach Studio DCode; whose entire practice is based on handcrafting sustainable spaces and resurrecting a dying craft. Borrowing from the region’s rich heritage the pair’s only dream was, “to be able to reside in spaces that revolved around the central courtyard,” Harini clues us in. Abiding with this concept, this residence spreads its boughs in the past; to briefly greet Laurie Baker and twig his eco-conscious ideologies. “The clients had an enduring affection for the charm of brickwork. They wanted bricks to play a pivotal role in connecting their home to architectural heritage,” supports Harini.

In an ode to the regional roots of residents, this abode takes inspiration from the former home designs of Tamil Nadu. Watch the complete video on Buildofy.

And so, a warm, brick arbour materialized, in the cold netherworld of concrete condominiums paying homage to the affectionately kept traditions. As one strolls through a sultry hinterland relishing the clashes of waves, an electric blue door struggles to disguise; Alai’s warmth. Slipping through its cracks, this warm abode reveals a façade that entertains a melange of barbed edges jutting out to play a game of shadows. On ultimately entering, an adobe house transpires with a sawtooth brickwork pattern attaining a superior position, fanatically parading its honed indigenous form. Greeting from the other side of the foyer is a wall, “... (that) creates this diamond pattern that is inspired by the Kanchipuram pallus,” asserts Sam, senior architect at Studio DCode. The anomalous diamond pattern is crafted amidst the mundane walls, “we started arranging the bricks in a 45o angle, so the lower course had two bricks and then the second course had three bricks, and then we had four... Then we had five and then again it sort of (attenuates),” explains Sam.

This brick home stands tall in the monotonous neighbourhood of Chennai. To watch the complete home documentary, click here.


As one careens away, fingers brushing the clumpy silhouettes on the wall, a possibility arises: to discover the apparition of Madras’s previous home designs. “As they get inside, the east-west axis of the house is very prominent,” explains Harini. This de facto border- a corridor with chrome Jaisalmer stone, partitions the private and public spaces, with a hue mimicking the Chennai sun’s harsh administration. On one side of this datum line, a drawing area, a courtyard, and a dining attached to the kitchen; materialize, while on the other side a studio space, a living area, and a guest bedroom are concealed. “(This) linear axis and the courtyard is an ode to Tamil vernacular architectural planning which was rampant across Tamil Nadu years ago,” rationalizes Harini.

A datum divides the home into private and public areas. To watch the complete home documentary, click here.

A sweet symphony of flamboyance- courtesy of the Athangudi tiles, calls out from the drawing area to boast a thinnai setup between two Chennai-style columns. Parlaying as a bay window it looks out toward the petite garden and toward astonished visitors animatedly patting the façade. Finally, a two-sided jhoola sways, to expose the covert -an open-to-sky courtyard beyond “space from the formal living area to the kitchen to the courtyard flow very seamlessly, and when all these doors are kept open it seems like a single space,” Sam explains. This interconnected courtyard is corralled by the habitat, and cosseted by a voluptuously, barbed brick wall to mimic the fluid nature of its namesake. This curvaceous wall features petite perforations that allow the light and breeze to peep inside this eco-conscious haven, rendering it airy. Spellbound, by the lack of boundaries in this earthy courtyard, a neutral-hued wall lures one into its confines with a sense of alacrity.

The courtyard becomes the heart of the home with every space orienting towards it. Visit Buildofy for the video of the complete project walkthrough.

Upon closer inspection of the milieu, a rammed earth wall transpires, riding on crimson, chrome, and grey-hued waves, chanting the nickname given to the dwelling. “This (rammed earth wall) is an homage to the very name of the house Alai which translated into waves in Tamil” Harini explains. To give it the character of its namesake “We’ve used layers of different colours of earth, and we've rammed it into this sub-structure. One is the colour of charming red laterite earth and the yellow earth... is from the client’s farm, the grey...(is) stabilized sand,” she further adds. This collaborative pièce de resistance, stands in the lofty living area, bearing witness to the deepest darkest secrets of the family.

A rammed earth wall becomes the most cherished piece in the home. Visit Buildofy for the video of the complete project walkthrough.


A Sadarhalli grey granite stairway leads one to the access-only heaven of this home where honey-dew warmth from the skylights tucks in every sleeper. On this floor gallantry, of the floor-to-ceiling windows, corroborating with the courtyard, render the passage to the kid’s bedroom light and airy. Towards the end of this corridor, a half-and-half openable door offers glimpses into the town of Lilliput. “We wanted our daughter's bedroom, somewhere which offered freedom of movement... so we’ve tried to do... low shelving at her level and furniture which is child-sized,” the client claims. Beyond, an ornately carved wooden door, serves as a portal for Gulliver to careen away from the land of ordered chaos of; mini-furniture and floor-mounted mirrors.

The daughter's bedroom with child-sized furniture offers a chance for her to wander around freely. Watch the complete video on Buildofy.

Resting behind this reclaimed door is a buoyant roof that offers protection to wood and wicker furniture beneath, “Jack arches made with bricks from the roof over this room,” Harini further justifies. The clerestory window between the arches and the sawtooth brick wall invites natural light to reflect and coalesce with the contemporized version of Athangudi tiles, adding a feather of sustainability to the abode’s hat.

The guest bedroom with jack arches and sawtooth brickwork walls exudes artsy vibes. To watch the complete home documentary, click here.

Further, a susurrus of waves pulls the residents to a languid terrace area, to witness the trading of vows between an urban bustling regime and the illusory tropical regime. This terrace is partly under the protection of a pristine white slab, but smack in the center the slab underscores a skylight; that orchestrates an interplay of shadow with the leaf-shaped metal frames. This limpid space becomes the perfect escape on a Sunday evening with that cup of steaming hot coffee.

A terrace further brings the residents closer to the lush natural surroundings. Visit Buildofy for the video of the complete project walkthrough.

‘Alai’ acquiesces to take references from the past and turn them into a version of the present that fits its warm vibes. It further resurrects dying crafts, rare elements, and traditional practices to become an epitome of sustainability, while lounging along the beach.

To watch the complete home tour, peruse the drawings in detail, and browse additional photographs, visit Buildofy. While there, don’t miss out on the other impressive contemporary homes in Chennai and across India.