Carol Grodzins House

The inspiration for Carol Grodzins’ House was a Dayak longhouse in Borneo. In the 1960s, the owner, after completing her undergraduate studies in Russian Language and Literature in the US, decided to join the Peace Corps established by John F. Kennedy. She was posted to Sarawak where she taught in a Dayak school for two years, from 1967 to 1969. In the time she was there, she lived in a Dayak longhouse much like the ones depicted in Pendian Dirumah Panjai (Life in a Longhouse) by Hedda Morrison. On her return to the US, Carol abandoned Russian studies and took up nursing, expecting one day to return to Sarawak to help build healthy communities. Soon after, however, she met her husband, a physics professor at Harvard University. They have two grown sons.

A social entrepreneur and activist at heart, Carol worked to change obstetrical practise in Massachusetts toward family-centred birthing, and then addressed what she saw as the number one public health threat in America nuclear war by launching the Massachusetts Nuclear Freeze Movement. In 1989, bringing together her commitments to international development, public policy and health reform, she joined the Harvard Institute for International Development and spent the next eleven years there and at Harvard’s Kennedy school.

Carol directed the Edward S. Mason Program in Public Policy, whose graduates include Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, Sir Donald Tsang Yam-Kuen, Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council of the Government of Hong Kong, and M. R. Chatu Mongol Sonakul, former Governor of the Bank of Thailand. In 2000, Carol left Harvard to become Vice President of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. Ashoka envisages a world where everyone realizes they have the right, the skills and the capacity to improve society. Now retired and a senior advisor to Ashoka, Carol teaches ‘social entrepreneurship’ at Chiangmai University.

While living in Massachusetts, Carol became familiar with the modern architecture of Walter Gropius at Lexington and lived in a community designed by the Architects Collaborative, but equally importantly she is a frequent visitor to Sri Lanka where she has experienced the work of Geoff rey Bawa. Upon deciding to build her house in Chiangmai, Carol drew on her earlier experience of the Dayak longhouse. She recalled the wisdom of cross-ventilation, orientation to catch the prevailing breeze, balconies and verandas, and wide overhanging eaves to provide shade, and resolved to draw upon what she terms the ‘ancient wisdom’. All of this would have been recognizable to Bawa.

In 2006, the owner saw the site at Sansai, located some 10 km north of Chiangmai. It was part of the development of a former orchard instigated by Suthini Jumsai. She was subsequently introduced to Pattawadee Roogrojdee and Apichat Sriarun of 639 Architects Co. Ltd., who have earned a reputation as designers of modern houses and resorts that draw upon the traditional form of the Northern Th ai House. Pattawadee is a graduate of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok where, in 1995, she obtained a Masters degree in Building Technology that focussed on energy conservation. She is familiar with the work of the Malaysian architect Ken Yeang and studied Yeang’s Menara Mesiniaga project when writing her M.Arch. thesis. She currently teaches energy conservation in building design and daylighting design at Ratchamangala University of Technology Lanna in Chiangmai.

Apichat Sriarun is a graduate of Silpakorn University, who over forty years in practise has developed an expertise in Northern Thai architecture. He is best known as one of the designers of the renowned Four Seasons Resort in Chiangmai. He also teaches conceptual design and site planning at the same university as Pattawadee.

Carol Grodzins’ House is raised on tall concrete piloti to avoid flooding and snakes, and has a linear plan form entered from the southeast through a symbolic gateway and thence, alongside a pavilion that houses a guest bedroom, to an external ‘dog-leg’ staircase that ascends to a broad linear south-facing veranda. The timber deck gives access to three more pavilions, the first housing the living room, dining room and kitchen with a service stair; the second accommodating a study, and the third the principal bedroom. All the principal rooms face a lake that cools the prevailing southwest wind. The house, detailed in ‘Modern Lanna Style’ is, to quote the owner, ‘an antidote to modernism’. The house is undoubtedly a success in terms of its sustainability. It is largely naturally ventilated and the owner has planted banana and fruit trees while fish are available from the lake.

Materials include white cement that should not require painting, traditional roof tiles on a Thai style roof pitched at 40 degrees that helps create a stratification effect, recycled timber floors internally and redwood decking externally. The configuration of the house, which is one room wide, enables comfortable conditions to be achieved with natural ventilation. It is a remarkable residence the product of a close working relationship between the owner and the architects.

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