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At first glance, Sanjay Puri’s concept looks like the ultimate townhouse, where generously terraced units cascade down a contoured site, and where residents share a magnificent pool in their communal courtyard. In reality, it’s an office complex for some lucky employees.

The project is located in a township of Rajasthan, India, where temperatures regularly soar past 40 degrees and water is scarce. In other words, the natural cooling features worked into the plan are not mere add-ons, but rather guiding principles for making the interiors habitable.

For inspiration, the firm turned to India’s traditional step wells, especially within the ancient architecture of Chand Baori, where 3,500 narrow steps lead to an open well 13 stor­eys below. But Puri’s Reservoir is a thoroughly modern interpretation. The building rises over six storeys, with decks staggered along the core’s two north-facing sides, providing multiple places to move between inside and out.

On the south side, open platforms serve as community spaces. Wrapping the entire complex is a grass-covered rectilinear berm, which has parking spaces tucked into its elevation and provides further entry and exit points. The architects saw this retaining wall as yet another opportunity to push the envelope, so they lined it with solar panels.

Constructed from local Chittorgarh stone, the interiors are mostly open concept. They consume minimal energy, thanks to the complex’s orientation, along with the vegetation incorporated into the plan, which will see the decks planted with greenery and common areas lined with trees. With completion slated for 2018, this is no mere exercise in eco-design: it’s a case study in how to build a desert oasis and make it a thing of beauty.

About the firm: Sanjay Puri founded his Mumbai studio in 1992. He now has 70 employees working on some 40 projects across India, as well as in Montenegro, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Montreal. SPA’s work is defined by contemporary forms and passive cooling features. One of its initial projects, Courtyard House, used thick concrete walls as thermal barriers and recessed windows to block out sunlight. It was featured in Azure’s annual Houses issue in 2013.

What the jury said: “This is one project that absolutely captures that aha! moment, a feeling that doesn’t happen often enough in architecture.” – Anna Simone

Location: Rajasthan, India ­

Firm: Sanjay Puri Architects, Mumbai

Team: Sanjay Puri and Ruchika Gupta, with Aarti Nathan, Omkar Rane and Nandita Rebello

Winner: Unbuilt Projects
People’s Choice: Unbuilt Projects
2016 AZ Awards Winner: Best Unbuilt Concept

Sanjay Puri’s Courtyard House is an oasis-like office complex, where workers can escape the desert heat by a peaceful pool.

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