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Architect Sönke Hoof’s tips on building summer-friendly homes

  • Ideas & Inspiration
May 08, 2024
Home design with louvres – Beautiful Homes

From using the right materials to the importance of ventilation and shading in design, the architect shares his ideas on building homes that offer a respite from the rising temperatures outside

Sönke Hoof, an architect by profession, started his journey in Germany as a carpenter. This not only gave him a deeper understanding of details, but also a sense of varied materials. In 2003, following a workshop in Ahmedabad with BV Doshi—the revered Pritzker Prize winning Indian architect—Hoof returned to India to work on his graduation thesis. He stayed on to work in Doshi’s studio on projects of various scales. Later, together with his wife Khushnu Panthaki Hoof, he founded Studio Sangath, a multi-disciplinary partnership focussing on residential projects, interior and furniture design. “The main focus of our practice is to design spaces that encourage the permeability of the environment into their manifestation,” says Hoof, the principal architect and partner at the firm.


With most of their residential projects located in and around Ahmedabad, the architect employs different passive cooling techniques to keep structures from heating up immensely during peak Indian summers. He tells us how he achieves it in this interview.

Beautiful Homes (BH): What has your observation been in building homes that are specific to the hot, tropical Indian climate?

Sönke Hoof (SH): In contrast to most buildings in Europe, which often have a clear definition of inside and outside zones, in Indian homes, this separation is not as clear-cut and there are elements such as the verandah which connects the two. In the buildings we design, we make extensive use of this, blurring the lines between both the sections. Depending on the time of the day and the weather, this gives flexibility to the homeowner to be where they feel most comfortable. The hot hours of the day might be spent deeper inside the building, further away from the facade, while mornings and evenings can be comfortably spent outside.

Sönke Hoof with Khushnu Panthaki Hoof at Studio Sangath – Beautiful Homes

Sönke Hoof with Khushnu Panthaki Hoof, his wife and founding partner at Studio Sangath.

Wooden louvres in Ahmedabad home – Beautiful Homes

Black Perch, a home in Ahmedabad designed by Studio Sangath where charred wooden louvres cover the entire facade.

BH: What methods and techniques do you use that help keep a home naturally cooler than the outside temperature?

SH: The two most crucial things are providing ample shade and ventilation. A simple shading element can give immediate relief from the sun while shade combined with a breeze (ventilation) increases the comfort even further. Compare this to sitting in direct sunlight or sitting under a tree or an umbrella. It is quite obvious where you will be more comfortable. So, the building should provide protection from the glare of the sun while allowing enough natural ventilation to prevent build-up of heat. We like to play with skylights and use them to let indirect light bounce deep into the spaces without heating them up.


Another important factor is the walls. What is their thickness, what is their material? Do they easily transfer heat from outside? Thin walls heat up fast and might easily transfer this inside. Thick walls, on the other hand, allow for deep, recessed windows which are therefore shaded. In several of our projects, we have used subterranean spaces as summer refuge living spaces.


We also like to use flexible external shading elements such as shutters or louvres which the user can place as required. In several of our buildings, the entire outer facade is made of these elements. In a home called Sinha Slats, we have large sliding shutters with wooden slats. The owners can choose to have it entirely open or closed, just as they like or require. Here, it is not defined whether the building is inside or outside. It can be both. Another project is Black Perch where the entire facade is covered with charred black wooden louvres. Again, the owners can choose how much to open up or close off.


BH: What are some of the materials that help bring the intense summer heat down?

SH: Wood doesn’t store heat and is a poor radiator. Shaded stone can also be useful. But badly placed, dark stone, on the other hand, can heat up during the day and then keep radiating throughout the evening even after ambient temperatures have already dropped. The same is true for exposed concrete which is a terrible radiator.

BH: What are some of the don’ts when it comes to building summer-friendly homes?

SH: Thin walls and large, unshaded glass facades, unshaded dark stone surfaces, less or no ventilation. Compared to older buildings, new constructions have rather thin walls. This is especially true for commercial homes, since thinner walls are so much cheaper and save space. Unfortunately, thermal comfort is not a priority for many builders. Several buildings these days are also built with air-conditioning in mind and don’t provide enough natural ventilation. Without the AC they often heat up very quickly and become uncomfortable.

Home design with louvres – Beautiful Homes

Louvres are a great way to control the amount of natural light entering a space, thus providing some respite from the heat.

BH: What tips should one follow when building apartments and bungalows to keep them cooler?

SH: Wherever possible, the outer walls should have a good thickness and external shading elements should be considered. When designing, opening needs to be placed with care to avoid excessive direct sunlight. External shading of openings is more effective than internal shading, which blocks the light once the heat is already inside the home. This can also be roof overhangs that shade the walls and the openings.

Home design with wooden slats – Beautiful Homes

A home called Sinha Slats features sliding shutters with wooden slats to prevent heat buildup.

Indoor outdoor home design – Beautiful Homes

The line between indoor and outdoor spaces is also blurred in its design.

BH: For homes that are already built, what passive cooling methods would you suggest that are easy to implement?

SH: If the external facade can’t be altered, the last resort is using internal blinds and curtains. There are options available that have a reflective back which at least reflect a part of the heat back outside. Using specific types of internal paint can also help improve the climate inside during hot summer months. Some of these are:


Reflective Paint: Choosing paints with reflective properties can help bounce sunlight away from the interiors of the house, reducing heat absorption and keeping the indoor temperature cooler.


Insulating Paint: Some paints contain insulating properties that help regulate indoor temperature by reducing heat transfer through walls. This can keep the interiors cooler during the hot weather.

Summer shading design ideas – Beautiful Homes

An example of a shading element that prevents too much direct light and heat to enter the building.

Heat-Reflective Coatings: Certain paints come with heat-reflective coatings that prevent heat from penetrating through the walls. These coatings can help maintain a comfortable temperature indoors even when it's scorching outside.


Light Colours: Opting for lighter shades of paint can also help in keeping the interiors cooler as they reflect more light and heat compared to darker colours which absorb heat.


Low VOC Paints: Choosing paints with low volatile organic compound (VOC) content not only improves the indoor air quality but also helps in maintaining a comfortable climate as they don't emit harmful gases that can contribute to heat build-up.

By using these types of internal paint, you can contribute to a more comfortable indoor environment during hot summer months while potentially reducing the need for excessive air conditioning, thus saving energy and reducing utility costs.



BH: Are there any lessons from BV Doshi that you keep in mind when designing your projects?

SH: From Doshi, I learnt that there is no clear distinction between the inside and outside as everything is fluid. He also taught me the flexibility of layering elements and spaces.



All images by Karan Gajjar

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