Much like the proverbial struggle of naming a first child, naming a home is equally difficult. That fact is bolstered if the home is where we spent our childhood. The naming has to be impeccable and be as welcoming to the residents, just like how parents call out to their children.
The naming of the Noor residence is a compound of Md Junaid Abu Salay Musa's – Director of Epyllion Group – parents' names: Nooruddin Ahmed (father) and Noorjahan Begum (mother). Right above the entrance, the name NOOR etched on the snow-white wall of this ancestral home, enamours the beauty of what lies beyond.
As Eid-ul-Fitr is on the horizon, a lot of people are readying themselves to go back to where they are from; to their hometowns; to their families and loved ones, after a long month of observing fasts and prayers amidst the parching summer. The Noor residence too sings out a carol to its occasional dwellers to come together whenever an opportunity turns up.
It is situated in the Noadda neighbourhood of Nabiganj upazila in Narayanganj. One, upon visiting the home, could feel that it is rather out of place.
Md Junaid Abu Salay Musa expressed heartily, "I, along with my five other siblings, grew up right here in this very place. Here we had space to grow and play, the peace of mind to live amongst a large family, and most importantly a lot of light to bask in."
Noor residence is a three-story building that has been constructed in the memory of Junaid's childhood and that of his five other siblings. As owners of the Epyllion Group, a readymade garments manufacturer, Junaid and his siblings have to stay near their business in Dhaka but they make sure to pay a visit whenever possible; even if that is for the upkeep of the place or just to feel the cosy reassurance felt only from one's own home.
The term 'Noor', derived from Arabic, translates as divine luminescence or simply put, light, that is both bright and warm. To design the home as bright, naturally lit, and aerated as possible was the directive that went to Mahmudul Anwar Riyaad, the principal architect for DWm4 Intrends Ltd and an Associate Professor of the Architecture department at Buet — the same department and school he graduated from.
Home to the residents but like a child to the architect
When Professor Riyaad arrived at the premises he was pacing up and down. Every corner, every stretch of the home was as familiar to him as the back of his own hand. "Some of my designed projects have become so homely that I wish I could live in them myself," he said smilingly.
He was showing us around the place with the excitement of a child showing an adult his/her first piece of drawing, except the design elements of this home appeared finessed through and through, from the laying of the first brick to painting the last vacant blotch of paintwork.
Professor Riyaad designed the place from the ground up with one simple instruction that this home must be reminiscent of 1970s architecture — the time around when Junaid grew up with his siblings in this very place.
The architect then added in his own signature stylings. He said, "We were going back in time to design this house. The ceilings are lofty, the windows wide and walls 10 inches thick, like they used to be in the olden days.
With the floor we wanted the traditional look, using cement across all the floors of the complex. However, we had to use a different material that resembles cement lining. They look like tiles but are actually locally sourced stone slabs."
It is easy to get carried away with designs and add bits and pieces that do not belong there or serve no purpose, like recesses in the wall. He added, "Gothic architecture used buttresses to support their tall structures from toppling over, but construction materials have now evolved, so if we used buttresses now, it wouldn't make sense. So, we went with simplicity, but also made sure that quality was never compromised."
As for expenses, the architect reassured that not a single material used in the construction had to be imported, so it cost no more to construct than conventional housing expenditure. Window panes in the house also hark back to the very same longitudinal metal rods, with one metal or wooden bar in the middle to hold them in place.
Such immaculate attention to details makes walking through this complex like a stroll back in time. Then, right in front of Noor residence is a lawn that houses a shroud of bamboo trees — a design element of course — and they are home to a thousand sparrows.
The chirping of the sparrows really does make the place feel like a tiny piece of nature.
And when the sparrows retire for the day at dusk, surreal illusions take over the place. Deliberately placed lawn lights bring out a different facade of the whole complex.
However, even for a much-learned architect like Profess Riyaad, completing the home was a taxing feat. He spoke of the challenges, "The biggest challenge was the plot itself. It was shaped like the letter 'Z' and we had to work our way around it. Letting in as much light as possible was yet another issue. So we built it in a way so that it tapers off the higher it goes."
That way they were also able to make the place look less intimidating. A gaudy design could also alienate the residents from their neighbours and they did not want that.
Also instead of covering up the roof as one flat, mundane concrete floor, they incorporated cutouts that let in sufficient light through the roofs. And the singular white colour used throughout the exterior and the interior of the complex lets light bounce off from every corner.
And to top off the already mesmerising beauty of the entire complex, right behind the main entrance is a functional, miniature bridge, under which a school of living Japanese koi carps swim, bringing the place another step closer to nature.
The seasoned architect built this place from the ground up between 2016-2018.
Vacation home or a retreat to fond memories?
Junaid specified at one point of our conversation, "This very sofa I am sitting in was the first furniture my father had bought for his own family. We could easily swap these old and out-of-fashion fittings and appliances for new ones, but that would defeat the purpose of having a home that encapsulates our childhood memories but holds nothing on the inside to tell old tales.
The ceiling fans you see above our heads are from that time too, they just have been refurbished but not replaced. We want our next generation to have all that we had, but also not fall behind in comfort and amenities.
We are six siblings and our mother lives here for some time of the year. As we have to run a large family business we are all not always able to come together at the same time, but it lies in our best interest to keep trying to do that.
So, Noor residence is obviously not a vacation home for any of us. It is a home for me as much as any human calls his living place a home."
It is, after all, the loved ones, who turn a house into a home.