World Architecture Day: We track eco-friendly, durable and sustainable homes across the country and explore the advantages

At a time when global warming and climate change are factors that can’t be ignored, individuals are becoming increasingly conscious about their choices that impact the environment and the ecosystem

author_img Priyanka Chandani Published :  04th October 2021 08:52 PM   |   Published :   |  04th October 2021 08:52 PM
Sustainable houses

Sustainable houses

If you come upon this compact courtyard house in Thoraipakkam, Chennai, you might think you’re looking at a row house. Traditional look, skylight access, clay filler roofs, oxide floors, potted ceilings, cuddapah stone roofs and hollow clay block walls are part of this recently built dwelling. It is only when you look closer, the unique features pop out. The exterior frame is wrapped in an outer layer of heat-trapping insulation. Sunshine streams in through large, south and north-facing windows drenching the interior living spaces with glorious natural light. The house is complete with solar panels that heat up your water if needed and supplies much of its electric power. The indoor area is finished with non-toxic paints, rugs and fabrics. In short, this house, owned by Amit and Mehakk Kinger, is built to be green and sustainable. 

At a time when global warming and climate change are factors that can’t be ignored, individuals are becoming increasingly conscious about their choices that impact the environment and the ecosystem. They want to stay close to nature and bring up a generation that is conscious and responsible. This was precisely the reason for Amit to build a sustainable living space. “We wanted to stay in a house that’s close to nature. We lived in many contemporary houses but wanted to go back to the old-time houses, with our kids. We ensured to reuse every resource and went back to the times, in a beautiful way. We wanted to utilise local resources and craftsmen,” says Amit, who proudly flaunts the backyard of his house which is flourishing with organic veggies and fruits.

Amit and mehakk's house

Similarly, a two-story house owned by Viji and Shabari Girish in Perungudi, boasts clay walls, skylights, open water well, curved roofs, terraced upper floors, lime plaster with jaali and bay windows. Viji tells us that the idea of building this greenhouse was to build a place with minimal and local resources. “It was a conscious choice to contribute to nature and stay as close to it as possible,” shares the corporate employee. 

Navi Mumbai’s eco-friendly ‘Collage House’ also marks its name on this marvel list of conscious stays. Spread across 5,000 sq ft, 46 ft wide and 82 ft in depth, Pinkish Shah and Shilpa Gore-Shah’s green home is in contrast to the explicitly luxurious homes and skyrocketing towers of the city. Built with recycled windows, doors, granite stone and solid wood, the house also has a rainwater harvesting tank with a load-bearing metal structure to hold the three-storied home. “We wanted to flip the way how poor looks up to the rich for inspiration and see how structures from informal settlements could give us lessons for a recycled home,” says noted architect Pinkish Shah.

Following a thought

Designed for eco-friendly energy with durability, the concept of green and sustainable houses was popularised by architects such as Geoffrey Bawa (Sri Lanka-based) and Laurie Baker (British-born Kerala-based) - who have defined an architectural language that is attuned to the region’s climate, rely on native materials and integral local art and crafts. Natural materials such as mud, brick, wood, stones and bamboo among others take the centre stage while building these houses. 

For instance, Bengaluru based Raghavendra Sridhar and Shaini S’ house is made of rammed earth and soil cement block walls. The couple intentionally chose vaults, athangudi tiles for floors and 150 years old up-cycled wooden windows with collapsible terrace ladder and ornamental pooja space. The couple wanted to build a raw house with minimal resources. “We were traveling around Tamil Nadu and Telangana and were impressed with the old age construction in many of the cities. We found them sustainable so we planned to build a mud or render house,” says Raghvendra, who claims that they experience 4-5 degree lower temperature in the house, for it is built of thick walls and has 28 windows for cross ventilation. “We have gone back to basics,” he adds. 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

As you enter these nature-friendly houses, the interior spaces open up with striking visuals. The rooms are arranged linearly, in diagonal angle or curvilinear profile or with sequential privacy depending upon the spaces and designs. The source of light and air from all the directions play a subtle role to make you feel closer to nature. This is precisely how R Chandragiri’s 40*60 residence in Singapore Gardens, Bangaluru appears. Made with stabilised mud blocks and rammed earth walls, the house is an ensemble of vaulted and flat filler roofs, curved jaali roofs, rammed earth columns, rooftop garden pavilion, fish pond, skylit cantilever and stone slab stairs. For Chandragiri, it was a decision that he made to live back in the 1980s when the city was full of greenery. “I saw the transition from garden-ship to silicon city. I wanted an old Bangalore environment and natural form of a house rather than laden with paint,” he shares. 

Pardiwala brothers – Mishal and Mikhail took the metaphor ‘think-out-of-the-box’ quite literally. They have turned their barren land in Zirad, a small village in between Mandwa and Alibaug in Maharashtra, into a sustainable and affordable living quarter – Orange Box. Nestled on top of a little hill, the family has converted the 8ft width 40 ft in length steel shipping container into their holiday home. And take our word; this unique house doesn’t look like it was made from containers. “The aim was to show that one could achieve a really good finish while re-cycling a product. You just have to be mindful of where you want to put in things,” says Mishal. The three bedroom house with balconies and bathrooms, one living room and a kitchen contains glass wood insulation between the containers, which helps cut the excessive heat and sound. The owners have planted trees for shade and harvested rainwater for water reuse and maintain the temperature in the common area. 

Eco-friendly v/s sustainable luxury 

Usually, these houses are more experimental than monumental. However, one might not be able to differentiate between eco-friendly and sustainable houses as both the architectures adhere to spatial functionality, material sensitivity and economic viability. Mumbai-based architects Gauri Satam and Tajesh Patil, who are building sustainable homes based on the concept of being climatically sensitive, explain that eco-friendly homes are mainly conceptualised using solar passive strategies and native material palette to minimise our impact on the environment through the built form. However, sustainable homes may not always be cost-effective. “Sustainability is practiced at two levels, passive strategies dictated by the regional climate, which is an intrinsic part of the design process, while active strategies which involve energy and monetary investment, using physical systems like solar panels, rainwater harvesting tanks, which come at a significant cost,” explain Gauri and Satam. And hence, the duo says they have been experimenting with the term, ‘affordable luxury’, wherein environmentally conscious design, affordability and the aspiration of luxury living are balanced. 

In addition, if you think this ancient design and build approach needs a big budget, we tell you, that’s not the case. “Owners can choose mud architecture for frugality, finesse, or even for fashion,” clarifies Sathya Prakash Varanashi, who is based in Bengaluru. He also explains that building an eco-friendly house requires planning and minimisation of manufactured material. “The idea of a house is building an eco-logical entity. Most of these buildings are exposed to natural material and they are expensive than the normal house but they last longer. They don’t require air conditioning and light. You don’t have to paint the house every few years. Mind-set is changing and people are making more conscious choices for their homes,” says the senior architect. Amit also adds that the labour component is higher in building these nature-friendly houses. “But when you go through this tedious process of sourcing material and labour, you feel closer to the house,” he adds in conclusion.