A unique landscape project implemented with the age old knowledge of traditional Indian healing methods aims at the betterment of its patrons..
Text By : Kruti Choksi
Photograph Courtesy : BPS Architect
On the basis of a pure definition, landscape architecture should deal with the designing of outdoor spaces for an environmental, socio-behavioural, recreational and aesthetic outcome. But spare a minute and think of all the landscape projects you have come across so far – how many of them actually deal with anything more than aesthetics?
The French philosopher Voltaire, once said, “It is not sufficient to see and to know the beauty of a work. We must feel and be affected by it.” So true!
Sanjeevani, officially a ‘Biodiversity Conservation Resource Area’ (BCRA) project was proposed by the Centre for Environmental Education (CEE), Ahmedabad and funded by the Toyota Environmental Activities Grant Programme of Toyota Motor Corporation, Japan.
Subsequently architect duo Parth Shah and Brinda Shah of BPS Architects, Rajkot, were commissioned as a team to be in charge of the built infrastructure intervention as well as be consultants to the project.
“The goal of the project was to generate awareness as well as respect for the locally available medicinal plants of the rural areas where formal healthcare has still not reached to its fullest extent. The integration of knowledge of biodiversity into the school curriculum as well as the creation of an informal system which would eventually provide knowledge for its use and the cultivation of medicinal plants which would benefit the village community was intended,” states Parth Shah.
The project was implemented through 10 Post Basic Schools (PBS) in two major ecological regions of Gujarat; the sub-humid ecological region of South Gujarat’s tribal belt with rich medicinal plant diversity and the ecologically fragile, semi-arid region of Saurashtra. As the basic education of agriculture was already a part of their curriculum, the entire project was intertwined such that it became a homogenous process of understanding and could now benefit the community at large.
The project was initially designed on the drawing board to a very small extent; it was then later crafted and completed through a collective decision making exercise. The stake holders were the school children and teachers, villagers and community leaders. A detailed study of the site, its surroundings, local customs, traditions and the needs of the community was followed by orientation workshops. The stage of execution of the final design too ensured participation of the students and the local residents using a minimum of hired skilled labour. This hands-on approach towards the entire design process generated a sense of ownership among its beneficiaries.
“The concept and intention was to enlighten the youth towards the traditional and well tested knowledge of Ayurveda that was loosening its grip somewhat in today’s world,” elucidates Brinda Shah. A thorough investigation about the commonly occurring diseases among the villagers was followed by a detailed discussion with the local Ayurvedic consultant to decide upon the selection of the medicinal plants.
Lemongrass, Tulsi, Brahmi, Shankhpushpi, Satavari, Parijataka, Ashoka, Aritha, Harde, Gugal, etc., along with some rare species like Laxmana and Krushnaparni were planted. The seeds that were generated from these plants have given rise to a seed bank which can now cater to the local farmers’ need for organic farming.
To generate an engagement of the students with the plants required educative components like a nursery, reading spaces, a rockery, experimentation areas, water bodies, lawn areas, bird nesting areas, huts, open-to-sky amphitheatres and signage spaces as an integral part of the design.
Interesting non-linear tracks were designed to make the stroll paths of the students a little more playful. Easily available industrial waste was utilised innovatively; defective electric hot plates were used for paving and the use of damaged washbasins and toilet bowls as seats reduced the overall cost of the project effectively.
Simultaneously such gestures have helped in clearing the dump-yards of these elements which hitherto were obscuring the rich fertile top soil. There was a big reduction in the use of new materials required making the project not only cost effective but a successful exercise in product re-use.
“The participating schools which were instrumental in creating the model medicinal plant garden can now inspire other schools and such projects can get replicated with the information and resources available from these schools,” explains Parth Shah with a hope and intent of a far reaching impact.