Green Crusader – Hunnarshala
Based in Kutch, Hunnarshala is a not-for-profit architectural organisation that works closely with local communities. Its objectives are three-fold: to empower local communities with skills and knowledge essential to building their own habitats; educate rural artisans in mastering carpentry and masonry skills; and research of sustainable building materials.
Their most popular community project – the Shaam-e-Sarhad village resort in the north of Bhuj has made its mark as a tourist attraction as well as an architectural achievement. But the organisation’s ideals and philosophies are best exemplified at its own campus which is built using natural and waste material in collaboration with several master artisans and architects.
At the campus, the organisation incubates firms that specialise in joinery, thatch making, rammed earth construction, space frame manufacturing etc. and provide the artisans support right from formal training and design to administrative, financial and legal matters.
The incubation cell has been a successful launch pad and confidence booster for many rural artisans.
The word Hunnarshala derives its origins from Hunnar which means ‘arts’ in Urdu and ‘skill’ in Hindi; shala means ‘school’. Hunnarshala was conceived in the wake of the 2001 Bhuj earthquake when houses made of concrete collapsed, killing many and rendering several others homeless. The earthquake brought some surprising revelations to the fore: Bhungas (circular, thatch-roofed huts) in the Banni region survived the earthquake without any casualties proving that houses built with traditional materials were stronger than modern buildings and second – local artisans were actually quite proficient in building their own habitats.
Taking notes from the master craftsmen of Banni and their community-based approach, Hunnarshala helped rebuild 1200 houses in the region. “We have since sponsored research and helped three state governments, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Bihar develop technical guidelines to build modern buildings with traditional materials like stone, earth and bamboo respectively”, relates Sandeep Virmani, Vice Chairperson of Hunnarshala.
Abroad, the organisation was instrumental in helping 3700 Indonesian families build disaster safe and eco-friendly houses after the devastating 2004 Tsunami. In India, it stepped in to rebuild habitats for victims of the 2005 earthquake in Jammu & Kashmir and the 2008 floods in Bihar.
The organisation is currently in the throes of a massive operation to make Bhuj slum free in five years. Together with the municipality they have helped 500 slum dwellers build sustainable houses using earth and construction waste while also managing their own water supply and recycling sewerage.
Sandeep links the flagrant and irresponsible construction we see around to the breakdown of communities. He says, “The understanding of appropriate construction is not difficult to acquire or understand. It is the feeling of caring for one another and the moral accountability that communities ensure that builds safe and beautiful buildings.”
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Courtesy Hunnarshala Foundation
Green Designer – Fly Elephant
The word sustainability is a protean word with a wide scope, and Flying Elephant Studio explores this aspect through their exemplary work that makes us rethink ‘sustainability’ and ‘green design’. “It is not about sustainable architecture, but about a good or bad design. Sustainability features should come into it by default.”, states Architect Rajesh Renganathan, principal partner at Flying Elephant Studio. Architect Iype Chacko, the other principal partner, chips in, “Achieving more with less is the aim, and incorporation of landscape and appropriate sustainable features are integral from concept design in all our projects.”
The firm’s architectural vocabulary displays a blend of contemporary design, sustainable features and aesthetic appeal.
The architects add, “Our designs are in response to the climatic and site conditions. We try to use local materials with minimal wastage during construction.” Their projects in semi-arid regions with water scarcity have detailed water harvesting systems, which Architect Rajesh Renganathan stresses “have to be a visible part of architecture in the form of spouts, water bodies, pools etc.”
The concept of layering is a repeated feature in many of their projects and ‘creates an envelope that acts like a climatic buffer’, elaborates Chacko. For example in the Primary Health centre in Tamilnadu, ‘the building within a building’ idea is implemented by zoning the functions in two concentric layers, an airy waiting veranda wrapped around the core hospital. A varied cultivated landscape becomes the third layer with dual functions of aesthetics and climatic buffer. In Pavilion House, a residence in Bangalore, a perforated cubical shell contains the main functional areas while a double heighted veranda sheaths the North and East facades.
Material palette is mostly local and a hybrid system of construction employing local craftsmen and skilled workers is used. The sustainable character of the Primary Health centre won them the ‘Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction 2011’ where the jury commented, “The jury recognises the strength of the project in its sophisticated detailing. Materials are employed respecting their specific qualities.”
Architects Rajesh Renganathan and Iype Chacko bring into their projects a structural ingenuity that makes maximum use of each material, augmented by simple and functional planning. Implores Renganathan, “the concepts of cross transparency and ventilation find a spot through design in all our projects since it is a natural requirement” as outlined in Pavilion house through the openings and in Primary Health Centre and in Rishi Valley School where dormitories open to both sides.
Flying Elephant Studio has been recognised widely and it is easy to understand why. Sustainable architecture is a natural element in their design that can be seen in every structural and constructional detail.
Text By K Parvathy Menon
Photographs Manoj Sudhakaran Courtesy Flying Elephant Studio
Green Designer – Sandeep Sangaru
Did you know that bamboo grows faster than any other equally hard natural material and gives out 30% more oxygen? It also holds soil well, is biodegradable and best of all – cheaply available. To Sandeep Sangaru, an industrial designer, much of this came as a revelation in 2003 when he visited Tripura as faculty from NID to train artisans in contemporary design.
Prior to his visit to the Bamboo and Cane Institute in Tripura, Sandeep had worked largely with metal and wood and scoffed at bamboo as a humble material best suited for baskets, ladders, scaffolding material and huts. Working with the natives he realised how integral bamboo was to their lives – being used for everything from food to shelter; it’s versatility and sustainability won him over and before he knew it bamboo had become an integral part of his life too.
After leaving NID, Sandeep worked with artisans from Tripura to launch ‘Truss me’ – a collection of handcrafted bamboo chairs, bookcases and kids’ products. This popular collection won him the Red Dot award for Best of the Best Design in 2009.
Though bamboo furniture has seldom enjoyed equal billing as furniture made from wood, Sandeep believes this is slated to change. “Bamboo will be the material that will be used in every aspect of modern living in the coming future. Right now, bamboo is ‘muse’ to a lot of designers across the globe.”
He adds, “My designs try to push the limits of the material and craftsmanship. The idea is to take it to the next level of applications and evolve the use of the material in many more functional ways.” For him, working with local craftsmen is also important because they have an inherent skill in handling bamboo and the livelihood they earn from working on Sandeep’s designs helps encourage them to stay in the trade. The collaboration with local artists won him the British Council Award for Young Creative Entrepreneur working for social impact.
Sandeep believes that every traditional craft is a sustainable practice. He says, “My company philosophy is to design and develop products using traditional practices and to elevate them to the next level of competence so that they can be used in everyday life.” His design firm – Sangaru Design Objects Pvt. Ltd. currently focuses on developing products using natural materials to create handloom textiles, pottery, woodcraft, furniture and lighting.
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Courtesy Sandeep Sangaru
Green Crusader – SEEDS
Rising from the ashes of the Uttarakhand flash-floods, villagers in the devastated region are slowly beginning to see a silver lining in that infamous black cloud of June 2013. Led by ‘Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society’ (SEEDS) the locals are now well on the way to rebuilding their homes, schools, hospitals and lives.
Helping vulnerable communities develop resilience to natural disaster is at the core of Seeds’ vision, a non-profit organisation incepted in 1994. The Director of Seeds, Dr. Manu Gupta explains, “Many of Seeds’ initiatives lead into long-term sustainable housing, climate change adaption or school and hospital safety projects. This is performed with due regard towards human dignity, respect for local cultures and values and accountability towards all stakeholders”.
In the last two decades, Seeds has rehabilitated over 2500 families, helping them create sustainable housing that will not only be resilient against future natural disasters but will also be culturally apt and environmentally suitable.
Since the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, Seeds has actively responded to more than nine natural emergencies building shelters and schools in disaster-struck Kashmir, Barmer, Orissa, Kosi and Leh or providing disaster management training in a number of regions including the Maldives, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Shimla.
In the aftermath of Leh-Ladakh floods of 2008, Seeds studied traditional local structures of the area observing how they had developed to accommodate climatic conditions as well as Buddhist rituals.“The final design,” says an architect from Seeds “was created taking into consideration the Ladakhi way of life, the culture and the fragile ecology of the region and the pressing time frame.”
In the reconstruction process in Leh, indigenous building technologies were followed along with the incorporation of a few modern practices to make the buildings more safe and comfortable. Earth and stone being abundantly available and being good conductors of heat were used extensively in the building process. Seeds also employed various other techniques like adobe (sun dried mud blocks), earth-bag and rammed earth. In Tamil Nadu, shelters for the Thane cyclone victims were built using earth-bag technology where waste bags were filled with moist soil and then placed, tamped and tied together.
The Seeds team is currently engaged in Uttarakhand and is moving from relief operations to rehabilitation work. The organisation believes in ensuring complete participation from the stakeholders in all its initiatives and hence enlists house owners along with local masons and unskilled construction workers in the rebuilding process. Training is provided to all the stakeholders through workshops and hands-on practice.
To quote Stanzin Dolma, one of the beneficiaries of Seeds’ efforts in Leh-Ladakh – “I now feel that even if the water comes again and again, my house will not fall.”
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Siddharth Behl and Sarika Gulati Courtesy Seeds
Green Designer – Mahesh Naik
‘A building must grow as nature grows from inside out’, states Mumbai based Architect Mahesh Naik who practices organic architecture, a concept that is still unfamiliar territory to many of us. He believes that organic design endures the test of time and is a much better way to practice sustainable architecture. He explains, “Sustainable architecture is not today’s invention, its today’s hype, where it has become just a popular word. Many these days, merely follow a prescribed method of construction, with natural or recycled materials to get the look and label of sustainable architecture.”
Elaborating further, Naik says, “It is a discovery of past knowledge and a realisation of today’s mistakes. Take the Taj Mahal, for example, its construction cost was 32 million Rupees and it has survived 361 years, which makes the costing just Rs 252/day till now; the best part is that it will eventually become free of cost.”
All of Naik’s projects echo his design philosophy of ‘evolving in response to context and an interaction with the surroundings’. A farmhouse designed in Alibaug, Red Mars, was featured in the Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture and was nominated for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2007. This project evolved merely from a conceptual plan and elevation; thereafter decisions were made as the building took shape, in response to the setting and flora, while working with local craftsmen.
The sensitive relationship between the dwelling and environment, and the use of indigenous materials is evident in his other projects, most of them in the Konkan belt. ‘Moonlight’ another farmhouse designed by Naik has an open, symmetric plan based on square and circular grids, making it functionally efficient. Its design was inspired by site topography, and the major axis in the house is aligned parallel to the valley, thus giving a panoramic view to all the rooms.
In ‘Wild Echo’ a house in Alibaug, the design spins around an existing bunch of Palmyra palms that become the focus of the house. Here a relationship is nurtured between the built fabric and topography through zoning – the rear South-West façade protects the structure and decks from the heavy monsoons and harsh afternoon sun.
In a quest to ‘derive new expressions using a limited native palette’ for all new projects, Architect Mahesh Naik tries to make them timeless which he feels is the core of sustainable architecture. He calls Frank Lloyd Wright and Nari Gandhi his gurus, and lets his work speak for him. Organic architecture has been around us, in nature, in our lives, but Architect Mahesh Naik through his grasp of the concept tries to bring to us an architecture that simply keeps growing and treading lightly on the environment.
Text By K Parvathy Menon
Photographs Courtesy Asim Wadekar, Mrigank Sharma and Aditya Panchal
Green Specialist – Mathachajj
Nine women in the desolate town of Bhuj decided to take control over their lives, finding the strength to undertake an initiative, that gives true essence to the words ‘sustainability’ and ‘empowerment’. When “Hunnarshala”, an NGO training local artisans, put forth the idea of forming a thatch manufacturing company, these women jumped at the opportunity and ‘Mathachajj’ was born. Meaning ‘a roof above your head’, Mathachajj uses rice hay and creates roofs using a blend of traditional Kutchi technique and a Balinese method.
Once the initial social hurdles were overcome, the next major challenge was the clients, who had to be convinced of the advantages of installing a thatch roof. The traditional thatch roofing is considered temporary and unreliable, but MathaChhaj experts believe that ‘sustainable built form solutions lie in traditional wisdom.’
They explain, “We promote the traditional wisdom of built forms, of which materials are an integral part. Using this in contemporary architecture, architects can explore new methods of application involving traditional communities.” After an initial reluctance, now there is a long list of projects like Chintan – a vocational training centre, Mansi – a girl’s school, Foundation for Ecology Security etc.
The nine women or ‘behens’ work in tandem to produce, install and manage the company. The modular panels are made by tying rice straw bunches with cotton threads on split bamboo, an idea borrowed from a Balinese practice at Mathachajj Production Unit and then transported to the site. Ease of installation over any type of under structure – wood, steel, etc is one of their winning features.
But what makes this thatch roofing system stand out? Mathachajj team explains, “Other than the climatic insulation thatch is also acoustically advantageous. Also, they are modular, light weight and flexible; hence not only is there reduction in structural cost and installation time, but they can also be used almost anywhere.” But the strongest argument in favour of these thatch roofs the team state, ‘is their low carbon footprint and excellent performance at times of earthquakes.’
Mathachajj combines knowledge from two sources with a regional perspective, through a channel that is unique and truly inspirational. The thatch roofs developed are an eco friendly solution in the earthquake prone, arid Kutch region. The company and its product is a catalyst for change, both in the social and constructional arena.
Text By K Parvathy Menon
Photographs Courtesy Design Studio Team and Hunnarshala Foundation
Green Designer – Studio ABD
Designer Abhijit Bansod and his new-age team at Studio ABD wear their design conscience on their sleeves. Literally. The team recently devised a Karmameter – an electronic wristband that measures the impact of the wearer’s karma or actions by awarding plus points for eco-friendly purchases or minus points for non-degradable, toxic purchases. If you’ve been environmentally conscious, you’re on safe turf; if not – watch out for the eco-police.
There’s another device on similar lines – Inwaste. This wall-mounted device uses technology to weigh and accord a price value to household recyclable waste, encouraging households to handle waste responsibly on the premise that there is value in waste. These ideas are currently in conceptual stages but the designers seem convinced that the Karmameter and Inwaste are ideas whose time has come.
A multi-disciplinary firm, Studio ABD undertakes commercial assignments for packaging, branding and spatial design when they’re not dreaming up ideas for a sustainable future. “The Indian way of life has always been about using and reusing,” says Abhijit, ruing the advent of consumerism in India and its impact on the environment.
The studio flexes its design clout to influence several of their multi-national clients in making eco-friendly packaging choices. One way, they propose, to reduce waste is by creating packaging with such an enduring appeal that consumers will be automatically fired up to reuse the container. This slant of thought was the genesis for their attractive ‘tin’ takeaway containers for a Biryani establishment in lieu of the ugly, pervasive, non-degradable plastic containers.
Studio ABD also retails a line of lifestyle products which combine technology and tradition but speak with a distinct Indian vocabulary. In 2010, the firm won the Red Dot award for a solar-powered, LED desk lamp designed for BPL. Their brand Mubhi, anagram of ‘Bhumi’ (earth) aims at introducing beautiful, handcrafted items that create new ways of seeing. Take for instance the Allvaze, a conical vase that plays with illusion or the DIY where terracotta diyas break free from traditional moulds to offer new possibilities in design. Their predilection for puns aside, the studio is serious about working with natural, eco-friendly and biodegradable materials to create sustainable futures.
Text By K Parvathy Menon
Photographs Courtesy Studio ABD
Green Researcher – Institute Of Urbanology
What is the future of our cities and how can they be made more sustainable? The Institute of Urbanology in India aims to address these and other urban concerns by engaging with communities, producing urban plans, implementing projects, advising private groups and recommending strategies and policies to public sector organisations. Active in India and abroad, the Institute operates out of its offices in Mumbai and Goa.
Its Directors – Rahul Srivastava and Matias Echanove agree that cities need to invest in housing and infrastructure to meet future needs but only as long as it is within a robust planning framework. They believe, “We see a totally unsustainable urge to ‘redevelop’ existing neighbourhoods without any consideration of their history and current use. When diverse areas, integrating living and working (shops, small workshops and offices) are transformed into mono-functional housing blocks, they get poorer in real terms and new commuters are added onto already saturated transport networks. This is good for investors and developers, bad for neighbourhoods and for the city, as it wastes resources and increases maintenance cost.”
Following their extensive work in Indian cities and rapidly urbanising regions such as the Konkan coast, Rahul and Matias believe there is a need to maintain a fine balance between letting people shape their environments at very local levels and providing the right amount of support for infrastructure at the municipal level.
Their research has unearthed positive data: Some Indian cities are faring reasonably well in terms of global indicators of sustainable urban living. In Mumbai, for instance, more than half the people walk to work. This is simply because most people live in ‘homegrown’ neighbourhoods that have developed their own local economy.
“What we clearly see is that pedestrian neighbourhoods which combine living and working, and which can absorb high population densities without going high-rise are very common in Indian cities. This is exactly what the most progressive planning policies and urban designs are promoting in advanced cities. Shouldn’t we invest in these neighbourhoods and help them fulfill their potential, instead of demolishing them and transforming them into a fake copy of a Chinese city (which is itself a fake copy of an American city),” ask Rahul and Matias.
Dismissing the contradiction between nature and the city they say, “One can perfectly have a green city (Goa or Kerala for instance are both densely built and green). For this, we must encourage both local, neighbourhood-based economic activities, and efficient and affordable communication systems.” Bolstered by strong emerging business and urban models that support this vision, the Institute is currently exploring the possibilities with communities, universities and private groups.
Text By Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Courtesy Institute of Urbanology
Green Specialist – Rematerials
Sadly, today’s scenario does not allow for easy, affordable housing for the underprivileged. Hasit Ganatra who leads Re Materials, travelled through villages and slums and was particularly struck by the lack of adequate roofing available. Nearly 80% of the families could not afford adequate roofing and were left with the poor quality options of corrugated cement or metal roofs, which are both sub-optimal as shelter and hazardous to health.
This lead Hasit Ganatra, who holds a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, to start a company that takes on two pressing challenges facing the developing world, namely – quality of life and waste management.
To counter the waste problem Hasit and his team started developing a material mix from waste that could provide an affordable alternative to cheap roofing systems, i.e. cement and metal sheets.
In the initial stages of setting up, the team researched existing materials to meet the criteria of cost, properties and toxicity only to realise that no such material was available. So they decided to develop their own material combination. The efforts paid off and the ideal combination and manufacturing process which would allow them to make the product with desired specifications was developed in December 2012.
The 2’x 2’ roofing panels can withstand weights up to 750 kg and are coated with a custom waterproofing layer. The team believes that their roofing panels, once completely developed, will be 3-4 times cheaper than concrete slab roofs, thus filling the market gap between low quality roofing and the prohibitively expensive alternative. But the truly notable feature about Re Materials is the reuse of packaging waste and agricultural waste.
Hasit explains further, “Currently we have an ongoing pilot that is yielding very positive results in terms of customer response. There are benefits of strength, insulation and eco-friendliness to our product that are attracting various partners.”
Re Material tackles the issue of waste management and better housing in a single solution, echoes the need of today’s society, and has been an award winner at the Big Ideas competition at UC Berkeley.
Text By K Parvathy Menon
Photographs Courtesy Hasit Ganatra