The members at Biome Environmental Solutions are India’s very own environmental missionaries and have been unabashedly following the eco-friendly route since the past 20 years. Started by veteran architect Chitra Vishwanath, the firm joined hands with Rain Water Club in 2008 to offer a broad spectrum of services.
The firm offers integrated environmental solutions like architectural services, water and sanitation consultations, energy planning, training and dissemination. They have played an important role in promoting earth architecture culture in India, and staunchly believe it is a practical and at the same time sufficiently aesthetic way of construction which can very well be adopted in an urban setup.
Biome’s work runs much deeper than their conscientious ideologies and an apt example of this is their project Mathru Blind School in Bangalore (which was a pro bono job). Their work strikes a balance between the overall impact on the ecological footprint and correspondingly develop a humanised urban space.
Biome’s is an embracive practice which also takes in account the social and cultural impact of their work after verifying the natural, physical and the human aspects of a project.
In this interview, they talk about their practice, the future of the construction industry in India and also squash a few myths about earth architecture.
Tell us about Biome’s journey from its inception to the current established sustainable design setup.
Biome started as Chitra Vishwanath Architects for want of any other name as such when I started on my own. Since 2008 it has become “Biome Environmental Solutions” since we grew to be a diverse group committed to ecological designs on various aspects.
With the growing awareness about sustainability, many architects are consciously trying to incorporate certain eco-sensitive values in their design. However, this is often limited to only one or two features. What according to you should an all-encompassing green project entail?
A sustainable project should be socially relevant, technically possible, institutionally responsible, financially viable, legally correct and ecological.
So these frameworks go beyond simple rating systems.
Biome provides comprehensive ecological design service owing to the collaborative efforts of multiple knowledge experts. Is it a challenge to execute projects when several strong minds are at work? Are there creative and technical differences?
Creative and technical differences do arise and we believe that is where the strength of a team lies.
Exhaustive research is put in every site undertaken by Biome. What’s the basic approach to design for any given site?
The first thing the Biome team does is to look at the site, understand its features with respect to soil profile, water and bio-diversity. Concurrently, the design brief and requirements are discussed with the clients and a synergy is developed.
Then the designs are worked around the collated data along with making them climate passive to the highest degree. Building with earth is Biome’s passion and then the techniques of the same are sought to be incorporated.
Though people are slowly waking up to environmental deterioration, do you still find it difficult to convince clients to go green?
90% of our clients come to us because we do sustainable designs – on the contrary we end up learning a lot from the clients along the way. The 10% clients can be difficult but there is always a possibility of discussion and meeting their expectations at a certain level.
Earth architecture has been an indigenous practice in India, yet we rarely see it being practiced today, especially in an urban setting. Maybe due to the extent of efforts and time it requires. What would make it more universally practical?
More and more people are opting to use earth architecture for their own homes especially first homes, as many of our clients have done it.
A correction – building an earth home does not require either more time or effort. Also, it is vital that architectural and engineering schools bring in these techniques of construction within their syllabus and thereby make the students aware of these possibilities of building with earth.
A project designed by your firm which left you satisfied and at the same time personally enriched?
We feel all projects are important and do enrich personally. Satisfaction is very difficult to achieve and ideally one should be enouraged to go beyond the periphery of gratification.
Any traditional technique which you would like to work with in the near future?
Construction with wood, because of the finer nuances and possibilities involved.
Nowadays several designers and developers make a pitch for a LEED rating. What are your thoughts on the rating system?
A rating system at best acts as a pointer or a guideline which helps to bring a formalised system into the process. It also helps to synergise the design with the actual construction so that the construction too becomes environmentally sound. Moreover, with the new monitoring system in place which supervises the project after the receipt of a rating, there does exist a certain pinning of responsibility to follow the process and design it to its logical conclusion.
Many a times rating help achieve some marketing brownies but if in the process some good is achieved in terms of resource conservation then it is an asset worth considering.
Biome offers water management solutions. Tell us something about the services offered. And could you enlighten us about ‘Biopool’ – the system that has been adopted at ‘Our Native Village’ eco-resort?
Biome designs rain water harvesting and waste water treatment designs. It also engages with layouts and puts in place bye-laws of water use whereby the available water can be utilised sustainably and equitably.
Bio-pool which we have put in ONV is an ecological pool. This was designed in consultation with Bio Top Austria. In this system there are two zones of water – a recreation zone where people swim and another regeneration zone where the water gets treated by plants. In the regeneration zone there are aquatic plants which cleanse the water of organic content which would come from the recreation zone.
Any firm whose work you admire?
More than work of just a firm what one admires is the philosophical construct of a personal quest…and it can even go beyond architects as individuals.
Where do you see the Indian construction industry heading 20 years down the line?
There are loads and loads of opportunities for the construction industry since the country is really starved of basic infrastructure.
What one really expects is that the industry understands its larger social and environmental responsibilities and course corrects itself. Since this is also a resource starved nation the resources should be used with utmost prudence. Long term sustainability should be the agenda than short term gains.
What do the green crusaders at Biome enjoy doing when they are not at their drawing boards?
Like most youngsters, enjoy beer, good food, watch a movie and shake a leg; and the oldies of Biome crib about the politics, read, enjoy time with the family while still enjoying food, beer while sitting on a couch and really not shaking any leg…
Interview by Shweta Salvi