By adopting sustainable construction methods and eco-friendly practices for living, this enchanting private retreat in South India becomes twice as much endearing.
As far as beautiful houses go, this private retreat in South India has us positively salivating. But what really makes us want to pin and re-pin this residence is the ecologically sensitive manner in which it was built as well as the eco-friendly practices it continues to follow till date.
Designed and developed by Chennai-based architectural and design firm – Mancini Enterprises, this private retreat comprises three luxurious houses, a pool, pavilion, savanna, outdoor bathrooms, deep well, water tank and several gardens all of which are built on a 4,000 sq m plot that faces a holy mountain.
Niels Schoenfelder, Managing Director at Mancini Enterprises, discloses that the design team’s chief objective was to create a residence that was primarily sensitive to the environment, local architecture and materials. This implied using traditional methods of construction like local country bricks in load-bearing walls (no RCC columns), traditional mud-plastering techniques, cow-dung floors and black-oxide cement floors.
Thick (90-35cm) brickwork structures were installed to create a high thermal mass in order to keep the interiors cool. Large roof overhangs as well as a roof garden with a 60 cm thick soil layer were built to provide more shade to the house.
What no one really anticipated was interiors so cool that it obviated the need for any artificial cooling system at all. As a matter of fact, reveals Niels, two out of the three air-conditioners that were initially installed had to be removed as they turned redundant.
Inside the house, thick brick walls plastered with lime and mud were used to counteract the humid South Indian climate. This earthy texture was complimented by rich wooden floors that were laid out using reclaimed Burma teak.
The advantage of using reclaimed Burma teak is that it often tends to be stronger, looks richer and most significantly – preserves our forests. Niels makes an impressive statement when he announces that “100% of the wood used in construction was recycled”.
The team also kept the retreat’s carbon footprint to a minimum by sourcing construction materials from local areas. They further made it a point to hire local craftsmen with the broader goal of sustaining the local economy.
As a result, the customised, hand-smoothened granite sinks and brass and steel hardware that fill the interior also endow the space with an enviable rusticity and warmth.
A significant portion of the retreat’s mystique is supplied by the abundant greenery that envelops the three houses and practically shields them from view. Beauty apart, the small forest and many gardens – roof, suspended, sunken and tropical together create a cool micro-climate that encourages the residents to spend more time outdoors and hence cut down their power consumption.
The natural topography of the property was created using nearly 300 tons of granite sourced from the local surroundings. Along with this, the landscapers have wisely chosen to feature a majority of native plants in the gardens.
Hardiness and low-maintenance may be some of the obvious advantages of setting native plants into the landscape but their more significant contribution is the perpetuation of the area’s natural eco-system by allowing local insects, birds and wildlife to thrive and flourish.
Native trees also require less water as they are adapted to the area’s natural groundwater supply. In this case however, watering the extensive gardens is really no burden on the water supply as all the gardens are irrigated using recycled water.
“With just one tiny pump,” adds Niels triumphantly. Other water-saving measures include a roof garden that prevents rainwater from running off. Harvesting rainwater is an important agenda for the garden and hence a large amount of the garden slopes towards the open well to recharge it whenever possible.
Finally, the retreat’s dependence on the power grid is minimised by solar heaters that provide hot running water to all the houses.
According to Niels, the client’s brief at the beginning was quite precise – “to create a fairytale.” In the end, like any good fairytale, it does appear like the private retreat and its residents are set to live happily ever after.
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photo Courtesy Mancini Enterprises