A farmhouse in an organic farm has to be, well…organic. This house of the Bhatia family at Vrindavan Farms is earthy in its character and elegant in its appeal.
The Bhatia family has transformed a barren land spread over eleven acres, into a green haven rich in trees and biodiversity. An avid ecologist, into eco-friendly waste management initiatives at his Marine Drive neighbourhood in Mumbai, the client was keen on introducing sustainability.
“Be it the material, construction method or embodied energy, he wanted everything to be as green as possible. So we de-mechanised the processes and adopted ecological solutions,” says Ranjeet Mukherjee, the architect.
Earth, local timber, local workforce and recycled joinery has been used, not only cutting down on the cost but on the carbon footprint as well. Natural lighting and ventilation has brought down energy needs substantially.
The vaulted roof is the first thing that one notices at the Bhatias’ house. The vault spans the length of the building, over the living area and the bedrooms. Made of bricks, it lends an earthy charm and has done away the need for steel.
As the partition walls are only up to lintel level, and the vault runs in continuum, it provides natural ventilation and illumination to the rooms. The thick vault renders the contained spaces naturally cool.
Where a flat slab was necessary (as over the patios), concrete consumption has been minimised by opting for slab fillers. The rows of locally available inverted terracotta pots inserted in the slab have produced a waffle like appearance which in fact adds visual appeal.
The striking gazebo is self-supporting and is a reinvention of the traditional sloping, Mangalore-tiled roofs of the region. The gazebo is a four-point star in plan; it is pyramid like in appearance and is a core space complete with comfortable seating that is just apt for relaxing at any time of day.
A stone-lined tank that doubles as a swimming pool has ingeniously been fashioned out of the depression formed while excavating earth for the construction of the house.
Though the house seems to follow a simple plan, “If you take in the house, the pool, the gazebo and the retaining wall, it is complex since we did not alter the existing contour. Each space flows into the other and the three form a single organic entity,” avers Mukherjee.
From foundation to roof, zero maintenance and sustainability have been primarily in focus. The walls and the foundations have been made entirely of rammed earth. The strip foundation is capped by a concrete plinth beam to provide earth quake resistance. A water channel runs along the external face of the plinth beam. It provides cooling and serves as a moat keeping out small creatures. Chains running down from the corners of the building channel rain water into the moats. The water then flows by gravity to the plantations below, besides recharging the natural aquifers.
At the superstructure too, a lintel beam ties the walls together for stability. Concrete columns have been avoided and load-bearing walls have been opted instead. The shuttering technology used in the rammed earth construction has produced walls with a good finish, thus eliminating the need for plastering.
The wooden columns, doors and windows have been created from recycled wood sourced from demolished Chettinad houses in Tamil Nadu. Locally quarried stones in varied finishes have been used for the floors and platforms.
The pool’s design references traditional step wells, with random rubble buttress walls that retain the water. As in sourcing the materials, in the pool also, to be in harmony with nature, only enzymes are used for its treatment. Throughout the site, the use of concrete, chemicals and machinery have been kept to the bare minimum.
As the house is on a contoured piece of land, a retaining wall has been raised. It meanders along the house and wraps around the pool. This wall serves several varied purposes such as it becomes seating in places, a barbecue counter, a platform for tucking away, a wash basin, a pooja niche and even forms steps, providing access from the farm in to the house.
Mukherjee is candid in stating, “It was an exciting learning experience that a fundamental and practical retaining wall could transform into such delightful focal points”. But what has been more gratifying for him is that a handful of local youths who worked at the site have gained knowledge about using locally available materials differently and have become very adept at using the same.
Ensconced in the verdant rolling land, the house is in harmony with nature and offers a quiet retreat, with chirping birds for company. “In this canvas, I have been able to use a variety of forms, elements, features and structural expressions,” concludes Mukherjee, obviously pleased.
Text By Jency Samuel
Photographs Courtesy Ranjeet Mukherjee