This house - a second home that was used for almost 10 - 14 days a month, was part of a larger experiment in holistic natural living on a five acre farm in Konkan. This house was used as a retreat as well as my workplace for designing. Spontaneous simplicity and empathy with the surroundings were important form generators.
Bungalow - second home
Ground + mezzanine
Full house - 122 m²
Human comfort standards
Shirish Beri & Associates
Work executed departmentally
Local carpenters & Shirish Beri
Ar. Shirish Beri’s architectural works, which tend to reflect his values in life, have dealt with this issue of a sustainable environment since 1975. They strive to address his life concerns of man moving further away from nature, from his fellow human beings and from his own self.
“Perspective” – a reputed design magazine from Honk Kong wrote in May 2009 “Shirish Beri was designing buildings in harmony with man and the environment long before green became fashionable.”
He has been addressing the environmental and sustainability issues through his designs by respecting the site context, using local and recycled materials (reducing the embodied energy), by availing natural light and ventilation (less dependence on energy for artificial lighting and ventilation), use of solar energy, recycling of sewage wastes, abundant tree plantation, designing multiple use spaces (less exploitation of resources) and designing with Nature with an overall simplicity. He has tried to avoid the use of very expensive, non renewable, imported materials.
He also tried an experiment in self sufficiency on a five acre land at Nadhawade in Konkan. He lived a very simple life there for almost 25 years by attempting the creation of a balanced eco system by efficiently recycling the various bio chemical resources there. This was a great lesson for him.
Greed, consumerism, commodification and then exploitation of nature have always been of great concern to him. Thus, he has been talking about the importance of sustainable values and attitudes like caring and sharing, compassion and concern, equity, restraint and simplicity at various forums in India and abroad for the past three decades. He illustrates how one can design in close harmony with nature and with our fellow human beings for a better quality of life.
He has tried to follow these attitudes of compassion, caring, equity and simplicity in his own life and in his dwelling design. His new house built mainly from recycled, scrap materials also tries to be as self-sufficient as possible with energy, water and vegetables. He has planted thousands of trees on his own properties and also on his many projects.
With these attitudes, he has designed a number of campuses for national & regional level institutions for research, rehabilitation, health care and education, along with various other types of buildings. They have won him a number of national – international recognitions, publications and awards.
His film “The unfolding white” won an international jury award at a sustainable development films’ festival in Europe.
He has been invited to chair and give talks, slide shows and conduct design workshops in various professional and educational institutions and in national / international seminars in India and abroad.
Two exhibitions and a book ("Spaces inspired by nature") on his work, that spread his message of living in harmony with the environment, have been received very well everywhere.
Situated between the western ghats and the sea shore in a kind of valley, Nadhawade has a temperate warm & humid climate. The rain fall mainly between June & October is heavy – approximately 4000 mm. The winters are cool with minimum temperature at 8 C to 37 C in summer. The winds are not too strong here.
The idea was to extend the limited scope of architecture (as is generally understood and practiced today ) to the sphere of total human environmental design - where landscape architecture, interiors, construction methodologies, horticulture, energy, water soil, animal insect world, food etc., are included to interact and evolve design decisions.
Our own house, farm aid's Quarters, garden, well, pool and service structure have been located centrally under and around large existing trees to facilitate better supervision, better insulation, shade and beauty.
The large existing trees were located first and the house was designed to grow around the trees, and integrate them in the built environment, making them an inherent part of the architectural vocabulary. The inside and outside spaces mingle into each other. Sometimes, the garden comes inside or the house extends out in low built forms into the garden and towards the feeder canal.
While designing houses, I do not like segregation and fragmentation of spaces for highly specialized functions. I wanted to create an environment that expressed the unity of life, where spaces would be more flowing, flexible, multi-purpose and with a greater utilization factor. This itself would be an eco-friendly measure.
There are no fixed names of labels attached to spaces such as guest room, dining room etc., which limits the use of this space considerably. The entire planning requirements were worked out as activities and not as rooms; as verbs and not nouns. There is more freedom and overlapping of activities, thus conserving space and resources, e.g. We eat in the osri in chairs or on the floor, or on the tree platform near the house or near the stream, or in the angan or in the sit out near the water canal or in the kitchen itself. This fresh and non monotonous use of space applies to other activities like sleeping, reading, working and so on. The spaces inside the house connect seamlessly with the outside landscape.
Beautiful natural light flows into the home at all times. Areas which do not have adequate windows (like the central passage) derive natural light from above – through glass mangalore tiles.
Water from the stream that flows along the west border of the site and from the well is pumped and used for domestic and agriculture use. Drip irrigation helps in saving water. The village irrigation canal that flows through the site does the same.
Climatically the micro climate of the house is cooler by a few degrees than the outside in summer. One reason for this is that it is shaded most of the time by the canopy of the tall existing mango trees. Cross ventilation throughout the house even with closed doors and windows (due to the special design with fixed wooden or glass louvers) helps reduce the humidity level. Some of the windows are just slits with fly mesh allowing continuous air flow.
The heavy rainfall is taken care of by the sloping Mangalore tile roofs & their overhangs. The roof comes down very low on the south & west sides to give maximum protection where necessary. The southwest breeze also brings in the fragrance from special flowering species planted on the windward side. The east and north sides of the house rise up to welcome the morning sun and light.
The flooring is cow dung and mud on ground floor (except toilets and wet areas) and timber on mezzanine. These materials are natural materials, which are cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
The bedroom sit out recognizes the natural irrigation canal, which flows through the site from January to May. This canal and the pool help in cooling the micro climate of this place.
The house was constructed in laterite stone masonry (a locally available porous stone of 26cm X 40cm X 16cm ht.) This material can be dressed to any size and shape, has good insulation value and brings about a great saving in cement mortar. These stones have also been used as flat arches over the windows, as windows slits, as carved niches in walls, as prefab steps, lintels, flower bed, retainers and so on.
The foundation is in Deccan trap stone that was obtained while digging the swimming pool. The sand was gathered from the stream bed, which runs along the property.
The wood used for the structural work is all locally available jungle wood. The doors and windows are of local teak wood. The main Osri or portico pillars are beautifully carved old wooden pillars of 55cm diameter salvaged from a local temple that was being renovated.
These were abandoned by the local temple, when plastered stone pillars were constructed. They were bought by me from the village and the local heritage is preserved. Otherwise, they had started falling prey to termites and firewood mongers.
Some of the roof rafters and the balustrades are from dismantled old buildings too.
The swimming pool is constructed with minimum construction by respecting the soil’s angle of repose and costed only Rs. 2500/-, which comes Rs. 40/- per sq.m only. The wash out of the pipe is connected to the irrigation system of the coconuts and areca nut gardens at the lower level, thus no water is wasted. It acts as a play arena, when the pool is dry.
The farm aid quarters and stores were constructed in the vernacular manner with laterite pillars in the cement mortar and in situ mud partition walls. This building cost worked out to 1/5th of the general prevailing building costs then.
Many of the points mentioned in the cost effective features are applicable in these eco friendly features.
The use of the solar cooker, methane gas and wood from the energy plantations reduce the dependence of external energy resources. The wind on the farm was not enough for its exploitation.
The masonry gas plant design was based on an underground Chinese’s model, which is more economical and indigenous.
Here, at every stage, the idea has been to question the present modes and solutions to various aspects of human life at the most fundamental level and then search for a better, more sustainable and humane alternative - (e.g. the way we dress, the way we eat, the way we use money, energy and so on).
Let us take a few examples of multiple uses to which trees have been put to on our farm -
- as food - fruit, spice, grains, juice and drink.
- as fodder - napier, grass leaves of Lucerna (Hawaiin giants).
- as ground cover to stop erosion - grass, bambooes along river edge.
- as manure - through the nitrogen fixing legumenous roots of certain trees and
crops (Lucerna, peas, moog etc.).
- by creation of humus
- by creation of lignoprotiens from twigs.
- as wind breaker and dust filter.
- as controller of weeds - by spreading leaves on ground under new trees.
- as timber - for construction.
- for packing crates.
- for stakes and props.
- for furniture.
- as oil - ground nuts, cashew.
- as fiber for ropes.
- as medicines.
- as containers - banana leaves as plates, acreca and coconut bowls, wooden
plates and ladels.
- as supports for creepers.
- as irrigation canal.
- as insulation from heat for the house and for the plants.
- as handles for tools.
- as fuel - the ash obtained after burning is returned to the soil.
- as beauty - for the joy of it - the colours, froms and textures.
Here, the healing of the land and purification of the human spirit seemed synonymous.
Local laterite stone load bearing masonry - as it is strong and is readily available in the vicinity
Laterite masonry - as it is strong and is readily available in the vicinity; as it has good insulation quality: much less cement is required for the masonry due to its big size; it is a beautiful natural material; can be easily chased, dressed to the desired shape.
Wood - teak, jackfruit, shisum - as they are locally available and are easy to work with for the local labour.
Rammed murum (earth) with cowdung plaster - as it has a good soft feel and it stays warm in winter and cool in summer. Jungle wood planks for mezzanine - because of their looks and warmth. Ceramic tiles for toilets - for easy maintenance, washing etc.
Flush pointing with white wash from inside and sunk pointing on exposed laterite from outside
Mangalore tiles on wood battens, recycled rafters and structure - as they are readily available, waterproof, insulating and known to the local labour.
2 of 1200 dia + one free standing fan
Monitored by our human conscience
Not very prevalent then.
They would have been less efficient due to the shade of the existing trees.
The most important factors in a project like this are the user's and designer's basic attitude and approaches to life.
The more wholistic and unified the attitudes, the more integrated the development. Here every function or object is not seen in isolation, but as an integral part of a totality.
The more contented and peaceful the mind, lesser the craving for the multiplicity of consumer goods. This simplicity of life style goes hand in hand with sustainability.
We as occupants feel happy to live in a house built from natural materials, is naturally responsive to the bio climatic factors and the existing site features with minimum consumption of external energy. This house is comfortable and joyous with its spontaneous simplicity. Learning that a good life is not dependent on the number of goods we have.
It advocates a simple unified eco-friendly way of life where there is no over indulgence and where the land, trees, the habitat are not merely buyable/sellable commodities but something more sacrosanct and an integral part of one's spatio temporal make up.