India’s intense urbanisation has created some of most densely populated cities in the world. Even as these urban conglomerates expand in every direction on land (sometimes even into the ocean), most people in cities spend their time inside small, cramped, built-up spaces with artificially controlled environments. Though cities across the world are associated with glass and chrome skyrises, the work of architects at Biome Solutions feels, almost literally, like a breath of fresh air. Their buildings are characterised by exposed mud blocks, open common spaces, sweeping high ceilings, trees, shrubs, flowers, and plenty of natural light and ventilation.
I asked Chitra K. Vishwanath, one of the founders of this design firm about their work with sustainable architecture and she begins with a surprising sentiment. “We need to build less,” says Chitra. In her initial conversations with clients, she tries to ascertain how much build-up space they really need. In Bangalore, where a plot of residential land is often small, her projects often result in homes and gardens seamlessly flowing into each other.
Influenced by the work of Laurie Baker, Chitra Vishwanath and her colleagues ensure that the space allows all living things to exist in harmony with nature and they try to leave the area in better shape than they found it. Many of their projects use plastic and local waste in the first layer of the foundation and they leave no construction debris behind. I remember the chaos that visits my home and street when the neighbours indulge in some reconstruction and wish they had used the services of architects like these.
“We need to bring gardens inside,” she says. “Have plants, have pets. Live with nature. Unfortunately, inward-looking homes are becoming the norm,” she says. She is quick to add wryly that it is rare to find much of a view. “Of late, I find it hard to even kill cockroaches,” she says, speaking from a lived philosophy that values all living beings – insects, critters, small and large animals and plants. She says she only makes an exception with mosquitoes. “I think perhaps they are truly worth eradicating,” she says, half-joking. I am quick to add humans to that list and she doesn’t disagree.
She wishes there were more open spaces for families and communities to come together. She even talks of a recent commercial project that has natural light and ventilation, making the factory a more pleasant space. She mentions that the construction industry is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and can contribute up to 50% of the carbon dioxide emissions in some countries.
India recent thrust on large-scale construction and transportation projects makes it likely that we will soon reach that point. And so, in addition to reducing, reusing, recycling and upcycling, choose to live in simple spaces, in tune with the changing rhythms of natural world. Your living space is one of the biggest ecological decisions that you can make.
(Next week, we continue this series of sustainable architecture, and tips on reducing the environmental impact of your home.)