This is a transcript of an interview taken by an architectural journalist Smriti Singh on 18 June 2016. She interviewed Saubhagya about his residential project Colors in Khatima, Uttarakhand, India.
Please touch/click the respective questions.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CLIENT AND HIS REQUIREMENTS.
The client: Harish and his wife, docile and had very rudimentary requirements for their home: walls and roof with no aspirations of architectural or aesthetical fundas to be implemented. The only requirement in the brief given by client apart from elementary arrangement was the complete execution according to ancient Indian Vaastu Vidya.
WHAT EXACTLY IS YOUR SITE AND BUILDING INTERACTION WITH SITE?
The site is pristine Tarai flatland joining foothill. Being a remote area situated near the borders of Nepal this place is one of initial irrigated land by British, river streams in the vicinity, siphons with parametrically designed brick arches.
While driving to the site, I observed a plethora of upcoming structures erected with bricks with casted concrete sprayed all over.
Though initially, the client was convinced on stone as the material for main building. All the initial drawings were done with stone used majorly. Later, I felt that stone should be eradicated, not due to a high cost, but I didn’t feel great about it as everyone was surrounded by concrete. My client could have undoubtedly afforded stone, so it was never about the cost. It was all to turn the architectural picture around and show people how concrete and bricks could be used in an efficient, effective way. So in part 2 of the design, it took me 1 month to convince the client that this house can be done best with exposed brickwork. All the drawings were done in exposed brick, a lot of niches, corbels, arches etc were laid out in the drawings. Use of concrete was minimized just to Ferro-cement sunshades and stuff.
Ultimately on observing heavy winds carrying husk from fields, the idea of exposed brick was also dropped. Here we needed a smooth exterior surface with good reflectivity and minimum cohesion.
YOU HAD THIS OPPORTUNITY OF NOT USING RCC, WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?
RCC and burnt brick are two important players in the building drama. Also concrete is one of the most hazardous building material among all on the planet (widely used due to its good workability)
Cities are being laid out at a fast pace with heaps of concrete stacked and casted permanently (most of the cases, rather everywhere where engineering is not involved). This concrete can only be disintegrated to debris which pollutes.
7 out of 10 rail freight is transporting cement to the newly urbanized zones (ex. Bhabar/tarai) and a lot of people are building irrespective of consequences. The material is fairly cheaper than stone and mud construction is way too labor oriented. On the cost cutting grounds, everyone uses it, casting it permanently, and eliminating every chance of reusing it.
It’s high time for the Architects to act and formulate the ways about using this material effectively/efficiently.
Colors were the first opportunity I looked forward to doing this.
Harish was much apprehensive about precasting initially, but ultimately things were put forward in precast methods. This increases usability of these structural members after life of this building is over or when it is disintegrated
WHAT WAS THE PRELIMINARY APPROACH TO THE PROJECT AND CHALLENGES YOU FACED IN REACHING TO HAND.
Initial challenges included extracting the best out of client as he had a trifling requests, and also taking into account the client’s 4-year-old daughter who had to grow up in this house later.
As the erection started on my second site visit, after the foundation, the biggest challenge faced was that the drawings were not referred for initial 3 months of construction. Except for foundation, everything seemed to be peculiar of some art deco moldings, RCC arches that were never part of drawings. For a moment walking out seemed to be the only option, but later took up the challenge and the project turned out to be more of a conservation project here with precast concrete techniques and ferro-cement coming into picture inspired from architects like Louis I Kahn and Satprem Maini.
A lot of changes in the building included situating down a lot out-of-place things and planning was changed deeply along with the window placements as the client had come up already, with some structures like farming stores, cattle-shed on site himself near the living zones without consent.
WHAT PHILOSOPHIES WERE ENGAGED IN DESIGN PROCESS?
The process is incredibly important in a fresh approach to each project staying clear from preconceived notions of what the final output will be. Relationships to site/landscape, spatial narratives, and material relationships are a constant part of the design process from the very start.
Initial planning ideas included form follows function approach, where very functional spaces are planned and the form is generated itself. As the project turned out to be more of hands-on later, aesthetical ideas were incorporated within the generated form with a function follows form approach.
The structure came out in more of the parametric way with mesmerizing spaces, appropriate calculations were done on user’s experience in different spaces, temperatures in the building, and climatology using BIM Stimulations. The function of every window was decided parametrically for wind, light, vision and heat exemption, rejecting all the southwest winds and taking in the cool North-West breeze.
Spaces interact with large spaces where public spaces are kept at lower levels and private on upper floors. Large white spans with detailed windows in four colors, a lot of Ferro-cement in interiors, funicular shell at the ceiling to reduce RCC and stuff. Although I have elaborated a lot on this question I feel that it is one of the unanswered questions in my mind. This one is difficult to answer.
It’s fascinating how amenable building can be to the personality of its occupants, especially a residence like this, which sees villagers come and go.
I had to create a series of defined spaces that flow easily into one another. Keeping warmth of the family along with a village lifestyle or undefined interludes by visitors.
HOW COME YOU SUSTAINED A LOW COST?
The building came out to be very cost efficient as all the materials were picked up and onsite workers were hired from within the radius of 20 km and 10 km not only providing employment to the local people but also empowering women by training them to work with metal, Ferro cement, spiral column, built and funicular shell.
A lot of wood used for doors and windows were recycled waste of other buildings bought at a very low cost.
The outside ledge for sitting called ‘Patangar’ in hills was built at a very low cost just by bending the railing at 35 degrees. Though the client being apprehensive about the idea initially, ater turned into a very efficient solution for the sit out. I saw a lot of its usage in South India (mostly in kerala homes). Architect and one of my mentors Dean D’Cruz have shown this widely in his work. He was one of the inspirations as this was the time I had returned after my professional training under him.
Weather a window is for light or wind, or a shade is for sun or rain or both. Answering these simple things not only provides workability and aesthetics but also helps a lot to save cost.
HOW DID YOU REACT ENVIRONMENTALLY?
The 21st century presents us with much of it in sprawling waste. Within the continuous demographic shifts, we had to see how the building is reacting to the global economic trend that we are becoming and how can we have a congestion free living with integrated services having a very consumer oriented approach
The space, the geometry, the light of architecture in great proportions must remain the core aim, while engineering aims for zero carbon. But this balance between the poetry of architecture and its green engineering is crucial and were easily achieved using BIM stimulations and appropriate calculations on light, wind, forces, climate and spaces.
Major question is where to start from?
Larger is the chaos, larger the opportunities. Identify the problems and use it as an opportunity.
The major challenge of this site was the brick and concrete. Though burnt brick and concrete is the building material of a common man and yet the major concern of the building industry as its waste is a huge construction debris that could neither be degraded nor recycled. Looking at this problem critically and figuring out ways to turn around this kind of architecture, we came up with precast concrete techniques which used concrete components assembled in a way that they could be easily dismantled and reused again in case of demolition of the building resulting in controlled construction waste.
No trees were chopped for construction, and a lot of wood used for doors and windows were recycled waste of other buildings bought at a very low cost. Doors, windows were 100% recycled along with the waste generated at the construction site.
Passive natural ventilation technologies incorporated with no installations for artificial or rather mechanical ventilation.
Leech was introduced in the sewage pits(also by growing papaya and banana) for decomposition of waste matter and all walls of pit made perforated with stone and Ferro-cement.
Waste segregation was done: organic and inorganic waste is separated in the first stage. Organic waste is decomposed within the site in compost. Inorganic waste is segregated in the large chamber from where it can be reused or recycled. Since the site is in a remote village, a lot of inorganic waste is carried to Khatima every couple of months from where it may be sent for further breakdown.
Appropriate BIM calculations are done for creating a comfortable environment inside and outside the building in terms of temperatures, climate, lighting, and ventilation. All this was adjusted naturally.
Solar panels of 1 KW installed with two electric water heaters of 100 and 200 liters so that only 100 l of water is heated on a cloudy day by electrical, thus, saving energy.
WHY THERE IS A LOT OF WHITE PRESENT IN BUILDING?
I never liked white house as a design element at first place. Also, I have never seen a white building till date where everything from minute detail to large spikes are designed in white.
Whiteness allows the architectural ideas to be understood more clearly- the difference between opacity
And transparency, solid and void, structure and surface. These things are more perceptible in a white environment. They have a greater clarity. Shadows define high detailing with white.
The site being in remote areas having a lot of agricultural land around, during the harvest of rice, rice husk through the air acts as dust particles getting into the intricate details of the building. This is the reason of eradication of exposed brick work with pointing and jointing in the complete building and was reduced to specific parts. Due to the same reason dark colours were avoided for the building.
Most essentially, white colour reflects the maximum heat keeping the building cool in scorching temperatures.
HOW DO YOU SEE FLOW AND FEEL OF YOUR SPACES?
First of all, one of the greatest things I learned from my mentor Ar. Anil Laul. Unlike what we are taught in architecture schools, he taught me how interiors of the building are never separated from architecture. He taught how building develops character by portraying the honesty of the material used; the material demonstrates its intrinsic properties through the rationality of the construction technique, and the construction techniques derive from the natural and human resources unique to each site. Hence, interiors and exteriors, both are never separate in any of my projects.
I wanted to create a style that lasts as well. A lot of interactive spaces like wardrobes and stuff have nice surface detailing so that it breaks off with the simplicity of rest of the house and people can touch-feel it.
The daughter’s room, streamlined and feminine, with color used only on the wall opposite to the bed, so that it is not overwhelming. Good flow of air with rooftop holes. The daughter’s room is brightest in the house and yellow gives it an enriching feel.
Instead of merely relying on artifacts or accessories my attention was towards the smallest detail that adds up to the design.
I think this house is very cool, yet warm.
I tried to attach modernity with the twist. I do not believe in reinventing the wheel every time, Instead, I like to add a twist to the way wheel moves. Very few things these days are really designed; it’s just that you are constantly thinking up new twists that you can add to the design of a space. I had to meet clients’ needs keeping my preferences in mind. I, for instance, would keep minimal spaces with a very little color on the walls. But when Harish ji asked me for color, I did it in very subtle ways.
The idea was to do a few things to give a home its character. And just to create a joy forever. This house is all one free flowing space. Living merging with dining. The lobbies are lit up to give the feel of the futuristic space.
This building has now curtains or fabric attached. It helps in reducing the maintenance and gives an unbreakable flow.
WHY IS ENTRY GATE ABSTRACTED?
In the last decade, it feels like every day is Christmas, new ideas, and gadgets developing every -day. Everyone holds a flat pad in hand and a lot of people start to live within their own psychological bubble of comfort with these things. I had to imagine this, what my client and his daughter would be doing sitting on this sit-out or space I created? Definitely, like all of us, this 4-year-old kid is also surrounded by logics. All these screens we see in front of us are full of integrated logics hidden one behind another. Here is when I had to push forward a very illogical or foolish thing. I was doing this gate just with recycled stuff. Till this, stage building structure was finished. If I would have shown this design to Harish initially, he would have got very apprehensive. My initial designs for the main gate and gate that opened to the farm were balanced and did not look foolish at all. So I had to break all of this off. Sometimes it’s very difficult for the designer to deviate from the logic. Hence, I just randomized my pieces using a computer. Gave them a good structural support, printed it and went straight to the fabricator. The 3 lines that break the design are ones continued from the south to north. They had to be there to show continuity. Hence, the entry of this premise pushes you to think out of logics.
Not just entry gate, a lot of things like the spiral column and stout below is placed like a screw on one end of the house. You will find many small distortions here and there lying around in white. It is just about making few bits foolish.
WHY WOULD YOU DO A THING ABOUT WHAT YOUR CLIENT MAY BE ANXIOUS?
We live in this world of demographic shifts, a lot of information aided decision making is visible, and even we have used quite a bit in this advent. Every successful business that runs around have to show a deep consumer-oriented approach. Likewise, I was expected to react according to accelerating globalization. It’s not only about integrated services and congestion free living. Also, we have a responsibility towards resource scarcity and climate change, managing available resources, sustaining built environment, and have accountable resource utilization. To all of these, it is not necessary that every client of mine would have a concern too. Yes, in this era of technological breakthroughs and leveraging mobile & internet, it is very much our responsibility as architects to fuel local innovation to the maximum and take care of behavioral changes in every step.
HOW IS INFORMATION AIDED DECISION MAKING VISIBLE IN THIS PROJECT?
I am not kind of person who plans a building. Plan of the building doesn’t exist for me.
The building has a function of mass like honeycomb structure which intact together in terms of how light moves and reflects throughout the building, and the wind flows throughout the spaces.
Old site data through GIS, materials and other technical details regarding light, wind, the climate were programmed into the building and run into a virtual environment.
Since BIM tested all the data with proper calculations, we had appropriate coordinates for every space.
Calculations regarding user’s experience and lighting in different spaces and temperatures were done using BIM. The building was required to be designed a lot of times till the time I get a good simulation report.
Wind and Light study had always been a lifetime experience for the Architects before. Here my computer helped me to do this perfectly to the inch.