We all aspire for a beautiful home that we can call our own. It is a shared dream that we earnestly work for. Even then, there are several choices that one needs to make to ensure that in the process of building a perfect home, we do not cause damage to the environment.
‘This sector accounts for almost 25 to 40 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions. 50 per cent of the climatic change and 50 per cent of landfill waste can be attributed to construction processes.’, Researchers say.
Together with that, the sector is responsible for 40 per cent of drinking water pollution and 23 per cent of air pollution.
But all our preconceived notions are nullified by Ashams Ravi, a Thiruvananthapuram based architect with his home. He built his green home as a natural extension of the environment using recycled materials that include items like beer bottles and bricks and doors sourced from sites where buildings have been demolished.
The house is constructed using techniques that are eco-friendly, keeping the carbon footprint at a minimum. The most interesting factor is that the house was built in a matter of four months.
He naturally took the green route when it came to constructing his own home as a practising architect, who is involved in the construction of sustainable buildings.
He who is just 27 years old says, ‘With floods and landslides that Kerala faced in 2018, I was sure that my house should be consciously built without causing much damage to the environment. We bought the land early last year and started construction in April 2019. By August, we were done with the construction.’
Building the Sustainable Home.
The 2500 sq. feet home is on a plot which is 13 cents in size (5662.8 square foot). It is noteworthy how conscious they have been in ensuring there is no damage caused to the ecology and how they accommodated their plans to build around nature.
Ashams says, ‘The land we bought had a slant. However, we decided against digging up the soil to level it and just went ahead with the construction process. Also, there was a big mahogany tree which was right in the middle of the plot but we built around the tree and it is a part of the home now.’
The house has two floors other than the ground floor and each floor has two levels. 90 per cent of the materials used in the construction process are recycled.
He elaborates, ‘We thought of reusing materials from demolished building sites and someone’s trash became a treasure for us. I sourced materials like timber, Mangalore pattern tiles, bricks, and stone. The use of cement is very minimal as the manufacturing cycle starting from the production of limestone in the quarry to its transportation and use has a lot of carbon footprint.’
The skeleton of the building is formed with renewable materials like bamboo. Research says, ‘Bamboo has a greater tensile strength of 28,000 pounds per sq inch, as opposed to steel’s which is 23,000 pounds per sq. inch.’ ‘This also helps in ensuring that local tribes benefit by selling the bamboo.’, Ashams says.
‘We treated the bamboo with borax as it helps in crystallising the fat content that most insects are after. Similarly, we’ve also used the trunks of coconut trees that have been chopped down. We use them as pillars once it has been treated the same way.’, he adds.
To make lampshades around the house, items like beer bottles have been repurposed. An entire wall in the house is made from recycled beer bottles and plastered with mud and lime.
Ashams has a good network of people who sell materials from demolition sites. In this manner, they were able to obtain a few eclectic pieces that have added a certain rustic charm to the house.
He says, ‘The Palace of the Diwan of Travancore was privately owned and when it was later demolished, I visited the site. I found a large door which was shabbily painted over. So, I decided to scrape off the paint and now it is the main door of the house. Also, there was a large window with a wooden frame, which was again painted over. Once the paint was removed from the railings, I found that they were made of brass. So, I let it be as it is since brass is not prone to corrosion.’
Ashams managed to source a large horse cartwheel used in races during Pongal, a harvest festival, celebrated in Tamil Nadu. The wheel has been used as a window frame in the home. The floors in the house are comprised of terracotta tiles and black oxide. A hall on the top floor has been constructed for family gatherings. The floor there is made from cow dung which is layered over bamboo slabs and jute sacks soaked in very little cement grout.
Conservation and Management Surrounding the House
With the upcycling building materials and using sustainable materials, the techniques used to build the home ensure that resources are judiciously used.
For example, the ‘Rat Trap bond’ technique in which the bricks are arranged vertically, as opposed to horizontally by maintaining a hollow space within the wall. The technique not only involves lesser bricks but also reduces the cost of masonry by 30 per cent.
Even then, the most advantageous feature is the fact that it acts as a thermal insulator, meaning the interiors stay cooler in the summers, while in the winter it is warmer. Ashams says, ‘The house is almost 3 degrees cooler in the summers and at night, we don’t even need to switch on the fans. This obviously ends up saving electricity.’
About the bricks on the wall which remain exposed adding an old world charm, the young architect says, “Plastering doesn’t really add to the foundational strength of the building so we did not use it.”
The house has a biodigester in place which is used to compost their kitchen waste. The waste from the toilet is connected to this biodigester (instead of a septic tank) through pipes that run underground.
The courtyard provides additional ventilation and acts as a space where people can meet and celebrate different occasions. Since there is a slight slant in the plane, Ashams decided to do something creative.
He constructed a water tank to harvest rainwater on the downward sloping plane. He created a drainage hole which lets out the water to a constructed wetland which helps recharge the groundwater to ensure that the overflow does not go to waste during the monsoon.
He says, ‘We dug out a 5 ft pit and placed bricks and broken tiles to mimic the natural aquifers. We have covered that with a layer of soil which is five inches thick and have planted a species of grass and arrowroot. This prevents the water from getting wasted as surface run-off.’
Ashams picked up most of his sustainable building techniques skills from The Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD). The young architect has been working with the organisation for close to three years now and joined them full-time when, in mid-2017, he graduated from Prime College of Architecture and Planning in Nagapattinam.
The COSTFORD is a non-profit organisation founded in 1985 by Kerela’s former CM, C. Achutha Menon; Dr. KN Raj, Economist and Chairman of Centre for Development Studies, Social activist TR Chandradutt and legendary architect known for his sustainable building practices, Laurie Baker.
At the heart of the organisation’s operations is Architecture. They build sustainable homes for the underprivileged under rural development programmes like Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana (PMAY). The organization also takes on projects with clients who can afford to pay them for their services of designing and constructing environmentally conscious homes for them.
Thorns on the Way of Building a Green Home and Looking Forward
Eventhough the house came to life in four months, it wasn’t a bed of roses for Ashams.
Ashams recollects, ‘I think one of the key challenges was that we didn’t really have a final plan on paper. This was because we were constantly modifying and designing parts of the house based on the items that we found on demolition sites and other places. So, we had to be quick on our feet.’
Even then, he has built a home that has caught the eyes of many. Arvind Mohan, a 26-year-old Dhrupad musician based out of Thiruvananthapuram is one of them and he has decided to build an eco-friendly home and approached COSTFORD. Ashams became one of the main architects working on the project.
Once, when Arvind visited Ashams’ home, he was completely mesmerised.
Arvind says, ‘Most of the elements have also been incorporated in my building plan. But one thing that really caught my eye was their beautiful courtyard and I have told him that I want something similar in my house. My house too is built using materials found in demolition sites. I wanted a home that is eco-friendly and built around nature. I am glad that I am getting that and I cannot wait to see my house completed.’
Ashams is hopeful that clients and other people have shown interest and have been inspired by his home.
He signs off by saying, ‘Whenever we go about any activity, one must remember that only what is necessary should be taken from the environment. We must remember that mother earth is not something that is given to us by our ancestors but something that we have borrowed from our future generation. We need to give up our greed for a cleaner, better planet.’