Green is more than just gimmicks...

Green is more than just gimmicks...

Green is more than just gimmicks...

Natasha Iype grew up in a suburb of Mumbai in the early ‘80s, when the culture of fairs and the familiarity of a small town still existed. By the time she graduated from architecture school, everything changed. The overcrowding of the city, the poor quality of life and the scarcity of resources raised questions about the development of cities, and the struggle of everyday pushed her to search for better alternatives to urban living.

GoodEarth, an architectural firm known for creating sustainable communities, is a result of many such people who have been experimenting with alternatives for environment-friendly development for the past 28 years. What started out as an NGO transformed into a design firm and a developer that has many residential and institutional projects to its credit. “Our
foray into building residential communities which would be sustainable started in 1995, in Kochi, and from there we built communities in Bengaluru and Kozhikode,” explains Natasha, director at GoodEarth.

With a vision to bring about a change through experiments which consolidate modern thinking and technology with traditional concepts of living and working, GoodEarth has carved a niche in the world of sustainability today. Citing architect Laurie Baker and his philosophy to be their inspiration, Natasha believes that a sense of play and a celebration of the process of designing and building are important aspects of their practice.
In an interaction with Deccan Herald, Natasha sheds light on many aspects of sustainable architecture and its challenges.  

What are the challenges of sustainable architecture?

Our ideas on sustainability are a result of collaborations between architects, engineers, managers and end users. They are intuitive, spontaneous and practical. The challenges we face are more to do with a consumer attitude towards building and a hands-off attitude, which is contradictory to the basic idea of being sustainable. The other big challenge is the perception of handcrafted versus machine-made. The handcrafted with natural material and manual labour has a very different aesthetic, as compared with a factory-made aesthetic, which needs to be understood and appreciated.

Is it possible to make one’s home sustainable after it has been constructed?

After constructing a home, one can look at how to use the spaces to make maximum use of natural light and ventilation, switch to energy-efficient fixtures and fittings, harvest rainwater, manage wet waste and reduce the consumption of plastic.

How has the architecture in Bengaluru evolved over the years?

We have been building in Bengaluru since 1995. When we moved here, it still retained its charm of a garden city; the parks, the traditional bungalows and the markets, had an identifiable character. This has been lost over the past 20 years, where the architecture in Bangalore today, could be anywhere else in the country. There are in pockets, attempts to
create a new identity, which are often at variance with each other. I feel it is part of the search in society for a new way of life, where we need to respond to the challenges a new world throws at us everyday, which we are not always able to keep pace with. I feel that architecture can and should inspire and influence this search.

What makes for a truly sustainable home?

When building a home, the first decision is the size. While having a lot of space is good, sustainability demands that we build less. Spaces that can be multi-used, have natural light and ventilation and are simply rendered is the way forward.

Orienting the home to a proportionate open space, which is a part of the home is important in expanding the space and in our awareness and understanding of the environment. Growing food and flowers goes a long way in enriching our lives. The choice of materials, integrating the management of resources like rain water, solid waste and sewage, utilising alternative
energy like solar — all go towards making a home sustainable.

What kind of trends do you see in the architecture space this year?

I think there is a growing effort in many building projects to be ‘green’, which may be a bit superficial and sometimes gimmicky, but is a good starting point towards awareness about the environment, and perhaps can become more sincere eventually. We have experienced the use of glass and steel inappropriately, and the problems of overheating and discomfort they cause.

Many efforts are made to counter this by efficient air-conditioning etc. I feel that this experience should change the way we build and become more climate responsive. Architects are often blamed for this, but it is also a global aesthetic that people aspire for, and that aspiration has to change.

Mistakes people make when creating sustainable homes…

Today there is a lot of ‘green washing’ going around with many products claiming to be environment-friendly. Most people are happy to consume these without going into detail of how they work and if it is relevant.

Which project has given you the most satisfaction?

At present, we have completed 75% of the GoodEarth Malhar eco village in Kengeri, Bengaluru. This is an eco village spread over 40 acres of land and has 400 homes. There are already about 100 families staying there. It is a great source of satisfaction to see the spaces being used. Kids playing and cycling in the open spaces, community cricket matches, vegetable gardening being slogged over and users consciously managing their waste and
celebrating life.

Green and sustainable homes are often thought to be more expensive...

The cost of the home can be controlled with a change in specification. Most often, the initial investment may be a bit more, but it pays out in the long run. For example, investing in solar energy will initially be expensive, but will be recovered over time. Similarly, the storage of rain water can be a wise long-term investment. One way to control the initial expenses is to make provisions for certain elements, which can be added later.

Generally, what kind of materials should go into a sustainable home?

Today, the idea of ‘locally available material’ has become questionable, as we have concrete blocks and steel available at every corner. I would recommend that the choice of material should be natural, such as mud, bricks, stone and timber. The availability and the skill to build with these is limited. However, it can be done with some effort. When using these materials, or any for that matter, how they are used, protected and detailed is as important as choosing the right materials.

On the future of architecture…

I think architecture has to evolve with the times. Architects must not work in isolation, but collaborate with other disciplines. We have to be more process-centric.

Architects must be trained to be leaders and take more responsibility. The consultant approach must be changed. In larger urban policy scenarios, architecture must participate with innovative ideas that will avoid mega-projects, which very often are a response to contractors and not necessarily needed. Pushing socially-relevant solutions is the future.