"We did not want to import marble from Italy or wood from Brazil. We wanted to include local labour, local resources and more importantly, local arts and crafts in the homes we built."
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A cashew tree lay at the heart of an Auroville plot where Kedar wanted to build his dream home.
He contacted his friends, Harini Raja and Anupama Bothireddy, both architects and co-founders of the Chennai-based Studio DCode for the project, and gave them a simple brief—the home would have to be built around the tree, without causing it any harm and that the brand new construction would have to look like a 100-year-old house.
The architects discussed various options, and finally, arrived at the perfect solution.
“Auroville is rich with building materials like second-hand and ancient old wood, columns and more. We explored the city and got hold of some lovely stuff for this project. In places where we could not use old materials—like glass panes—we recycled discarded bottles and made the windows colourful. Finally, about 90 per cent of the construction materials turned out to be recycled!” Harini shares with The Better India (TBI).
Not only did they give Kedar his perfect home, but this project also set the stage for what Studio Dcode was to become—an architecture firm that promotes sustainability, the use of recycled material and finds a way to give dying arts the comfort of a happy home.
Since its conception in 2008, the firm has worked on 50+ projects, delivering an earth-friendly, roomy and cosy ambience with every home.
About the Chennai architects:
Harini and Anupama are both alumnae of the SRM University in Chennai. Incidentally, they both decided to pursue their masters from Greenwich University in London.
While Anupama opted for an MA in Landscape Architecture, Harini followed a year later and got an MA in Urban Design. A year after Harini’s return (in 2007), the two college mates and friends decided to start an architecture firm in their hometown, Chennai.
“Our idea was to build a platform that focuses on the simplicity of architecture. We did not want to import marble from Italy or wood from Brazil. We wanted to include local labour, local resources and more importantly, local arts and crafts in the homes we built. Kedar’s home in Auroville gave us another niche to capture—that of sustainability,” Harini shares.
What started in 2008 has today resulted in a beautiful family of talented architects, passionate consultants and skilled craftsmen.
“Once a year, we offer some interesting internships for architecture students or fresh architecture graduates that last 5-6 months. We try to provide a livelihood to at least 3 or 4 different kinds of skilled labours or artisans in every project,” she tells TBI.
Ideas for Sustainability
Not every home can come with the same template. Studio DCode wants their projects to be sustainable yet unique. For this, they make the following fascinating recommendations:
- Exposed brick walls wherever possible: The wall paints we use are loaded with chemicals that are not just harmful to the environment but also to those who work with them. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported a 20-40 per cent increase in the risk of cancer to those who come in regular contact with wet paints.
- Natural plasters such as lime plasters, mud plasters and oxide plasters wherever possible
- The location of windows should encourage maximum natural cross-ventilation and natural light: “We have noticed that ACs run for just half the time in a home with large, well-positioned windows,” Harini shares.
- Ventilators in living areas of the house to allow heat to pass out quickly: Yet another trick to keep those ACs off and yet be comfortable in places like Chennai and Auroville where temperatures keep above 37°C through the day.
- Skylights or fixed windows: “These are primarily designed to allow natural light in atriums and spaces with a high ceiling. For places where open windows are not accessible to let the breeze in (due to the height) we suggest fixed windows to let the natural sunlight in,” she says.
- At least 40 per cent of every house they build is sustainable in some way or the other: “It is project-specific and purely depends on what materials (whether recycled or new building materials) are available close to the project site. Sometimes we even exceed this condition,” says Harini.
- Filler slabs for roofing: Filler slabs are an innovative technique to reduce the use of cement in building slabs or roofs. A part of the concrete in the inner part of the slab (inside your house) uses a ‘filler’ material- like mud pots for example. It also gives a quirky, unique look to your ceiling.
- Ferro-cement staircases & built-in Ferro-cement furniture: Ferrocement is a construction system that uses reinforced mortar and steel or iron meshes to make the construction lightweight. Harini shares that with this method, they can build concrete staircases that are sturdy but not too bulky. It also uses less cement than conventional staircases.
- Eco-friendly flooring like oxide flooring; or flooring to encourage artisans livelihood like the Athangudi tiles; or sometimes even natural stone flooring
A Peaceful Oasis in the Middle of a City
While Kedar’s home with its old-world charm is one of their favourites, Madhu Boppana’s abode is also a project they cherish.
Madhu works in the corporate communications department of an MNC in Chennai. He wanted a space that would give his family a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and approached Harini and Anupama for this.
“I wanted this home to be private, away from the traffic of the lane outside, and be closer to nature. I also firmly believe that walls divide people. So, in our two-storeyed house, we only have 3-4 inner walls. And most of them have exposed bricks instead of a plaster or paint layer,” he says.
The construction for the 3-BHK began in 2017 and took about a year to complete. Today, this warm, open, sun-filled space with a skylight is a sanctuary for Madhu, his partner and their young daughter.
“We used the filler slab technique, although I didn’t believe it would help the heat in any way. But this is our second summer in the house, and we certainly see its contribution. The house remains 4-6°C cooler than outside. Of course, things get challenging during a couple of weeks of a heatwave, and we have to switch on the ACs in our rooms. But the common areas don’t need it. Check out this interesting statistic—we used to live in an 800 sq ft house and this is a 2000 sq ft space. Even then, we have managed to slash our electricity bill by 20 per cent!” he beams.
Sustainability often goes hand in hand with personal comfort when it comes to architecture, and these architects are certainly showing us how. They have also undertaken projects in Vellore, Perundurai (dist. Erode), Kotagiri (The Nilgiris), and with each project, they bring urban life closer to nature.
If you are looking for construction prospects for your new home, get in touch with Harini and Anupama. You can send an email to email@example.com.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)