“Sustainability starts with making an environmentally responsible house and ends with embracing a wholesome lifestyle,” says Vittal Dupare, a 66-year-old who left the city to move back to his hometown and live the life of his dreams.
Just two hours away from Mumbai, his home, nestled amid the lush green hills of Wada village in Maharashtra’s Palghar district, is an absolute marvel. A rustic space, it has the feel of a simple country home and yet architecturally is elevated with a free-flowing design that blends it with its breathtaking landscapes.
Created by a team of three architects from iStudio architecture, the project named Brick House, began in 2011 and was completed in 2014.
One of these architects was Prashant Dupare who was responsible for a major part in the design process. But, as compared to his previous projects, this one was more personal to him as it was dedicated to his parents.
“Both my parents spent their childhood in this village, and never stopped missing it. Living in Mumbai, they would constantly talk about coming back here and living a life close to nature. So, in some ways, my work was all about making their dream come alive through this design that had the potential to seamlessly integrate the house with the natural surroundings. Almost all of the construction decisions were taken based on this principle,” says Prashant, adding that he is deeply inspired by British-Indian architect Lauri Baker and Nari Gandhi, an exponent of organic architecture.
The guiding concept behind the structure of the house was to immerse it organically with its natural surroundings and one prominent way of doing so was the free-flowing design with curved and rounded walls, open spaces and porous-walls to let in both air and ample amount of sun-light.
One of the most prominent design decisions was also to keep the construction materials as sustainable as possible and locally sourced. While not entirely, the majority of the house is built with black basalt stones, bricks, wood and kadappa bamboo, all of which are organic materials. However, to ensure structural strength only a few places make use of concrete.
Prashant points out that to reduce the impact of construction on nature and also make it more cost-effective, they decided to make use of all the materials in the raw form.
“This house is not a regular enclosed structure, it is open from almost all the sides. But, beyond that, the very look, both indoors and outdoors is very natural and rustic. For instance, we did not use any plaster on the brick and stone walls and instead decided to display the beauty of these raw natural materials. This enhanced the texture of the house, added some character to it and also sat well with our larger goal of immersive organic architecture,” he explains.
Owing to the use of these materials, not only was the construction cost brought down to a total of Rs 20 lakhs (inclusive of solar panels), but it also ensured the inmates to continue their eco-friendly lifestyle of not using too much electricity and no air conditioning, without sacrificing comfort.
“The design was made keeping in mind the climate condition of the area which can get pretty hot during the summers. We employed a number of building techniques to ensure this. For instance, usually, the southwest part is the hottest as it is exposed to the harsh sunlight, so we made sure that the southwest section was the highest part of the structure that could then shade the rest of the house from heat. Also beyond the many windows and open spaces that allow cross ventilation, we used an interesting brickwork technique called the rat-trap bond, whereby instead of placing the bricks horizontally, we did do vertically so as to leave a gap between two bricks that would create a cavity inside the wall. This cavity insulated the indoors, by preventing the heat gained on the exterior surface from transferring to the interior surface of the wall,” he says.
Even the roof was tactfully designed using locally-made inverted clay pots and clay tiles that insulated the house even from the top. It also helped reduce the use of concrete, that is conventionally put at the bottom level of the roof for structural support.
A Sustainable Lifestyle
Even the interiors have been designed by Prashant and his team in a manner that gives a sense of space and lightness. They claim that it is a part of passive design technology, which essentially involves taking advantage of one’s environmental conditions outside the structure to maximize energy and cost savings.
The open courtyard in the centre of this house is yet another example of this technology. Inspired by traditional architecture in Maharashtra as well as parts of South India, this introverted design of a central courtyard with an open skylight is locally known as chowk, and serves as a common space for the family to congregate.
To this, Prashant added a shaded waterbody in the corner of the courtyard, with cool flowing water that not only adds to the aesthetics of the house but also aids in making the indoors cooler.
Furthermore, the use of Indian Patent Stone (IPS) flooring with a combination of coloured oxides, adds more character to the interiors of the house. “We have used a number of colourful oxides for the flooring to break the dominating monochrome texture of reds and browns in the house. For instance, one of the bedrooms has a yellow IPS flooring, while the kitchen floor is green. Another bedroom is also blue. And the living room floor is a combination of blue and yellow oxide flooring,” he says.
As a measure to make the project more cost-effective, the architects also minimized the use of wood only for structural purposes like beams and columns. And to ensure that each material they use is environmentally responsible, these columns are made of dead wooden trunks sourced locally. The furniture like bed, seatings and kitchen slab was made of ferro-cement.
Expanded across a built-up area of 2500 sq ft, the 2 storey house comes with one bedroom on the first floor and two on the ground floor with the kitchen, courtyard and living room. And all of these rooms are encased behind rounded curved walls that give one a sense of space.
But, the sustainability factor of this house does not end here. Built on a plot of 2 acres, the Brick House, not only has a rustic brick and concrete-walled swimming pool spread across 800 sq ft, but also a full-fledged organic farm where Vittal Dupare and his family grow numerous types of vegetables, fruits as well as rice.
“Watching my own paddy crops grow amid the vegetable and fruit garden gives me a lot of joy. I am happy that my son made me this little paradise to live in,” he says.
While the house partially runs on solar power and the rainwater harvesting system is underway, in terms of waste management, the family produces almost zero wet waste as most of it goes into the garden through composting. Even the water in the swimming pool is chlorine-free and is connected to the garden so that during cleaning and maintenance, not a single drop is wasted.
Promoting a wholesome rural experience
Prashant through his parents’ efforts to live a sustainable life wanted to set a positive example and started his venture Earthbound Getaways in 2017. And soon after iStudio Architecture was also shut in 2018, he wanted to solely focus on making cost-effective and environmentally responsible architectural projects while promoting a sustainable lifestyle through experience-based rural tourism.
“After we built the Brick House we began to get many requests for weekend stays in the house and so I thought of putting it up on Airbnb in 2017. Under Earthbound Getaways, I am also building another homestay like this some five minutes away from our house in a 5-acre property on a hillock. It is going to be a cob house made with 100% natural materials. I hope these efforts will set a positive precedent for others both in the architecture field and beyond,” he adds.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)