Sustainability, recycling and keeping to the basics are the key work strategies followed by De Earth, a Kerala-based architectural practice. We chat with their lead architects Vivek PP and Nishan M on their attempt to create architecture that sits right in the lap of its surroundings.
A large part of great design is its ability to integrate itself in the environs in which it is being executed. Hence, if a mud house seems a little out of place in a city´s skyline, a modern, steel and concrete structure would look equally out of place in a village landscape. The agility with which an architect is able to straddle both worlds marks his level of expertise. The buzzword in today´s architecture, as it is with everything else around us, is sustainability and eco-friendliness. How do we live well and comfortably without disturbing nature too much? Sushmita Sen chats with Architects Vivek PP and Nishan M who open up a world of architecture that nurtures, creates and belongs.
Tell us a bit about your company?
De Earth our firm operates out of Calicut, Kerala. We have a team of young, dedicated architects, urban designers and engineers. Our company´ expertise includes single family homes, eco-responsive housing projects, specialized hospitality ventures, hospitals and urban spaces. We have won several awards for single family houses, hospitality and concept designs. In fact we were also selected as one of top 50 emerging design practices in India by an Indian magazine in the year 2015.
What is your company philosophy?
Our company´s philosophy is working towards nature and creating inclusive and contextually responsive designs with a vision of making a greener and better tomorrow. Our company vision is to nurture, create, belong. This is helped by an in-house research team called ´Chinthaer´ that explores and debates on various nature friendly construction techniques, materials, psychological aspects of design and social responsiveness.
You spoke of an inclusive design philosophy. We would like to know what environmentally sensitive methods you have incorporated in your projects?
De Earth Design tries to keep spaces close to nature, and allows people to connect with nature. The major design element is nature itself and spaces which compliment and allows one to enjoy nature. Spatial requirements of clients are modulated in a way that create simpler spaces where we can attain a clear project brief, which will help in creating uncluttered spaces. Simplicity in spatial design helps in creating soulful spaces along with nature, minimising the barrier between built and un-built spaces. This needs conscious effort from the concept stage itself. Slender built spaces allowing maximum ventilation and light for the tropical climate here have become the major design element in our projects. Reducing the building footprint and including landscape as a part of design creates a whole new ambience to the built spaces. We practice climatic responsive designs which reduces the maintenance costs and allows the buildings to age gracefully thus reducing the impact on environment.
What was the design inspiration in the projects?
Design inspirations for our projects come from the site, neighborhood and client typology. We believe that the design should be grounded to the context, rooted to the culture and environment at the same time meet the contemporary needs of the inhabitants. The nature friendly concepts and construction techniques of traditional architecture have always been our inspiration and the elements of traditional architecture is always interpreted in one way or the other in our projects in line with the contemporary context.
How is designing a home different from designing hospitality projects or commercial spaces? And is it difficult to keep your sensibilities in place when designing commercial spaces?
Designing a home is entirely different from commercial spaces. Commercial spaces in our country are in a huge identity crisis, with a blind copy of western and middle east visual and spatial characteristics. The same is applicable to institutions as well. With our glorious design traditions with specificity of climatic responsiveness, the commercial and institutional spaces can well be designed exemplifying the characteristics of the context and the character of the place it belongs to.The inclusiveness as a concept is totally applicable to non residential projects as well. We have been extending this concept to our hospital projects and resort projects, where the spaces, the materials, the street and site responses, the texture, the colour and the process of building is totally in tune with the local context and culture. It extends a feeling of belonging to the place.
Which design elements make your projects unique?
The major elements of our designs are the simplicity of spaces and the connections we try to make with nature. We always try to create a dialogue between built and un-built spaces, especially the courtyards. We have been trying various ranges of courtyard designs from central courtyards to courtyards which flow and connect every space. In one of our recent projects we tried to include courtyard space as a part of living dining space where the dining space completely opens out to a huge courtyard.
We also try to play with sloping roof and height modulation within our designed spaces. The spatial proportions can create various emotions within each space. A sloping roof is also designed carefully with slopes leaning down to a conceivable height creating dramatic spaces.
How do you source your material?
We usually go for locally available materials and labour. Trying out different textures with locally available materials makes the project a part of a particular place, giving it a sense of belonging. We also use recycled materials like wood and stone.
What was the brief given to you by the client when you discussed the Thanveer residence?
The client works and resides in London. The project is in his hometown. They wanted a home that would let them enjoy the beauty of the surroundings. Essentially a very cosy, nature friendly home, where they feel connected when they come for vacations. The client was very particular about the rustic feel. He also wanted the fundamental finishes to have an earthy feel rather than the highly polished interiors they have in their London home. As per the brief we conceptualised a design of a rustic home that would use fundamental finishes that connects to nature.
What were the challenges you faced while building the house?
I would not call them challenges. In fact we looked upon them as opportunities. And therefore, all of it-the difficult terrain, the strict budget and lack of local workmanship were all used to the benefit of the project. For instance, the texture of the walls and floor were made by local workers who were trained on site. It resulted in the creation of a unique finish.
Can you tell us in detail the different eco-friendly practices that you used in the building of this house?
To begin with, the stones that make up most of the exteriors were sourced from a local quarry. The floor finish is rustic since we used a basic cement mix. Even the wood has been reused in its rustic form thereby reducing the embodied energy. The finishes were kept to minimum and decorations were avoided. Every material was allowed to be presented in its own character. The natural light was well managed inside the house with the quality of morning light and evening light taken into consideration.
The rainwater has been channeled towards the middle portion of the house by inverting the sloping roof towards the middle part, while the central part is designed as a rainwater gutter which channels the water and drives it to the pond beneath creating a natural waterfall during rain. The water in the pond that otherwise looks like a pretty lily pond, is used for utility purposes. The pond has a mechanism that drives the overflow towards the garden. This allows maximum seepage of the water into the grounds thereby nourishing the ground water table.
The waste is managed within the site. The site was planted with local trees and local plants converting a barren land into a grove.
What are the other striking features of this house?
The form of the house in itself is a striking feature. It evolves from the terrain and flies into the infinity energised on maximum light and wind. The form also articulates the spectacular views of the river as seen from inside. The dining room, front and rear verandah and the upper deck have all been designed to give maximum viewing delight.
Exclusive designs in an inclusive format. A tough challenge for many. But for De earth, it is always an opportunity to build architecture that nurtures, creates and belongs.
De Earth, Ragam Apartment,
Pipeline road, Pattery, Kozhikode, Kerala 673 016.
Tel: 0495 274 1622