Architect Chitra Vishwanath: Pioneering earth-friendly building in India

Did you know: the construction industry is responsible for almost 50% of carbon dioxide emissions the world over? The fact that this industry contributes significantly to global warming due to the release of greenhouse gases is a cause for worry in a developing nation like India, where cities have seen an unprecedented construction boom in recent years.

A few earth-friendly architects have therefore taken it upon themselves to build affordable, energy-efficient homes that respond to local climates. They combine modern-day techniques with age-old vernacular wisdom to create buildings with a lower carbon footprint. In this post, we look at one such architectural firm’s approach to creating stylish structures that are eco-friendly, sustainable and responsive to the needs of today.

Biome Architects, Bangalore

Chitra Vishwanath is the principal architect at Biome. Schooled in Nigeria and CEPT in India, she has led over 500 projects in India and Africa. Her agency has built a reputation for creating spaces which use natural resources judiciously and consciously reduce waste. BIOME as an organisation came about because of a collaboration between Chitra Vishwanath Architects and Rainwater Club, a group of water management experts led by Chitra’s husband, Mr. Vishwanath. Chitra Vishwanath’s work has been inspired by the Laurie Baker approach as well as the design philosophy at Auroville.

BIOME’s buildings make use of plentifully available local materials, such as mud, and harness rain, sun and the wind to the best possible extent. Earth is used in the form of compressed, stabilised blocks and stabilised rammed earth is used for load bearing structures, such as arches, vaults, and domes. BIOME’s signature approach lies in excavating the earth to build a basement first, which yields enough mud for the construction of the structure. The firm has also experimented with the use of plastic and other non-degradable material to lay the foundation, so the waste material is cleared from the surroundings and buried under the structure.

BIOME’s projects evolve out of multiple consultations with homeowners and other stakeholders and are designed to foster a closer relationship with nature. Homeowners are encouraged to tap into groundwater sparingly, reuse grey water, and install rainwater and wind harvesting systems so the building gives back to the Earth, and doesn’t just take from it. BIOME constructs keeping in mind the needs of senior citizens; their spaces are accessible to people with differing needs.

The Vishwanaths’ home in an inspiration in this regard. Their multi-level home functions as a laboratory for their architectural practice in Bangalore. Built on a 1500 sq. ft. plot, the house does not need air conditioning or fans. Cleverly positioned skylights and open passages ensure that plenty of light and air flood in. Walls made of mud bricks, and do not have any plaster finish, reducing the use of toxic paints and chemicals. Water is heated using solar panels, and the toilets are eco-friendly. A composting pit in the compound handles the organic waste and garbage from the house. The building harvests 90,000 litres of rainwater (including 20,000 from the neighbours), reuses washing machine water, uses solar energy for cooking, lighting and water heating. The home also reuses greywater for bathroom flushes and in the terrace vegetable garden. The space is truly sustainable in every possible way.

Chitra Vishwanath and her team believe that eco-friendliness cannot be a fashion statement but a way of life. And she continues to put her ideas into action in urban settings, like Bangalore, to bring about sustainable innovation and incremental change.

Keep visiting our blog for more inspiring stories about architects and businesses who are reimagining the skyscape of India. And do consider Palmex, an eco-friendly artificial thatch for your next project.

Preeti Prakash | Journalist

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