In Powdikonam, located on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, a two-storeyed house distinct from normal structures can be spotted. Built amid many trees and rocky terrain, the house blends with the surroundings and is beautiful to look at. It belongs to popular Malayalam writer Echmukutty and her architect husband R D Padmakumar.
It was in 2009 that the 20-cent land was bought by the couple. Being an architect aware of the real estate scenario in his state, Padmakumar had no interest in constructing a house of his own. “The state already has a huge number of surplus houses and apartments in an area. On the contrary, this doesn’t bring down the number of homeless people. We didn’t want to increase the count of structures but eventually surrendered to societal pressure of ‘living in one’s own house’. Even then, we were certain that it wouldn’t be a concrete building. That’s how ‘Geet’ was built,” says the 58-year-old architect.
This 1400 square feet house is full of surprises and specialities. There are three major sustainability principles followed by the architect in its construction.
First, the advantage of designing and building for disassembly.
Whenever it occurs that the structure has to be dismantled, almost 95 per cent of the materials can be salvaged and reused. This includes wood, bricks, stones, steel rods, mesh, bamboo ply and glass.
Second is the use of second-hand materials. Almost all the items used to construct the house are reusable materials. For example, the grills are made of rods collected from a dismantled house in Ulloor. Glass from old cars and auto rickshaws is placed in certain areas to enhance day lighting inside the house.
The third is the fact that not even a sack of cement was used for the construction. Instead, lime and mud did the job. It consumed more time, effort and money but at the end of the day, it’s completely an eco-friendly house with an extremely low carbon footprint. Special care was taken to reduce consumption of water during construction, thereby reducing the water footprint also. Another equally important aspect is that every bit of construction generated waste was segregated, documented and dealt with responsibly.
The house consists of two bedrooms, bathrooms, and a common space which has a living area, dining area, library and kitchen on four sides. It took around 4.5 years to complete the construction. “Procurement of materials and accomplishing skilled work with just a mason, helper and carpenter took time. Also, if the process goes too fast, we might lose control over the project and end up compromising the much valued sustainability aspects.. We took our time to avoid this from happening,” says Padmakumar who has an experience of over 35 years in the field.
Following the footsteps of Laurie Baker
Padmakumar, during the early years of his career in Costford, used to work with Laurie Baker, a British-born Indian architect, renowned for his initiatives in cost and energy-efficient architecture as well as designs that maximise space, ventilation and light. All through his life, Baker designed sustainable structures only.
“He has influenced me as an architect and a human being,” shares Padmakumar.
The architect also adds that the nature of learning in Baker’s sites were completely different from others. Architects and engineers worked alongside masons, carpenters, electricians and whoever toils in the construction. This skilled the architects and engineers in each field. Padmakumar was able to supplement the building of his house due to this experience.
Keeping the rocks intact
‘Geet’ is constructed in a round shape using bricks and wood.
Recycled stones are used in the foundation, steel uruli is used instead of a conventional washbasin, the kitchen sink is made of recycled wood, the flooring is done using mud and wood, and the roof frame is made of wood and bamboo ply layer, old flex and discarded tyre–tube.
The highlight of this eco-friendly house is how the architect has retained three natural rocks found in the plot. One is in the bedroom of which they made a cot, the second is in the bathroom used for washing clothes and the third is in the living room and has been converted into a chair, shelf and a play space for their grandchild.
Other than using recycled materials, ‘Geet’ also has a rainwater harvesting system and a pond which collects the rainwater falling into the plot. “Collecting roof water is pretty easy and common. But to get the groundwater recharged, we should collect each drop of water falling into the ground. We should ensure that the water gets back to the soil without any blockage,” he explains.
The total cost of construction is around Rs 20 lakh. “If you choose to use cement, this amount could be easily reduced by Rs 3-4 lakh since it is readily available. Opting for such an extremist approach of zero-cement cost us more money and time but we have no regrets as the house turned out well,” he adds.
The couple is proud to say that to date, they have switched on the fan only twice or thrice in the past seven months of living here. Natural cooling is the greatest advantage of their home, they conclude.
Edited by Yoshita Rao