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Methods to survival

Anupama Kundoo's house in Auroville reflects the zest the architect infuses in all her projects.

The end of the central spine of the house from where openings filter into other spaces.The house

Having grown up in the concrete jungle of Mumbai, and being exposed to all excesses of the present urban trend, the quest for new directions for a more hopeful future began to lead Anupama to new areas of research in all fields of development.

This search was two-fold: the first being the exploration of technologies of low impact, but pucca structures that are healthy, climatically comfortable, structures that can form the basis of an aesthtically pleasing building language. The second, eco-friendly infrastructure to take care of the running needs of the settlement in terms of water, waste and energy management through renewable sourcesas well as passive methods (25 percent of the nation's total energy demand is due to cooling, lighting and appliances). The first resulted in a series ol low impact roofing options and the second in a handbook of integrated eco-planning guidelines.

Says Anupama, "As kuccha housing is being steadily replaced by pucca ones nationwide, the indiscriminate use of RCC has been on the steady increase. Further strain is being put on the nation, in terms of energy production demand, in terms of producing energy for manufacturing cement and steel, as also transportation of energy in bringing these industry based materials to the far away sites. Further, the RCC roofs in their standard application result in boxes that are storehouses of heat from the sun throughout the day. Additional energy is artificially sought to cool these 'storehouses'. This is far more than would be needed if the roof was better insulated.

Free standing staircaseThe plan is alive to the volume it encloses and makes an earnest attempt at conserving. Linear in plan, the house is oriented to the south-east for optimum air circulation. The house is basically a narrow, 2.2m and long vaulted space contained within the brick masonry with the various activities arranged in a row, like in a train. They are placed so that each activity can spill over on the north east side in the form of alcoves and projections, and on the southwest, under the large 4m overhang provided by the main vaulted roof. This way the design of the house ensures that the activities are cocooned into private secure spaces, while the spillover in the living areas are large and open to nature. The house is simple, with clearly defined lines and masses, yet the play in the volumes is such that it becomes hard to distinguish where the inside ends and the outside begins. This play of indoors and outdoors is quite a marked feature, as it goes far beyond mere inter-penetration. Long steps create a further demarcation of spaces, and they continue on the outside into the garden. The south-west fašade is a transparent wooden structure with a mesh to allow full view of the sunset, while the vault overhang provides adequate shade and ensures that the heat and glare of the direct sun does not reach the cool interiors. The house is characterised with a cavity wall at the north side that connects the insides with the exteriors.

The structure is massive, with an impressive fašade scaled down due to the smaller achakul bricks of size 18cmx2.5cm, with raked joints filled with lime cement mortar. To make the house more climatically responsive, outer walls were designed thick. While the house is open to a picturesque view, keeping the interiors free from glare and heating up, the double height volume of the house enhances the air stack movement, thus keeping the insides cool. The vaults are made of achakul bricks and guna tiles, with the fired clay technology that gives the roof a variation in colour. Punctuations in the vaults bring in the light and also enable hot air to escape the area, thereby creating a draft. Use of structural steel has been entirely eliminated in the construction of the vaults and minimisd in the flat roofs and intermediate floors by introducing shallow terracotta hollow vaults and smaller spans. The windows have been designed in layers with flexible variations in usage to further regulate the climatic comfort throughout the year. Water bodies have been added to further cool the house.

On the first floor, the bed extends out of the brick fašade on a space frame structure so that more space is gained, finished with a wooden floor procured from the short-living acacia auriculiformis trees that were extensively planted in Auroville in the early years. The bedspace extends on the other side, with the vault forming a covered terrace, and then further continues as an open-to-sky terrace and a water body. This water body can be used to take a dip during summer, and is also required for garden water to be raised due to the solar pump that is being used in the place. The bathrooms appear to be more outdoor in character, especially in the way they blend with nature. The natural materials used for finishes further enhance the house. On the other side of the main vault is an independent room with a separate toilet with the possibility of its own independent entrance. The vault space can connect or separate the two parts of the house depending on the desired use.

Burned clay pots as fillers in a RCC slabAn interesting feature in the ceiling is the burned clay pots as fillers in the RCC slab. The pots create dome voids that look good without any plastering and can be made with inexpensive shuttering planks. These pots serve a dual purpose and are not only useful for creating floor slabs, but also act as insulators. The whole house, due to the materials and construction, is filled with the sensitivity that Anupama portrays.

The same high level of energy consciousness can be seen in the choice of materials that have been used. For example, lime has been used in the brick mortar instead of cement, although 10-15% cement was added for quicker initial setting strength. As the walls are in exposed brick and lime mortar, use of finishing materials in the form of plasters, paints and glazed ceramic tiles is reduced or has been completely eliminated. Even the flooring is rough granite in bathrooms, which acts as an alternative for nonslip flooring with few joints. The house runs entirely on solar energy through solar photovoltaics that take care of all electrical demands. The garden water also gets pumped up through the solar pumping system, and the solar water heater provides all the hot water demand.
There is an interplay of light, texture and transparency in the architecture that envelops the house totally. The intelligent use of materials and back-to-basic elemental technology is welcome and the current need of the day.

From an article by Darpana Sawant,
in Indian Architect & Builder, March 2000
Photographs Andreas Deffner

Some of the eco-friendly technologies that are being developed and extensively used in Anupama┤s work include:
Insulating Terracotta Roofing Elements: roof vaults are built out of hollow burned clay tubes that are stacked along a catenary curve thereby requiring no structural steel for reinforcement. The external surface is plastered and waterproofed, including a layer of chicken mesh to prevent cracks and leaks. The tubes were made in a cylindrical extruder to obtain the basic form, after which they were tapered on a wheel over a wooden dye. Ray Meeker fabricated these units in Golden Bridge Pottery.

This has the following advantages:
a. allows terracotta to be reintroduced as tiles, but without needing any supporting wooden rafters as a substructure, wood being no more abundantly and affordably available.
b. neither shuttering nor demoulding is required. Only a frame is required on either side to guide the catenary shape.
c. the village potter can be given employment thereby keeping most of the money in the immediate local area.
d. transportation energy is reduced as bullock carts suffice.
e. fast and modulor, as the units can be produced in advance and need to simply be assembled.
f. the texture of tiles gives the interiors a warmer feeling than the flat plastered standard ceiling.
g. enegy efficient as compared to RCC.
h. hollows in the tubes ensure climatic comfort.

Burned clay trapezoidal units for flat roofs
Series of shallow vaults are built out of hollow burned clay trapezoidal tubes that are assembled in between trapezoidal beams involving minimal structural steel for reinforcement. The system allows quick clean assembly. The steel involved is more than the former technique, but far less than the regular concrete slab. This is an option for roofs that are at the uppermost level of a structure, and therefore need insulation, but where the vault option cannot be applied due to the need for a flat terrace above.

Burned clay pots as fillers in a RCC slab
This is a slab that is an option for building floors that are not the uppermost slab and do not therefore need to be insulated. The idea is to increase the effective depth and thereby save steel, while also reducing the volume of concrete. The pots create dome voids, that give a good finish, require no plastering, and can be made with very inexpensive shuttering planks. The saving in steel is about 60% and the saving in cost about 30%.
Main walls using achakal bricks (local village bricks that are 2.5cm high) in lime mortar with unique bonding details. A small percent of cement, 10% in the lime mortar, gave it initial setting strength. There are six alternative insulating roofing techniques that are aesthetic while simultaneously minimising steel and concrete and achieving eco-friendly architecture that is climate responsive. The house is fully run on solar photovoltaics, and passive solar principles are used.

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