Architectural Design, Structural Design, Sustainability Engineering, Interior Design, Landscape Design, Branding Design, Master Planning.
Jan 2006 – Jan 2007
Feb 2007 – May 2014
The client was international NGO – Sri Aurobindo Society, a wing of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, based in Pondicherry. They have over 400 centres and branches around the world and wanted an iconic project at their headquarters in Pondicherry for their various activities in the fields of Culture & Education for conducting workshops and seminars. The one line brief I recieved from Mr. Pradeep Narang and Mr. Vijay Poddar was that it had to be “inspirational space” which would match, if not surpass, the elegance of Golconde. (insert link here). They wanted a Space which could create a “paradigm shift” in the minds of the user to catalyse a positive change.
Sharanam was co-designed and built by Trupti Doshi during her tenure as Chief Co-Architect of Sri Aurobindo Society.
This project presented a three-fold challenge. It had to be
1. Ecologically resilient – It had to demonstrate the highest standards of Sustainable Design and Construction
2. Climatically responsive – at 12 degrees North latitude in an excessively hot and humid climate where summer temperatures cross the 40 degree C mark and relative humidity in the range of 80%.
3. Culturally relevant – without going back to the past. It had to integrate traditional wisdom but boldly spring into the future as a beacon of an inspirational possibility.
A friend once told me:
“When you have 1 problem and 1 solution, the answer is Enterprise.
When you have 10 problems and 1 solution, the answer is Design!”
Sharanam is a telling example of such a Design.
1. ECOLOGICALLY RESILIENT THROUGH INDIGENOUS LANDSCAPE & APPROPRIATE MATERIALS (covered below)
2. CLIMATICALLY RESPONSIVE THROUGH NATURAL COOLING & ENERGY EFFICIENT TECHNIQUES (covered below)
3. CULTURALLY RELEVANT THROUGH FORM AND FINISHES
One the most characteristic features of Indian Architecture is the concept of
– Open to Sky Courtyards
– Semi open Verandahs
– An undulating Floor-plate to form built in benches (Thinnai in Tamil).
You will find variations of these 3 giant principles of design through the fabric of India in varying forms.
At Sharanam, these 3 form the key principles.
– The main building is flanked on both sides by 2 large courtyards. Both these courtyards keep the building remarkably cool and catch and redirect breeze inside.
– The entire main building is a giant multipurpose pavilion which is a channel of breeze throughout the day. It provided effective shading against the Sun while still providing ample daylight for all activities.
– The defining element of the Architecture at Sharanam is the large thinnai, built in bench made of black granite. This one large masculine element is the counter balance of the elegant feminine arched roof above. Both elements run through thelength of the building and bind the stretch into a composite whole.
In terms of Wall Finishes,
– We used different compositions of earth and lime plasters to give a variety of finishes right from rough grit finish for outdoor plaster to silky smooth earth plaster finish for certain indoor walls.
Most of the buildings are exposed brickwork and hence use Pointing to strengthen the mortar joints.
Floor Finishes were created using:
– Pebbles (when we were seiving the soil for making the earth blocks, we got thousands of small beautiful pearl-like pebbles)
– An ancient Kerala technique which uses Lime, Coconut husk, Hibiscus flowers and Kajal (the black soot used to decorate women’s eyes)
The building had to be modern, highly engineered and breath-taking with the most environment friendly building material.
Our choice was the very Earth on which the Building stands. Earth has been used in 2 major ways at Sharanam :
1. Rammed earth foundations
Foundations pits were precisely marked on the ground. The soil was neatly dug out, sieved, mixed with a pinch of cement and rammed back layer by layer.
No steel or concrete has been used in the foundation pits.
These foundations are only 3 feet deep, waist height. We were told by the structural engineers that they are rock hard and capable of taking a 7 storey building on it.
2. Compressed Stabilised Earth blocks – CSEBs made with local soil by training local villagers.
Soil is evenly sieved, mixed with a pinch of cement which acts as a stabiliser, and made into blocks, precise to half a millimeter.
Normal bricks in the market have a wet compressive strength of 35 kg/ sq.cm. At Sharanam, we were able to achieve 75, which is more than double the strength.
In terms of environmental cost, they are 1/10th. They are not fired. No carbon dioxide has been let out into the atmosphere. No topsoil has been used to make them. They are made from the earth on the site itself so no fuel has been burnt for transport.
We made bricks of 9 different sizes and types depending upon the use. Here, the idea was complete Optimisation. Hence we made different bricks for the pillars, wall and the roof.
3. The third main material used is Ferrocement which utilises minimum Steel & Cement.
The Project Brief included comprehensive institutional facilities – a large multipurpose hall to seat 500 people, Reception, Administrative offices, Meeting rooms, Computer rooms, a newspaper office, Community radio station, Stores, Kitchen, Dining and a toilet block.
Whilst I was talking to the client in the office, at home I was reading the poem ‘Savitri’ by poet Sri Aurobindo and my eyes chanced upon a rather beautiful and cryptic line where he says:
“All our earth starts from mud and ends in sky.” Many of us would have experienced that at moments, seemingly divergent things comes to us and one has the answer to the other. I decided to make this line the main inspiration behind the project.
BIOCLIMATIC & BIOPHILIC DESIGN PRINCIPLES:
1. NATURAL LIGHTING
To reduce the operational energy during the life cycle of the building and making it energy efficient, the design maximizes the use of daylight.
2. FUNNELS OF BREEZE
The building has been oriented such that it is perpendicular to the direction of the breeze. Plus columns and walls are designed to funnel the breeze into the building. The surrounding landscape is positioned to allow cool breeze to enter the building at a lower level while hot air escapes out at a higher level.
3. NATURAL COOLING
Design is aimed at creating thermal comfort through bioclimatic principles without using air conditioning. To make the campus climatically responsive, 12+ principles of natural cooling have been integrated. These include north-south orientation, funnelling breeze through angled columns, evaporative cooling through water bodies, cavity walls increasing thermal mass, vertical gardens and rooftop gardens.
Radiant cooling, a low energy active system for thermal comfort, uses cooled water circulating in pipes under the floor to give a comfortable temperature at a fraction of the cost.
4. NATURAL ACOUSTICS
To overcome the erratic power supply, the vaulted roof has been acoustically designed to ensure that speakers can be clearly heard by 300 people without using microphones.
5. NATURAL MATERIALS
The primary building material is unfired earth used as rammed earth in the foundations and compressed stabilised earth blocks in walls, columns and roof. This earth was procured from the rainwater reservoir on the same site ensuring zero transportation costs, minimal dependence on expensive and high energy use materials like steel and cement, minimum carbon footprint and low embodied energy.
6. ZERO WASTE TECHNOLOGY
The building encompasses zero waste principles and is entirely recyclable. The earthen vaulted roof was built with 9.5m wide free spanning arches, without any formwork. Through precise structural calculations, the thickness of the arched roof was brought down from 150 cm to a mere 9 cm at the keystone, thus reducing the need of several hundred bags of cement to merely 33 bags.
7. NATURAL LANDSCAPING
In terms of ecological landscaping, over 1000 native trees were planted to repair the soil and prevent erosion. This thick tree cover helped in creating a favourable local microclimate through indigenous landscaping. The entire campus has been designed around existing trees and the surrounding flora greatly enhance the indoor air quality.
1. CLOSING THE LOOPS
The first principle of Sustainable Design is “Closing the Loops”. It is not a linear process like the old industrial age where you put raw material, labour and capital at one end, go through a linear process and get the finished product and waste at the other end.
It is a cyclical loop just like Nature, where processes are clustered ecologically – the waste of one process becomes the wealth of the next and there is no wastage.
Sharanam is a living example of this. The rainwater reservoir provided the soil for making the entire 5 acre campus out of unfired earth including the foundations, walls. columns and roof.
While the roof collected rainwater which went back into the reservoir. The loop of nature was complete.
2. CLIMATE & ENERGY
Due to the 12+ principles of Natural cooling used at Sharanam, the entire campus is able to operate comfortably without air conditioners. The Design has brought down the electricity bills to less than 25%.
3. WATER & WASTE
Not a single drop of water is allowed to leave the campus.
To ensure minimal water footprint, rooftop rainwater is harvested and recycled for secondary domestic purposes such as flushing and refilling pools in the landscaping.
Treated wastewater from the kitchen and washrooms is used in irrigation as a natural fertiliser for plants.
All this ensures minimum dependence on groundwater.
“Building your own home is about
desire, fantasy. But it’s achievable
anyone can do it.”
KEVIN MCCLOUD, DESIGNER