In 2019, when architect duo Gauri Satam and Tejesh Patil were tasked with salvaging a flood-affected village school nestled on the banks of river Tansa in Maharashtra, the challenge was layered. The design approach had to be self-sustainable, responsive to the region’s flood-prone topography and one that fosters a learning environment.
With a tight budget, Satam and Patil felt it suitable to erect the structure with residual soil procured from nearby quarries, bricks from nearby kilns along with locally-sourced black basalt rocks. A traditional jali was created from locally-sourced karvi twigs for cross ventilation. “For us, it’s not just how the built form looks when completed, it’s also how it is experienced and inhabited by the users, and how gracefully it ages,” the duo say about their design philosophy for the project.
At a time when global warming and climate change are factors that can’t be ignored, spaces are increasingly being designed and constructed considering factors that impact the environment and the ecosystem. Satam and Patil’s firm unTAG has also accounted for climatic sensibilities in their design mantra, while also adhering spatial functionality, material sensitivity and economic viability.
“The concept of ‘low-cost and eco-friendly’ is not new. Our traditional homes across India are based on the concept of being climatically sensitive. It’s only now that city dwellers want to return to their roots and choose a lifestyle that has an indelible connection to nature and a minimal carbon footprint,” says Patil who often draws inspiration from traditional architecture that aims to co-exist symbiotically with nature.
“We have always looked up to visionary architects such as Geoffrey Bawa and Laurie Baker who have defined an architectural language which is attuned to the region’s climate, rely on native materials and integrate local art and crafts. Their projects are more experiential than monumental and hence, relatable to the common man,” he adds about their design influences.
The regional and contextual setting of a project unsurprisingly plays a vital role in the design development of their projects. For instance, in a location where the climate is majorly hot and humid, the house needs to be well protected through overhangs from the scorching summer sun. “It also needs to be cross-ventilated to create an ambient habitable interior space.
In such cases, transient spaces such as the verandah play a key role, acting as climatic buffers,” explains Satam as she goes on to refer to a house they designed and built for a paddy farmer in Dakivali village in Maharashtra. The 1400 sq.ft. home has been installed with climate control elements such as locally-sourced fly-ash block jalis that effectively screen the house from dust, and cross ventilate while ensuring privacy for the residents.
Calculated overhangs over cross-ventilated openings make the indoors ambiently habitable during peak tropical summers while also withstanding the harsh monsoons.
While the terraces have been painted white to reduce incident heat gain, the architects also introduced recharge pits at key locations to harvest rainwater. “Such cost-effective productive architecture alongside green initiatives in landscaping are the new standards for affordable sustainable living with farming communities in the region,” she says.
Here, materials also contribute as much as the design in making these projects eco-friendly. “We try and source our building materials locally, within a radius of 10 km, as much as possible.
These materials have a low embodied energy and respond better to the regional climate and turn out to be more affordable too,” say the graduates from the Sir J J College of Architecture explaining their firm’s mantra of up-cycling and repurposing resources.
For one of their projects, a farm stay in Maharashtra, they acquired seasoned local timber from a demolished temple at a nominal price and salvaged it for the doors and windows of the house. “For another project, a biology professor’s village home, we reclaimed the basalt stone recovered from a nearby excavation to be used for strengthening the plinth of the house,” he adds.
The duo have always steered away from the notion that well-designed houses are exclusive to only those who can afford them. Taking on budget-friendly and sustainable homes has thus been their priority.
“We have been constantly questioning the current trend of most architects catering mainly to the rich, carving the surreal image of their practice, while prioritising aesthetics over rational approach. We want our design to be dictated by the brief, budget, climate and context. Through our expertise, we wish to provide affordable luxury to the common man,” concludes Satam.