by Rabita Shakya, Anne FeenstraOct 14, 2022
The design of a house proposed by Compartment S4 design studio emerged as the winner of the Resilient Homes Design Challenge, a competition hosted in 2018 by the World Bank, UN Habitat, Build Academy, GFDRR and Airbnb. Having proven to be an earthquake resilient house to sustain earthquakes up to 7.0 on the Richter’s scale, the design of this sustainable architecture was then implemented in the mountainous terrain in Khirsu in Uttarakhand, in northern India. Developed through further research and a process of refinement with the cooperation of the locals and government bodies in the region, the design took shape in the form of BASA Tourism Center.
BASA Tourism Center responds to the cold climate of the Himalayan mountain region, and the design is a simple effort to create a modest shelter by applying engineering, architecture and local techniques together. The firm Compartment S4 was founded in 2017 by eight architects namely Monik Shah, Aman Amin, Manuni Patel, Prasik Chaudhari, Krishna Parikh, Kishan Shah, Vedanti Agarwal and Nishita Parmar, who recently graduated from the Centre of Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) University. They joined hands with the locals to build the center and conducted workshops with the volunteers in order to
With the government promoting homestays to uplift the local economy, the BASA Tourism Center was designed to aid this scheme. The Center has a community kitchen and a separate space to display the local produces on the lower level. The upper floor houses an exhibition portraying the local heritage and culture of Khirsu along with essential information for tourists. The upper level space also functions as a recreational space for the tourists who are staying at the BASA homestay. ‘BASA’ in Garhwali language is an expression to invite guests to your house for a night halt.
Here, STIR speaks with the Compartment S4 to discuss the entire process of creating the BASA Tourism Center.
Meghna Mehta (MM): How did all of you set out to build the BASA Tourism Center?
Compartment S4 (CS): The goal was to promote tourism in Khirsu, which is driven by the locals and for the locals. A community tourism model based on the idea of homestay. A centre was to be designed to facilitate tourism inspired by the local heritage, landscape and culture of Khirsu by engaging the local women of Khirsu.
MM: Did the studio always intend to engage the local community?
CS: Yes, the approach was community driven and was followed throughout the process. Multiple meetings were held with the villagers to spread awareness about homestays and the benefits attached to it. A lot of discussions were also around preserving their local heritage and culture. Many interviews and conversations were done with the villagers, door-to-door, to know more about their lifestyle, local landscape, local architecture, festivals, agriculture etc. The group of local women were also trained to manage and run this community tourism initiative through meetings and multiple presentations.
MM: What did the firm have in mind while designing the spaces and experiences?
CS: A lot of focus in deriving a programme for BASA was given to the preservation of the heritage of Khirsu, its people and its culture. The exhibition portraying the local heritage and culture provides a beautiful journey to the tourists visiting BASA.
BASA also provides a platform to display and sell local produces and handicrafts to a widespread tourist audience of this village. This promotes the smaller livelihoods within the village to thrive. The products were provided a brand, named by the village name - Khirsu.
All these efforts were made so that the villagers respect and value their homeland. It made the villagers question their urban desires and provide better livelihood opportunities.
MM: Can you explain the architectural features of the project?
CS: Architecturally, gabion walls have been used as structural walls. It gives flexibility during an earthquake. The Center is designed with these heavy stone-filled gabions retaining walls at the bottom and a light wooden structure at the top covered with wattle and daub panels as an infill material. Undressed stone in gabion walls has been used because it can be picked up from waste and it also reduces the labour. The wooden structure incorporates only pin joints to make the structure flexible. Nailed joints have been avoided in the structure.
MM: Were there any unique construction methodologies employed here?
CS: The main challenge in the Himalayan mountains is with low temperatures, we also had to take into account the remoteness and difficulty in transporting goods. The tourism center is designed with a heavy stone-filled retaining wall at the bottom and a light wooden structure on the top. Materials used are easily available in the local context and can be easily transported via small amount of pickup. Undressed stone in gabion walls is preferred because it can be picked up from waste of old buildings and hills, thus creating adaptive reuse and sustainable architecture. Wood is preferred over other light materials because it is a natural resource that can be replenished over time. Mud, which was dug out from cutting and filling the site, was used in plastering and reducing the use of cement. Minimum amount of steel has been used, only for joinery details and even that can be resold or recycled.
A balance between local knowledge and modern construction techniques is incorporated in order to encourage community participation and ownership. Earthquake resilient features are integrated into the traditional building practices with minor changes to the available skill set so that its construction does not require expert or non-local craftsmen.
Name: BASA Tourism Center
Location: Khirsu, Uttarakhand, India
Client: Pauri Tourism Department, Unnati SHG
Area: 95 sqm
Completion year: 2020
Design firm: Compartment S4
Design team: Monik Shah, Aman Amin, Manuni Patel, Prasik Chaudhari, Krishna Parikh, Kishan Shah, Vedanti Agarwal, Nishita Parmar