by Jerry ElengicalJul 04, 2022
India, a country bursting with a rich heritage of indigenous building traditions is seeing swift growth in the realm of low-tech sustainable architecture that emphasises the use of local materials, age-old construction techniques, and an unpretentious approach to building in harmony with nature. Recent projects such as Design Kacheri’s Sunyata Eco Hotel, PMA madhushala's Red Oasis, or the exemplary body of work by Kerala-based practice Wallmakers stand tribute to these developments, showcasing how locally harvested alternative materials such as earth, brick, and bamboo, can create architectural marvels that fare better in terms of their longevity and adaptability to local climates when compared to their modern counterparts. Among the most recent exponents of this strategy is the Vadodara-based firm Art and Architecture Associates, led by Indian architect Dharam Patel, that has crafted a naturalistic sanctuary in the city of Halol, in Gujarat.
The Earth House, as it has been christened on completion, is a relatively demure abode at first glance, consisting of a single rectangular volume made up of textured, rammed earth walls topped by a single pitched roof that gently inclines towards one side. Clerestory windows beneath the roof - which has been assembled from PUF panels with a cement sheet on its internal face - complete the unostentatious façade design. Resting low within the landscape, which features sweeping farmland dotted by towering palms, the residence’s design exerts a gentle presence upon its context - both in terms of scale and materiality. The structure's singular course also has a relatively small footprint in comparison to the full extent of the site, with wide open spaces surrounding it and blending into the agrarian setting.
Art and Architecture Associates relays in a statement: "The Earth house demonstrates the built environment's potential to help in addressing the global climate crisis. We have taken a conscientious decision to weave in nature through its effort to construct a net positive home composed of rammed earth along with other natural materials excavated from the site.” Gabion walls made using kherwada stone excavating from areas in the site’s vicinity decorate the sloped lawns on either side of the house, leading towards lines of shrubs. These caged structures add a rustic touch to the design, providing informal enclosures on either side of the home.
While the home's southern walls, made of compacted earth, provide it with ample protection from the sun's rays, the northern side has been left relatively open with floor-to-ceiling windows in some sections, filling the interior with an abundance of natural light. Simplicity was paramount throughout the design process as per the architects, and this is reflected in the straightforward layout, which comprises three bedrooms on side and common living spaces in the other wing, separated by a deck, as well as a lap pool and gazebo at the centre. Gabion walls serve as privacy screens in both of these semi-outdoor spaces - even supporting a roof canopy with a bamboo-clad underside in the latter area.
Glazed doors provide visual connectivity between these two spaces on either side of the plan. The pool area features subtle lighting design through parallel rows of spotlights embedded into the flooring along the water's edges, which colour the enclosing earth walls in a warm golden aura. A similar effect is produced in the gazebo space, this time elevating the texture of the rocks in the nearby gabion wall.
Circulation throughout the residence takes place along a single corridor running throughout the plan. Limited partitions and supplementary walls contribute to the low sense of enclosure felt throughout the home, augmented by the glass walls that link spaces to their natural context. The interior design scheme complements the various shades of brown seen in the rammed earth courses along the walls with dark wood partitions and wooden furnishings - all sourced from companies that adhere to environmentally responsible manufacturing practices and utilise recycled materials. At times, the two seem to blend into one another such that it becomes difficult to ascertain where one begins and the other ends.
Landscape design around the home was conceptualised with a preference for local plants that would adapt better to the regional climate. In this vein, the plot is adjacent to a forest cultivated using methods prescribed by the late Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, which allow for high-density green cover in short spans of time. The vegetation on view here includes mango trees and organic farming lots - where the former provides shade as the latter aids in producing food on site. On a similar note, provisions for rainwater harvesting and electricity generation through solar panels on the roof contribute to the self-sustaining nature of the project, as a mark of the designers' pledge to making it a true venture in sustainable design.
"As climate change takes effect, it becomes more and more vital to concentrate our efforts toward minimising our carbon footprint and promoting the re-greening of our cities. A conscious effort to not only balance form with function, but to most importantly be environmentally responsible and sustainable formed the crux of this design," share the architects. By employing rammed earth construction as the primary medium for their architectural expression, the design team aspired to stimulate a shift towards adapting sustainable practices from the past in accordance with contemporary design sensibilities. With the realisation of this project, they have added yet another example to assist in advocating for this trend to move towards larger scales in urban and rural contexts across the country.
Name: The Earth House
Location: Halol, Vadodara, Gujarat, India
Area: 3000 sq ft
Year of Completion: 2021
Design Team: Archy Bhatt (Landscape, Architecture and Interior Design), Priya Goyal (Interior Design)
Rammed Earth Consultants: Harmony Planning and Services Ltd.
- Bespoke Design
- Facade Design
- Furniture Design
- Indian Architecture
- Interior Design
- Landscape Architecture
- Landscape Design
- Rammed Earth Architecture
- Rammed Earth Construction
- Residential Architecture
- Residential Building
- Residential Design
- Sustainable Architecture
- Sustainable Design
- Traditional Architecture
- Vernacular Architecture
- Wooden Furniture