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Making ‘green’ design interesting

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There are probably as many definitions of sustainable architecture as there are architects in the world. This isn’t necessarily a problem. One just has to be aware that there isn’t any single definition valid for everybody. In just the past few years, there has been a radical shift in public attitude towards sustainability. We are headed towards a fundamental shift in consciousness: an environment where the concept of architecture becomes inseparable from that of sustainability.

Featured in this edition of Buildotech,is Biome Environmental Solutions, a Bangalore-based architectural firm, which started practicing sustainable architecture even before ‘green design/architecture’ became vogue. Biome is defined as an – ecology of a place- an apt name for the office which deals with ecological design. The brain-child of Chitra Vishwanath and Vishwanath, Biome has played a crucial role in bringing prominence to ecologically sensitive architecture. Two senior architects from Biome Environmental Solutions, Sharath Nayak and Anurag Tamhankar, have selected few projects which showcase how Biome strives to ingrain the concept of sustainable architecture that it no longer need to be evoked – where the built environment functions in a way similar to the natural one.

The site Sarjapur Road, Bangalore, shared close proximity to a construction activity site and to a warehouse, which meant constant external noise. Creating a learning space for a young age group on such a site required muting all the external noises and allowing the occupants to focus attention internally. The site factor played a key role in the design, along with the Reggio-Emilia education approach itself, on which the school is based. The Reggio Emilia Approach is an innovative and inspiring approach to early childhood education which values the child as strong, capable and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge. Every child brings with them deep curiosity and potential and this innate curiosity drives their interest to understand their world and their place within it.

The building consists of four classrooms, a studio and a childhood stimulation centre around a central piazza, with filter spaces allowing transition between the rooms and the piazza. The toilet is designed with consideration to the young age group, cubicles scaled appropriately for children as well as their need to be supervised. Exploratory learning is encouraged through a permeable design of the interiors – walls of varying heights enclosing curvilinear classrooms and common spaces under a skylight-dotted roof. The roof is supported by eight columns, each in the form of a branching tree. This tree form, while being a structural element, allows the roof to be perceived from a height that children can relate to. It is also a reinterpretation of learning under a tree. Light durable furniture made of honeycomb boards and paper tubes further encourages kids to explore and play with the environment. The versatility of the material permits a variety of configurations. The varied internal spaces of learning are awash with daylight that filters through a generously sky-lit roof.

The school was designed keeping in mind material recovery and recycling, or reconstruct the same building elsewhere. Various building techniques make the design economical and recoverable to the maximum – chappadi granite stone slab foundation, paver block flooring, paper tube partition walls, and bolted steel supports – creating a structure that can be transposed. The external fabricated façade is a tack-welded mild steel frame with panels of perforated metal sheet, pinewood, reflective glass, operable louvres and sliding windows, planned with regard to light and ventilation. CSEBs made of soil from different sites in the locality create pleasing patterns which harmonize with the floor colours. GI sheet is used in consideration to the roof slope, with a false ceiling of bamboo mat plywood for thermal and sound insulation, which further imparts a sense of warmth. Preference of a hand-crafted material such as bamboo mat over the conventional plywood allows a valuable skill to be preserved.

Open drains in the wash area and urinal walls are incorporated for ease of use and maintenance.Rainwater is harvested from the entire roof area, filtered and collected in the sump tank which overflows into a groundwater recharge well, effecting water security. Solid waste from the school is disposed of in twin leach pits which are effective in returning nutrient to the soil.

The school is a fine example of a learning space having in mind sustainability. Permeability and exploratory learning.

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