Riverside Retreat is a community of liked minded people spread across lush green tea plantation of 70 acres, estimated to be about 70 houses or more with a restaurant behaving more as a community kitchen, and sports themed clubhouse for entertainment with various gaming facilities possible.
The project is located in a small town in a close proximity to Kotagiri, a place that derives its name from an indigenous almost extinct kotatribes. Kotagiri is situated at an altitude of 1793m and is one of the three popular hill stations located in the Nilgiris (part of Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu). The hill station is bounded by tea estates and enjoys a climatic advantage over Ooty that it is protected by the Doddabetta (the second highest peak in the region 2637m) mountain range from the onslaught of the southwest monsoon.
The initial brief from client has been to conceptualize the project simply as ‘Landscapes that move one into dreams and would spread across the green carpets of tea estate’. The homes were to use less concrete and more natural materials. They should have steep slopped roof and also derive their design language from Victorian styled bungalows of Europe.
Senscape Architects addressed the ecological impact of tea plantations even before we began our study. Tea production has a negative impact on the environment. Much of the pristine vegetation of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (spread across 9 district of Karnataka, Tamilnadu & Kerala sates) has been replaced by plantation of tea and coffee, marshes converted in to vegetable fields. Large areas of forest also have been cleared to make way for tea plantations. Grown in monoculture, tea plants provide ideal conditions for a number of pests, resulting in the widespread use of toxic pesticides. This resulted in habitat loss leading to a reduction in the general number of species and threat to the survival of entire ecosystems.
The architectural team made a study of local architectural style from indigenous tribal huts to most recent British bungalows, in order to borrow the technical details like, the building should have high plinth to drain away surface runoff; exterior walls should be as low as possible to generate minimum external surface area to expose itself less to the cold weather and the roof should be shallow pitched for easy run off of rainwater and to increase the surface area of the building for more solar radiation.
Most of the British colonial buildings in the region had dominating symmetrical planning system adopted with prominent entrance porch / verandah catering itself as a transition space. Thick brick walls & arched window openings. Pitched roof were made of rafters with primary layer of GI sheet roof (as insulator) and interlocking roof tiles on the top, with little projection beyond wall unprotecting the walls & windows to weather.
With the danger of entire tea estates giving way to buildings leading to secondary level of ecological depletion, the team ideated the house to co-exist with a forest. Therefore monoculture of tea would be replaced with poly crop of local indigenous species, which will support various other forms of life in an ecosystem.
The proposed site is at about 8kms away from Kotagiri, in a very tranquil location. It extends to about 70 acres in east west direction, slopping southwards facing the valley view of Mettuplayam town down and is surrounded by hills on all three directions.