Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rooms with views

I am writing this post as an addendum to the previous post on 'dreaming up a life lived outdoors'. The following are a collection of rooms that have been an inspiration in the design of indoor-outdoor spaces in our house in Goa. 

The first picture is of the famous 'loo with a view' at the Neemrana Fort Palace. Some 15 years back, I had interned with an architect on a design job at the Neemrana Fort Palace. Along with the gorgeousness of the palace hotel, the super attention to every detail in design, construction and finishes, the 'loo with the view' left a deep impression on my mind. It represents the fun in architecture and represents the luxury of living away from the swarming crowds and making everyday moments grander, exciting, liberating and inspiring. 

Another space that has been a recent inspiration is Leti 360, a beautiful hotel nestled in the Himalayas. The hotel is designed by one of my favorite contemporary Indian architect Bijoy Jain. I love the way he has succeeded in using local materials in a very contemporary design and blurring the boundaries between indoors and outdoors.

Two images below are from the 'house on the ridge' near Pune designed by Opolis Architects. This is a truly inspiring space. Notice the size and proportions of the interior space and how it flows into the outdoors through a completely movable wall. Also, note the windows in the top that keep the space filled with light making it look big and airy.

Then there is the following house in Denmark that was recently featured in NYTimes. I can't get enough of the uncluttered large spaces with clean lines, minimal furniture and color. There is nothing to distract you from the most important aesthetic of bringing the outdoors into the indoors. Notice the use of textured stone in the bathroom where one would walk bare feet, a little detail that will probably go unnoticed but adds so much to the experience of living in the house.

These last set of pictures are from a heavenly resort called Verana in Mexico. They have a bunch of houses. The design for all of them prioritizes reconnecting with nature above all else. My favorite is the Tea house. See pictures below.

Then there is the V-House at Verana that totally out of this world.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Week 30: Dreaming up a life lived outdoors...

Outdoor space at Villa Aashyana in Candolim in Goa
Last week began as an exciting week. We issued the landscaping drawings and began work outside. Miraculously this year the monsoons have pretty much subsided by the beginning of August. Even though this means that the temperature is rising (and I never want to say goodbye to the lovely monsoons), this is good news for our construction crew who can now work outdoors.

This week, we built the verandahs that wrap around the bedrooms and designated courtyard spaces for the bathrooms. As I have mentioned before, in our design concept, we have designed each bedroom to be like an individual pavilion that sits within its own series of open spaces. The ground floor bedrooms are wrapped around by covered verandahs. These verandahs are designed to be an intermediate layer that connects the indoors with the outdoors. The covered verandahs and balconies are designed to be the extend the bedrooms outdoors.

For our project, the outdoors are as important as the indoors. The core design concept is to design a house that allows one to ‘reconnect with nature’. In response, all our indoor spaces are designed to have a progression of open spaces that maximize interaction between the indoor and outdoor. First, each indoor space is designed with two out of four walls that completely open to the outdoors. These openings then connect the indoor spaces with the covered outdoor vernadahs and balconies. These intermediate spaces then connect to the central deck space and surrounding gardens. The garden spaces are significant as this house sits on a large 1000 sq.m. land parcel. In our design, we have tried to minimize hard space. Over 40% of the site has been preserved as natural landscape. This does not include the driveway, parking and parts of the deck that have been designed with permeable paving. (On a side note, permeable paving allows rainwater to percolate back into earth. Hard paving creates non-permeable surfaces that increases the storm water run-off from land, which in turn reduces percolation back into earth thus reducing the recharge of underground aquifers and potentially overloading the storm water run-off drainage system in the area) 
Sketch showing the west-side bedroom designed like a pavilion with two walls out of four being large openable wood and glass doors.
View from the inside of ground floor east-side bedroom to the outside minus the pile of debris. The two openings will have sliding wood and glass panels that leads to a wrap around covered verandah 
According to Geoffery Bawa, ‘life in the tropics is about living outdoors’. Along with the living spaces in the house, the bathrooms are also designed to connect seamlessly with the outdoors. One full wall in each bathroom is designed to be built with openable glass. This transparent glass wall and opening will lead each bathroom to a dedicated courtyard space. The courtyard spaces are designed to be more than just little outdoor showers tucked away in the backyard. The bathroom courtyards are carefully designed around existing trees. They are spacious garden spaces that are designed to be private escapes possibly with relaxing arm chairs, day beds, maybe a hammock, a bird bath or two and of course the outdoor shower and bath..

This space will be the master bathroom with a picture window above the wash basin counter and a terrace with a built-in outdoor bath-tub.
The reason for this mad chase behind the indoor-outdoor space concept lies in the fact that we are building in Goa. It is common sense that building construction in Goa should be different from building in urban cities in India or coastal areas around the world. Reconnecting with nature is central to one’s choice to live in Goa and it is a luxury few can afford. This makes it essential to pay special emphasis to the relationship between the indoor-outdoor while building that dream country home in the beautiful tropical paradise of Goa.

Read more about us and our team. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Eating Kelful, the banana flower

I had to buy this gorgeous flower when I saw it in the market even though I had no idea how to cook it. Regardless, the bright purple hue and the little flowers delicately placed the petals was enough reason for me to bring three of these home !
After some research online and with some local intel, my cook and I found that cooking Kelful is a long process that involves pealing the flower petal by petal and then removing the smaller flowers from within. These small flowers are super cute and are arranged like tiny bananas (as they would eventually turn into bananas). The Kelful bhaji is made with these flowers. From the flower, two different parts are removed as they are bitter and not eaten. One is the long dark color stem inside the flower and second is a part of the small petal called 'feather'. Below is a video that describes the cleaning of Kelful.

After cleaning, some cooks recommend soaking the usable flowers in water with lemon. This prevents the delicate flowers from oxidizing in air. Next we chopped the flowers and cooked them as regular bhaji with coconut.

The flowers are very delicate, but I felt that cooking them as bhaji does not do justice to their texture. For next time, I am looking for a recipe that will require minimum or no cooking of the flower. Suggestions ?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fragrant yellow gold ...

The flowers are 'champak' and they are blooming in Goa right now. You can find them by following their sweet smell in the markets or on road-sides where village women have strung them into gorgeous 'venis', little garlands designed to decorate one's hair.
The botanical name of the plant is 'Michelia champaca' and it is a variety of the Magnolia family. 
Interestingly, I found a video that shows how to string flowers together in a veni using two long threads and stringing each flower using special knots. I don't think the video explains enough for one to try this on their own but clearly shows how delicate the process is. Click here for link.
The strong sweet smell, vibrant yellow color and delicate shape are a treat for all senses.
And did I tell you that they smell like heaven... the entire house smells like a perfume factory !

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Week 27: Trying not to add to the concrete jungle...

So much is happening on-site that I do not know where to begin our update. Fortunately, our contractors are good at multi-tasking and can execute separate items of work simultaneously.

An important milestone last week was the completion of all the major planned concrete work on-site. The last item on the list was a small roof slab for the pump room located below the deck. This therefore seems to be an appropriate time for us to talk about the use of concrete in our project.

As I mentioned in my last post, we have tried to reduce the use of concrete to the minimum in our project. The reason is the inherent negative environmental impact of cement use. The production of Portland cement is known to account for 5 - 8% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which are the major cause of climate change. The high emissions are due to the chemical process that produces cement and as a by-product generates large amounts of carbon dioxide. There is little that can be changed in the cement producing chemical process and hence the resulting emissions. This puts the cement industry at the forefront of global environmental and climate change debate. Link to a NYTimes article on the topic.

View of the living room with 40cm wide basalt load bearing walls and two corner columns to allow for extra-large front and back openings
In India, most buildings are built with a structural frame of concrete beams and columns. After this, the walls are filed in with brick or other building blocks. In our mission to reduce the amount of cement use, we decided very early on to design our structure with load bearing walls. This strategy is more feasible (and actually the more obvious and practical solution) for a building like ours that is mostly built on the ground plus one floor (as a result the primary load on the structure is the roof and not multiple floors above). All our external walls are built with basalt or laterite stone, both locally sourced natural materials that take the weight of the structure above. The only need for concrete columns, total six in number, was to allow for the extra large openings designed in all our rooms.

As a second step, we decided to use fly-ash cement in place of regular Portland cement in our concrete mixes. Fly-ash cement is sometimes called green cement as it replaces between 15-25% of cement with fly-ash. Fly-ash is the by-product from burning coal. Therefore, fly-ash cement reuses industrial waste. The performance of fly-ash cement is also completely structurally safe, as it must follow the national codes for design and construction of concrete, as per IS codes 456-2000. In addition, fly-ash in concrete is known to improve the long-term strength of concrete, reduce corrosion and permeability. Here is some more reading material on Fly-ash cement

After using fly-ash cement in our concrete mixes, the only difference that we found is that a fly-ash concrete mix takes slightly longer to set, so contractors prefer to use the quick drying Portland cement. Other than that the performance and workability has been comparable to regular Portland cement.

While laying the RCC slabs using filler blocks and fly-ash cement
Another construction innovation employed by us in our quest to reduce the amount of cement used in the project 
was the use of filler slabs in place of conventional reinforced concrete (RCC) slabs. The science behind filler slabs allows for a replacement of up to 30% concrete in a RCC roof slab with lightweight filler and non-structural material such as bricks, tiles or earthenware. The idea is that in a RCC slab, the upper part is subjected to compressive forces while the lower part experiences tensile forces. The concrete in RCC is good at supporting compressive forces and steel good at tensile strength. Hence, there is no structural need for concrete in the lower part of an RCC slab. As a result, the gaps between steel reinforcement can be filled in with lighter material (even waste material such as bottles, old roof tiles or broken bricks). Filler slabs also contribute in reducing the load of the slab itself therefore reducing the amount of weight that falls on the vertical structural members (load bearing walls, or columns) and foundations. Read more about filler slabs.

For use as filler material in our project, we made simple mud blocks on site from the earth excavated from foundations. These blocks were sun-dried. As a result, we used no new material or spent any additional energy in making them or transporting them to site. 

Filler blocks made with excavated earth from site being sun-dried
Filler blocks that were made on-site ready to be used
View of filler slab from below after removing the shuttering
In our experience, a big deterrent against the reduction of concrete in building construction is the unwillingness of structural engineers to work with any structural solutions other than the conventional concrete frame structure. The calculation models used by structural engineers don’t seem to be designed to incorporate load bearing capacity of walls and reduction of the slab’s weight by using lightweight filler material. Along with creative architects, the building industry also desperately needs creative engineers who understand the long-term implications of their work and input on the environment.

Finally, I guess the follow-up question is why more people are not building with load bearing walls, fly-ash cement and filler slabs. The only reason that comes to my mind is the inertia to adopt new ideas or perhaps laziness. The building industry fails to educate their clients and together adopt obvious and simple steps towards building a greener building, reducing the pressure on existing resources and ensure the long-term sustainability of our planet.

Read more about us and our team.


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