Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Newsbreak: Architectural Photos, finally !!!


We are elated to present to you pre-final photos of Nivim Goa from last month.

CLICK ON LINK for fullscreen photos.

Be sure to click on the 'fullscreen' icon on bottom right. 

Shot in April, these photos show the house just before the final finishing stage. We began construction on the house end of January 2011. The core principles of the house is to promote architectural excellence and environmental sustainability.

We are now about 2-3 months away from finishing. We are aiming for the 'Gold' level green homes certification from the Indian Green Building Council and will be the first home in Goa to be certified. Read more on the green initiatives at Nivim Goa.

As for architectural excellence, we have attempted to create spaces that are inspiring, use natural materials and design building openings that all together enhance the user's relationship with the environment. Read about our design concept.

The photos above give the feel for the raw architectural space and materials, and show the bare building that is not hiding behind any fancy finishes or landscaping.... Do see the pictures and we will let you be the judge of how far we have succeeded in achieving our goals.

See all the design and construction updates for Nivim Goa.

All photos courtesy Sanjeet Wahi, Photographer, Delhi.

Read more about us and our team.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Week 74: Part III - Is wood a green material?

Old teak wood beams found with a Mumbai vendor
While using wood, an important question for us was to determine whether we would consider wood to be a sustainable material or not. Wood is a naturally occurring renewable material and hence can be considered sustainable. The issue is the over-logging of forests worldwide leading to loss of critical forest cover and all the resulting problems of loss of habitat, environmental disastors and climate change. This problem can be somewhat overcome by buying wood that is certified to come from forest following sustainable forest management practices. When we began our search for wood, we did our research and found that there was only one certified plantation in India that sold only rubber wood. Most other certified wood is actually imported to India. This results in spending large amounts of energy in transporting the wood across continents to finally arrive in India.

The solution we arrived at was to use reclaimed wood, that is to reuse wood reclaimed from old buildings, bridges or railway sleepers in our building. For this purpose, we conducted several trips to Delhi and Mumbai and identified a vendor who promised us a stock of old Burma Teak wood that had been used in buildings during the British times. The deal was struck, advance payment made but then it turned out (which happens often) the vendor had over-promised and would under-deliver…. Stuck at the last minute, we were forced to make a decision while keeping cost, time and quality all in check. The decision we made was to use virgin Burma and African teak wood in the project.

Luckily, we were able to source some old teak and matti (local variety) wood from Goa itself. We bought wood that was used in old homes as roof rafters and floor beams. The advantage of using old wood is that it has completely dry or seasoned, has achieved its equilibrium moisture content and therefore presents no danger of bending or warping. And once you shave off the top weathered layer, the wood looks and behaves as good as new.

Stack of old reclaimed wood brought to the site
Carpenter working with old wood to remove nails or any sections that are spoilt
Carpenter working with old wood to remove nails or any sections that are spoilt
Cutting the old wood to remove the outer weathered layer and to make usable sections
Cut old wood, look as good as new !
The challenge of using old reclaimed wood apart from sourcing it is actually working with it. The wood from roof rafters often has nails some of which have lost their heads, and therefore it is difficult to predict where there is a nail within the wood section. This creates a problem while cutting the wood, as an unexpected nail can break the blade of the saw, leading to additional cost and time lost in replacement.

In addition, a lot of time is spent is preparing the wood, in sorting it based on size and variety, cutting and disposing any sections that are damaged and also carefully examining the wood to remove any nails or other intrusions. This takes time and labor cost. Also, as one would expect carpenters would much rather buy new wood and straight away begin work rather then spend time in preparing the wood before crafting it.

In any case, we went through all the motions of figuring out the process and executing it. The result is some beautiful wood that we are reusing and saving a few trees. Also important to note is that in the end, the cost of using old wood come to be more or less the same as new wood due to the additional cost in working with it and high wastage but ofcourse there are significant environmental savings that are difficult to quantify.

Back to Part I - Romancing Wood, an introduction to our choice for using wood, and
Part II - Seasoning and treating wood

Read more about us and our team.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Week 74: Part II - Seasoning and Treating Wood

Wood stacked outside the kiln ready for drying
We did a lot of research and determined best practices while using wood. To avoid the common problems with wood, we sourced tree logs that had been lying with the saw mills for a year or two so they were air-dried. We then took this wood and got it kiln dried (or seasoned). In this process, the wood is kept in a kiln for 15 days at controlled temperatures to dry the moisture in the wood. Kiln-dried wood is dried to a moisture level of around 15%.

Wood will always retain some level of moisture, the moisture content is highest when wood is freshly cut and it reduces as wood dries over time. As wood dries, it shrinks and that results in the bending of wood. If the moisture content in atmosphere is high then wood may absorb some of this moisture and expand. Hence, the jammed doors during monsoon. But over time, wood reaches an 'equilibrium moisture content (EMC)'. Once this point is reached then wood does not react noticibly to changes in moisture content. Kiln drying accelerates this drying process. EMC varies with type of wood, local weather conditions, etc. A moisture content between 12-15% is found to be close to EMC in areas of high atmospheric moisture.

Photo of the kiln while it is drying our wood inside
The temperature controls at the kiln
Engineer at kiln checking the moisture content using a moisture meter
Now for wood that is used outdoors there is always the danger of rot. This danger is most prevalent if wood is used close to the ground level where it can potentially be prone to water logging. We have dealt with these problems by avoiding the use of wood for decking on the ground and providing ample slope elsewhere to prevent any water logging.

Then there is the danger of attack by termites and other wood boring insects. This problem is somewhat negated by use of stone/ concrete foundations and plinth, materials that termites cannot pass through. In addition, we have chosen to use primarily teak wood that is known to be naturally resistant to termites. As an additional layer of protection, we are treating all our wood with rot and termite resistant chemical before use in the project.        

Finally, there is the important question of sustainability while using wood. More on that in Part III of this post.

Back to Part I with introduction to our choice of using wood.

Read more about us and our team.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Week 74: Part I - Romancing wood


Now in the final stage of construction, we are concentrating on final finishes. That means that our civil work is done and so is most of our woodwork. We are now laying the floors, polishing the wood, tiling the pool and getting ready for planting.

A significant milestone is completing the woodwork for the main house. As you can see in the more recent photos of the house, we have used wood quite liberally. The main reason is the design of a very open home that allows the indoor to connect seamlessly with the outdoors. The resulting large openings in the house (every room in the main house has two walls that completely open) need frames and doors, hence the large scale use of wood. Also in the construction of the house, we have tried to reduce the use of RCC due to the carbon emissions associated with cement production. In addition, typical RCC construction over large spans tends to result in sections that are thick and heavy. Instead we wanted a structure that looked light and was able to blend into the surrounding and not be a big block of concrete that has been dropped thoughtlessly on the greenfield site. The resulting material of choice was structural steel and wood.

View of the LHS bedroom with the woodwork for the screen, door opening, roof and chajja
View of our amazing carpenters fixing the screen louvers in the front and back of living room
View of LHS bedroom with the sliding doors all in Burma Teak
I am a sucker for wood. Its warm golden colour with the natural grain adds a rustic quality to the design that is hard to replicate with another material. Aluminum (which was the other material that we considered for doors instead of wood) on the other hand feels relatively cold to touch, look and feel. Wood ages well, it grows old with elegance. 'Fetishisation of wood' was a trend that stood out at the Milan Furniture Fair this year where designers promoted the use of natural finished wood rather than lacquered or painted finish. Another interesting trend that is catching on worldwide is the use of reclaimed wood, recycling the material instead of using virgin wood to avoid the cutting of the fast disappearing forest cover.

View of stacked doors waiting to be installed in various rooms
Of course wood is also a very temperamental material to use. It tends to change shape as it dries, is attractive to insects and can rot with excessive moisture. Wood is most feared when used outdoors. But then it has been the material of choice for building high-end boats and bridges for ages. All in all, I have found that wood is often mis-understood. It is the material that has been used the longest in construction. There are the obvious dangers of using wood but these risks can be mitigated by understanding it's properties and working with them. Using wood in construction is like using silk for a beautiful couture dress, there is a specific way of working with the material and the effort is worth it as the result can be priceless.

Look out for:
Part II of this post where we will discuss our efforts to treat wood, and
Part III where we discuss sustainability aspects of using wood

Read more about us and our team.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Sublime Reis Magos Fort in Goa


Last week the beautifully restored Reis Magos Fort was opened for public. Below are some pictures. The highlights are the fort's pristine condition post-restoration, its siting and views. I love the feel and texture of laterite stone with whitewashed walls, clay tile roofs and wild greenery, all aspects that I believe are so quintessential to Goa.


The fort is located on a hill and accessed through a ramp and two narrow staircases, all executed in beautiful laterite masonry. Laterite is the local stone and most common building material used in Goa.

I write this post while hoping that we can continue to maintain this treasure and not let it once again fall into disrepair and neglect.

Country tile roofs of the building inside the fort walls
Gorgeous earthy central courtyard
View of Reis Magos church and cemetary from the highest point of the fort 
View of the river Mandovi from the fort
Narrow stairs leading to the fort will beautiful terraces below

Fort wall with lookout station


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