Tuesday, November 27, 2012

@ ThinkFest 2012

Here is another advantage of living in Goa - you have an event like THINK happening in your backyard.

Shoma Chaudhury, the Managing Editor for Tehelka magazine was the moderator for many sessions. I thought she did a brilliant job moderating session after session. On varied topics, never once having to refer to notes, not faltering, asking pointed questions, keeping peace on stage and retaining a sense of humor.

Think has a winning format, it moves from topic to topic every 20-30 mins, bringing leaders, innovators and thinkers in each field to discuss new ideas, problems, opinions and viewpoints. As my friend very well said it (Think) 'moves from rural space to big universe' in the same room in a matter of minutes. A 3-day affair, the content is alluring enough for people to gather at 8:30 AM each morning, and leave over-stimulated and asking for more at the end of it.

Here were my big take-aways:

The BIG most pressing issues for us to focus on are:

- rural development
- environment
- promoting innovation
- women and human rights

I love the idea that Think gets top politicians, big industrialists and grassroot activists on the same stage. And that it keeps the Bollywood presence to the bare minimum (thank you). I like that it allows for free registration and attendance. All one requires in interest to attend, commitment to sign up ahead of time, and thankfully no silly 'connections' (which sadly has been the only way to get anywhere in our country for the longest time). I like that the event is super flat, all attendees can sit anywhere, use the same entrance and break out in the same area, no silly VIP and VVIP reserved seats upfront with the free seats all the way in the back...

This year my favorite speakers were Sonal Kapoor, who started the non-profit Protsahan to empower underprivileged children through education and Stalin, founder of Video Volunteers who is making a journalist out of villagers, dalits, tribals and anyone who need a voice in this diverse country of ours. Both speakers were inspiring, brave, humble and I loved their passion and their means for change. I guess the best part was that it was easy to relate to these two and to see that they have created powerful tools for upliftment, betterment and development from scratch.

I love the participation from grassroot activists. Last year they had Dayamani Barla from Jharkand. This year, it was Ulka Mahajan from Maharashtra, Pradeep Prabhu and Dev Ram Kanhera, farmers from Madhya Pradesh. Read excerpts here, 4:50 session.

Link to videos from sessions at ThinkFest 2012, click here. Below are my favorites (from the sessions I attended):

Watch for the most entertaining session with Javed Akhtar, here.
Watch for insights on land acquisition and rural development issues, here.
Watch the inspiring session with Video Volunteers, here.
Watch Anna Hazare for great advice, here.
Watch for mind-boggling universe stuff, here.

Don't watch the video with Shah Rukh Khan, here.

Thank you Think for keeping our minds ticking (often in overdrive...). Thank you for choosing Goa to be the venue. Only please don't make the entry process super complicated as you get more popular... Hope you can keep the things that make Think pretty great alive and consistent as you grow. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

For the love of building and building green

Here is a great episode of the UK show “Grand Designs’ tracking the story of building a sustainable home in Cumbria. In this case the home is built underground to keep it insulated and the result is that the house functions all year round without the need for any mechanical heating or cooling. Which is pretty amazing considering the extreme weather in that region.

Even though the house from the video and Nivim are very different, there were still many similarities…We have ourselves tried some new elements, materials and construction techniques in the house. Builders in India are so used to doing construction the same way they did in 1970s that anything new freaks them out. But really we are building in 2010 people, so please, we can do better than a generic concrete structure with piddly-little windows, a sloping RCC roof made to look like a wood and tile roof and luxury being defined as the use of Italian marble….

Not to mention of course the similarities in material delivery issues, fussing over waterproofing and of course construction delays and some more delays.. In the video, at one point they show that after 12 weeks, the house has its first floor concrete done…. Wassatttt…. Let me see now, where were we at week 12…not really out of the ground I think ;)

I love the sun pipes and the wind turbine in the project. I wonder what it would take to get a permit for something like that in Goa ??

As they say ‘building green is the new black’. But that is not the right reason for anyone to go the green way, the right reason is because one must respect nature and the land where one is building. In Goa, we are building green in the hope to preserve the state’s blissful green environs and biodiversity for our future generations to enjoy.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Week 95: Diwali Postcard from Nivim Goa

Living room front facade
Here we are close to week 100 of construction and closing in on completion. These are some photos from last week that we thought we will share in the festival spirit to get you excited about the soon-to-be final product.

We had a friend visit the house a fews days back and he said that the trees appear as if they have been planted in place after the building is built. Keep in mind, the trees that he was talking about are the 13-14 existing full grown trees that have been carefully integrated in the site planning and building design for the house. Knowing that, his comment was a great validation for our efforts and hopefully the success of achieving our core concepts. Read more here...

View of the master bedroom among the trees
View of the sunset from the master bedroom deck
Partial view of the roof among the trees

Continue reading more updates for the project.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Week 94: Pavilion Block

View of the pavilion block from the main house with the driveway on the right
After much attention has been paid to the main house, we have decided to do an entire post on just the pavilion block. To refresh your memory, the house is planned in a L-shape configuration, with the main house sited at the back of the site, also the highest point on the site with a separate pavilion block that is located adjacent to the pool and is connected with the main house through a series of courtyards. (See previous post of Site Planning Concept)

View of the pavilion block from the access road. The idea is to have this translucent box be the only elevation seen from the road, that gives the idea of what lies within but maintains the privacy of the main house
The pavilion block is designed to create spaces that have the ability to be even more open than the main house and offer flexible use based on the whims of the owner depending on need, season and/ or time of day. As required, it can function as a separate guest cottage; or an inspiring office; workshop space; a pavilion to the pool, or entertainment space.

Following the theme of grand (and barefoot) luxury in the project, the pavilion block is an expanded version of a typical pool pavilion. It is comprised of a separate bedroom, bathroom and covered sitting area, and is located adjacent to the swimming pool. It is designed to be an airy pool pavilion and at the same time can be the fourth bedroom when needed or used as an independent guest cottage that can maybe be used by friends when the owners of the house are not around and the main house is locked and unavailable for use.
View of the pavilion block from across the pool with the existing trees in the pool deck
The general design of the pavilion follows the design vocabulary of the main house. It is a linear block that appears to float from the pool deck. We have chosen to leave most of the steel structural frame and the underside of the aluminium roofing exposed to give the pavilion a more raw-authentic feel. The doors are a combination of sliding wood and glass panels along with some wood louvers.

View from the pool deck with the louvered pavilion block 
Other things that we love about the pavilion block are the old existing trees that have been retained between the pool and the pavilion. These trees provide relaxing shade, play of light, bring birds and butterflies and provide excellent visual drama from the pavilion block. For the flooring of the pavilion block, we have chosen to do a combination of wood (in bedroom) and grit finished terrazzo (in sit-out and bathroom). This flooring once again provides the textural element to the pavilion that is meant to bring it closer to nature. Lastly, the bathroom in the pavilion is extra special and we are doing something very exciting there… but I think I will not let the secret out just yet and put up a photo when it is completed.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Organic farming @Yogi Farms

Strawberry in Karan Manral's palm. Part of Yogi Farm's Top 50 produce from last year
There is little that tastes better than fresh seasonal organic produce.. After moving to Goa, I was excited about having access to fresh local produce but it was fairly clear that this produce was far from being organic. While shopping at local markets, I was also determined to grow vegetables in my own garden. All I wanted was some eggplant, some okra, herbs, lemons and bright red tomatoes... But maybe because our east-facing garden gets little sun, or the sub-soil is rocky, or maybe I just didn't talk to the plants enough.. all my attempts have been so far unsuccessful. To remedy this, I have attended gardening workshops, bought seeds from several sources and taken tips from a neighbor who has converted his garden into a mini-farm…but nothing has worked...

I had almost given up when on a recent visit to California, driving through the countryside with endless farms producing lovely sweet organic produce gave me an extra push to pursue this passion. I realized that if I can't grow in Goa then it is definitely not going to happen anywhere else.. So I reached out to the local experts, Karan Manral and Yogita Mehra, who together have been experimenting with organic farming in Goa for the last 3 years. Last year, the couple started Yogi Farms at a 800 sq.m. plot where they experimented with growing various types of vegetables organically. The plan for me is to visit their farm this season at key stages so I can pick up a little on farming techniques, ask questions, stay inspired and absorb all the positive energy from organic farming on their farm !

Succulent tomatoes, part of Yogi Farm's Top 50 produce from last year
My first visit was in early October, when they were getting ready for the season's planting. This year, Yogi Farm is working on a large farm in Taleigao near Panjim in Goa. One half of it is like an open field where they had grown vegetables last year (we will call it 'vegetable farm A'), whereas the second part of the farm is actually a coconut farm where they are now experimenting with various plantation crops depending on the amount of sun received on various patches (we will call it 'plantation farm B').

Beds being prepared for this season's planting among the coconut plantation
When they started last year, the plantation farm B was in a sorry state. For years, the soil had not been ploughed or used for any vegetation. What was worse was that mixed organic waste had been dumped on the soil following some bad advice. Yogi farmers chose to work the soil using a technique called 'Green manuring'. This process involved growing a couple of cycles of a combination of legumes and non-legume crops. They started with strewing seeds before the monsoon and then after allowing them to grow they ploughed the plants and seeds back into the earth. After a few cycles of this exercise, they have managed to improve the soil quality considerably and have also succeeded in bringing back the earthworms (farmer's little friends that help aerate the soil) !! More on Green Manuring on Yogi Farms website.

Turmeric plants
Galangal ! ready for harvest
Among other experiments, they will be doing a lot of cross-planting where different types of plants are grown  in close proximity to compliment each other. They are also experimenting with high-density farming, which is a way to plant a few samplings of fruit trees in close proximity. These trees are then regularly pruned to keep them shorter in height but still productive. They explained to me that this works well in urban areas where space is limited and also solves the practical problem of harvesting produce from very large and spread out trees. They explained to me that they don't really actively do any pest-control other than employing natural means. For example, I was told that planting marigolds keep a certain type of pest away (can't remember the name but will return to that in a later post).. More on pest control the organic way, read here.

What I loved were their efforts to make the farm self-sufficient. They have planted the boundary with bamboo so they can meet their bamboo needs (to build framework for creepers and fragile plants). They are even planning to get their own cows and chicken to get fresh dump that new plants thrive on.

I loved how effortlessly they plan planting cycles. They grew some plants before the monsoon to harvest seeds for the coming season. I watched with a huge smile, as Yogita and Karan walked around the farm early in morning mapping how much sun is received at various parts so they can decide what to plant where. Reminded me of architects conducting first site visits :) They have also planted some shade loving palms at the farm's boundary with roots that can be eaten such as Colocassia and Elephant's foot.

Below are some more photos from Yogi Farm's 'Top 50' produce from last year. This year promises to be even more exciting and I can't wait to be an observer absorbing as much as I can...

Find Yogi Farms on the web and on Facebook.

Photos courtesy Yogi Farms.


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