GoodEarth Hamlet

a community for like-minded people

Kerala brings to mind images of serene backwaters, of lush green paddy fields, and a rich heritage of traditional architecture. But in Cochin, one of the fastest growing cities of Kerala, these images are being replaced by images of polluted backwaters, congested roads, and multistoried buildings. The culture of living in large homes, surrounded by plantations and familiar neighbors, is giving way to a typically anonymous city culture of cramped apartments with few open spaces. The ESDCs first venture into community housing was ‘Good Earth Hamlet’, promoted by their sister concern, ‘Green Earth Planners and Developers’. It also proved the team’s belief that sensitive construction can be achieved in a commercial development.

The brief was to create community housing which bridged the existing gap between independent houses and the urban stereotype block of flats. Fifteen to twenty units of two and three bedrooms were required to make the project financially viable. Emphasis was to be on community spaces to encourage interaction while at the same time providing for individual privacy. As project consultants, ESDC was involved with the hamlet from its conception. The site was a flat half-acre plot, on the banks of the Kaniampuzha river located in a quiet suburb of Cochin. The concept of a central courtyard evolved creating an intimate space, free from vehicles and safe for children to play. The circular form worked out to be the most economical, both in terms of space and structure.

Seventeen units were worked out, using an FSI of one., and a height of ground and two upper storey’s was found to be appropriate, considering structural economics, as well as the blending in with the surroundings. The setback area served as private backyards for the ground floor units, and the first floor duplex units had terraces at each level. As one enters the hamlet throughDSC01445 wooden gates, a paved pathway leads to the green, undulating courtyard beyond which one catches a glimpse of the waterfront through the stilted semi-open area. The stilted areas on the ground floor act as wind tunnels and enhance the air circulation in the courtyard. The structure is recessed in parts at the first and second floor level to form terraces overlooking the courtyard. These terraces break down the mass of the structure and together with the sloping roofs make an interesting form.

Walking around the courtyard, past the collage of corbelled seats and bay windows, one is drawn to the waterfront, where a club and crèche lie on either side of the semi-open space used for interaction. Each individual unit has been designed to have an identity, in terms of its planning and location in the community. Every home has adequate natural light and cross ventilation. The interior spaces flow into each other, having walls only where required. The bedrooms are oriented towards the outside, while the living areas overlook the courtyard. In keeping with their principles of cost-effective construction, the designers created structures that minimised the use of reinforced concrete and steel. Instead there was a use of materials, which were appropriate and eco-friendly.

A strip raft foundation was found to be sufficient for the three-storied circular load bearing brick structure. After testing a number of bricks, of various qualities, a wire-cut, country burnt brick, from a nearby kiln was selected for its size, strength and colour. The 9″ brick walls had the outer face exposed and flush pointed, and the inside plastered. Arches were used to span large openings and windows, while doors were spanned with pre-cast thin lintels. Economical timber sections of jack-wood and anjali were used for the doors and windows. Filler slabs, using rejected Mangalore tiles, made up the roof and the floors, thus making the slab lighter and also reducing structural steel. Besides being economical, the filler slab also keeps the inside cooler and is ideal for hot and humid climates.The interiors are kept simple with terracotta flooring and lime washed walls, with an occasional arch or a bay window to add character to the space.

The sewage system uses a series of septic tanks for the solid waste, while the grey water is separately treated. The rainwater from the roofs is allowed to percolate through the courtyard, thus recharging the ground water. Organic waste is collected for composting, to achieve a sustainable recycling system. Thus the design worked efficiently, using minimum circulation space and a maximum of the site to create a built environment, which enhanced the lives of its inhabitants. A result of enthusiastic teamwork between the architects, engineers, masons and other skilled workers, the project was completed within the estimated cost, in a period of 16 months. The hamlet today, with perhaps a flower patterned curtain on a window,-clothes hanging on a terrace, people conversing across terraces and a tricycle left in a courtyard, feels warm and secure, giving room for individual expressions while embracing them into the community.

                                       Project Fact File:

  • Client: Green Earth Planners and Developers (P) Ltd
  • Location: Chalikavattom, Cochin, Kerala
  • Design Build: ESDC
  • Architects: Jeeth, Natasha, Sunil   Engineers: Binu, Mathew, Johnson, Stanley
  • Structural Engineer: Associated Consultants
  • Land: Half Acre
  • Built Up Area: 21000 sq ft
  • Cost: Rs 1.2 crores
  • Duration: 16 months
  • Completed: 1996