Let the birds fly in and out

an article about GoodEarth Enclave in The Hindu

Good Earth Enclave is a sustainable community of 25 units on a three-acre plot in Kengeri. It has been designed and developed by a group of parents and teachers associated with the “Centre for Learning,” a school based on the philosophy of Jiddu Krishnamurthy.Architects Natasha Chawla and Jeeth Iype are part of “Good Earth Estates,” a firm inspired by Laurie Baker. They believe that “Good housing design is a delicate balance of community values, individual needs, aesthetic judgments and technical requirements.”All the nine houses that have come up reflect these ideals as each of them is customised to the needs of the owners. Ms. Chawla and Mr. Iype, with their two sons, live in one of them.

Letting birds in

The three-acre land has a compound wall built with the local stone “chappadi.” There is one gate, which is guarded. There are no compound walls between the houses. The common area has been landscaped, while each house has a small garden to be maintained by the respective household. Children can play happily without any obstructions and traffic. None of the houses are plastered from outside. The brick houses have an aesthetic look and they seem to instantly connect you to the natural environs of which huge trees and chirping birds are a part.

A peep into the house of the Iype’s enhances one’s understanding of the philosophy of the couple. As you enter the house, you get a sense of openness as the drawing room leads to the open kitchen, a bedroom for guests and a large verandah, which leads to the courtyard. A wooden staircase connects the spaces below and the rooms above. It has a simple, basic plan where the space is kept uncluttered. The front of the house is open while the backyard offers privacy.
The house has two courtyards — one in the ground floor and the other on the first floor. One of them has natural slates used for the floor along with yellow oxide with transparent polycarbonate sheets as roof cover to let light in. One can sit on the local `chappadi kallu” converted into a bench and be one with nature. The backyard has small traditional Kerala-style windows to let birds into the house. The chappadi stone is used with single layer dressing to retain its originality for the sills and lintels. The sills have recycled wood from old doors. All the sills have enough space to sit, something that we usually get to see in villages.

Then there is a simple, open kitchen with a granite service area, which can be used to serve food. It doubles as a space for children to do their homework. Slate has been used for bathroom flooring, which requires maintenance as no acids or harsh detergents can be used on it. Terracotta tiles have been used for flooring in the entire house with some of them being over burnt to create a particular design. Terracotta not only helps in maintaining temperature but also connects one to Mother Earth. Ms. Chawla says that they would like to walk barefoot at home, which has been possible because of terracotta tiles.

The wooden stairs lead to an open study created with small, vertical, evenly spaced windows. There are two bedrooms, one for the parents and one for the children. The bedroom opens to a closet where you can keep your clothes and other things, which leaves the bedroom uncluttered and clean. The doors have louvers to increase air circulation. The doors are made of “hone” wood and are not painted. They are polished with linseed oil and cashew oil, which is a signature theme of the house. The house spreads the sweet smell of cashew.

A touch of Nature

The master bathroom opens into a big open-air bathtub with a large sitting area extended from the bathtub, which is made from cement and black oxide. One can relax with a nice oil massage, seeing children playing in the bathtub, which overlooks the bathroom’s potted garden, the open sky, birds and trees.

The atmosphere is luxurious with a touch of nature. Windows have been covered with blinds using traditional mats. The balcony has cement seats all around for a get-together or a party.

The children’s room has open and closed storage spaces with a spiral staircase and a unique attic. The attic can double as a bedroom within a bedroom or a play area for the couple’s two boys.

Only the kitchen, bathroom and the ceiling are plastered. The areas exposed to water are painted with water-resistant silicon paint. The interiors are painted with lime, which is bright, cheap and easy to maintain.

Ms. Natasha says that the family uses more human resource than artificial resources. A lot of thinking has gone into designing the house. The use of wood, terracotta tiles and oxidised cement effuses a strong eco-sensitiveness and indicates that the house is human-resource centric.

Coming back to the layout, one observes that it facilitates water harvesting naturally. What sets the households apart is the attitude of being close to nature by being simple and useful with an artistic value attached to the thinking behind the construction. Living here is like living in heaven.