Towards a Sustainable Future

A community more than a firm, the Kerala-based Centre for Eco-sensitive and Sustainable Development (ESDC), acquires its resources from the natural landscape and in return gives back a construction typology. On the banks of the Kaniampuzha river, in Ernakulam, Kerala, stands the Centre for Eco-sensitive and Sustainable Development (ESDC),which was started in 1987 by a group of architects, engineers and artisans. Inspired by the work of Laurie Baker, the group looks at architecture as a lifestyle, which relates to the psychological and cultural sensibilities of people and at the same time maintains harmony with the environment.

Experimenting with alternative ways of living and building, the emphasis has been to absorb traditional techniques that consider the availability of resources and also apply relevant climatic principles, thereby creating a sustainable society that tries to maintain equilibrium between the built structure and the immediate surroundings. New concepts and ideas are quintessential, followed by innumerable brainstorming sessions, which focus on parameters that go beyond just architecture. This approach of ESDCs has resulted in ventures like community housing and organic farming.

Functioning professionally as ‘House of Consultants’, ESDC has been working all over South India, and has centres in Calicut, Bangalore and Mumbai. In search of an appropriate organisational structure, the group has been experimenting with various management structures. They are presently working in small, decentralised groups, which handle different projects individually. The identity of their work lies not with the individuals in the group, but with the entire team. As Ar Jeeth Iype puts it, “ESDC should continue even after this generation of architects and engineers have moved on, and be known by the work it represents”.

Stanley George, engineer and one of the pioneers of the group, stresses on the importance of a team,” lf the engineers and artisans are also involved in the design from the onset, it contributes to efficiency and economy of design and in managing the project.” In the initial days, after the preliminary sketch design was finalised, there would be no further drawings, but the details would evolve on site, with the mason, architect and client working together. “This allowed us far greater spontaneity in design and also co-related the microclimate of the site to the spaces beautifully. But as the projects got larger, and more in number, this became difficult,” says architect Vinod Cyriac. To its credit, ESDC has designed a number of buildings ranging from small houses to institutions, in various locales in Kerala, rural and urban, to coastal Karnataka and Bangalore, Auroville in Tamil Nadu, to Mumbai in Maharashtra, for a cross section of economical, cultural and geographical groups, and each work is unique in these respects.

The building that houses their headquarters in Ernakulam is an example of how different ideas, materials, and technologies can be combined to form a harmonious whole. Adapting to the heavy Kerala monsoon, the hot, humid summer, and the requirements of the group, these structures have undergone various modifications, from repairing leaks and innovations to combat the heat, to reorganizing the spaces and changing their use. This adaptation continues in other projects of theirs resulting in a vocabulary of natural materials like mud, brick, stone, thatch or tiles, with techniques like filler slab, soil cement blocks and Ferro cement.ESDC strives to create buildings in which the rain, the sun, the wind, all play an important role – the form and the orientation being manipulated to complete an interesting story. The culmination of these interactions are spaces which are unique in their expressions and honest in the materials used. From the traditional motifs to the quality of air and light in them, theirs is an architecture to be experienced.

Natasha Iype for Indian Architect & Builder