Our first venture into community housing was Good Earth Hamlet. Built in 1995, It was an attempt at community housing which bridged the existing gap between independent houses and the urban stereotype block of flats which existed. It was our initial foray into a business model which was new to us. With our idealism, enthusiasm and commitment, we were able to complete it in record time and within the budget. It marked the start of a long journey of building communities. Located on a half-acre plot on the banks of the Kaniampuzha river in Chalikkavattom, a quiet suburb of Cochin. Today 20 years later, it is still a vibrant community.
The circular form is most economical, both in terms of space and structure.The setback areas serve as private backyards for the ground floor units, and the first floor duplex units have terraces at each level.
An attempt at community housing which bridged the existing gap between independent houses and the urban stereotype block of flats. The emphasis has been on community spaces to encourage interaction while at the same time providing for individual privacy. The half-acre plot is on the banks of the Kaniampuzha river located in Chalikkavattom, a quiet suburb of Cochin.
The central courtyard creates an intimate space, free from vehicles and safe for children to play. The circular form is most economical, both in terms of space and structure. Seventeen units, using an FSI of one, and a height of ground and two upper stories are appropriate, considering structural economics, as well as the blending in with the surroundings. The setback areas serve as private backyards for the ground floor units, and the first floor duplex units have terraces at each level.
As one enters the hamlet through 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 our principles of cost-effective construction, the structures minimize the use of Reinforced concrete and steel. The 9″ brick walls had the outer face exposed and flush pointed, and the inside plastered. Arches are used to span large openings and windows, while doors are spanned with pre-cast thin lintels. Economical timber sections of jack-wood and anjali are used for the doors and windows.
Filler slabs, using rejected Mangalore tiles, make 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 terra cotta 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 works efficiently, using minimum circulation space and a maximum of the site to create a built environment, which enhances 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.