In the initial years our group designed and built many small projects, mostly individual residences apart from some institutional projects such as schools and hospitals.
In the late eighties and early nineties, there was a surge in exploring alternative architecture, agriculture and lifestyles all over India. Efforts by Laurie Baker, Auroville and Masanobu Fukuoka inspired many. The core group at GoodEarth too was part of this exploration. Though the passion and ideological framework kept us alive, we did not want to make our explorations superficial.
We felt that the real test of any alternative idea is the market, and we ventured into business. It also tested whether we could evolve into an ethical business group that delivers good projects and stays away from greed.
From the first group housing project ‘GoodEarth Hamlet’ in Kochi in 1994 till date we have commissioned over 30 residential communities spread across Kochi, Bangalore and Calicut.
GoodEarth’s signature project Malhar Eco-village on the outskirts of Bangalore was started in 2010 and continues to grow, as an inspiring urban development. Malhar Eco-village spread across 60 acres with more than 600 families is a demonstration of a built environment in harmony with nature and sensitive to the people.
With our vast experience in housing, regenerative agriculture and conservation, GoodEarth is looking forward to creating semi-urban eco-villages. In such larger communities conservation, agriculture, housing, business outlets, work spaces, sporting facilities and cultural spaces are interwoven as new models of sustainable development.
Drawing inspiration from the seamless harmony of nature, our design philosophy goes beyond mere construction. We sculpt spaces that respect the environment, resonate with local traditions, and foster a deep-rooted connection between inhabitants and the land they reside upon. Our architectural tapestry, woven with sustainable threads, is not just about erecting structures; it’s about constructing a legacy that pays tribute to the age-old crafts, yet elegantly adapts to the evolving needs of the modern world.
Our approach to design is to achieve an appropriate sustainable architecture.
The very act of building is an act of depleting the environment, and destroys the habitats of other species. The challenge is to minimize this impact, and at the same time create spaces that will allow diversity.
Sustainability, as an idea and concept is questioned, as is the value of ‘green’ as it is understood by the world today. For us, green technology comes after green design – one doesn’t look for green solutions to problems that are created by an insensitive design.
To work with respect for land and nature
We intend to conserve and rejuvenate existing features like water bodies, streams, indigenous trees, which will also create awareness. In the planning, the unbuilt spaces take precedence over the built. The projects are broadly designed for water self-sufficiency. Waste and waste water management are integral parts of the design. Recycling helps nutrient build-up of the soil, carbon sequestration and improves water holding capacity of the land.
For human scale, comfort and proportions
We prefer the low-rise high-density approach, which is more human. We feel it’s important for each and every person living in the community to interact with the land. Even in our apartments, the effort has been to reduce the effect of the height by creating sky gardens and terraces, which change the experience.
We at GoodEarth believe that minimizing the use of high energy materials and innovating with natural material is the way forward.
Our architecture advocates comfort without opulence as work and life are a celebration of nature.
Our spaces encourage multi use, and are sensitive to the culture. As far as possible they are kept simple, enhancing scale and proportion. Through adequate light, ventilation, and economy of design, they prompt values of conservation.
The use of terraces at various levels is an integral part of most designs, as it serves as an open space, which flows out. They connect the indoors to the outdoors, yet leaving room for privacy.
Parapet walls designed with a balance of privacy and openness add character to the form.
Verandahs as transitions between the interior and the exterior are an important element of the design, and we have experimented with their proportions and scale, to create verandahs which serve as entries, others that work for dining and still others for lounging. Protecting the interior spaces from direct light and heat, they work best in this function on the west and south of the building in South India. Balconies also speak to the open spaces, some cheerfully to be perched on, while others rich in their detail, allowing one to relax, work or connect to the outdoors.
Bay windows, which enhance and extend the spatial quality of any room, are integrated into the design.
Natural light and ventilation are planned through adequate doors and windows, skylights and jaalis.
Art and craft are to architecture, what poetry is to literature.
We make a conscious effort to integrate these crafts and involve the crafts persons in the design and building process. We challenge the crafts persons to engage with contemporary contexts, and let the craft evolve.
We value people over material resources. Our care for the labor force is an important element in the building process. Our aesthetics are an honest expression of the materials and techniques used. We believe that blending traditional materials and craft with contemporary industrialized products is the way forward.
While adapting to contemporary requirements and materials are the greatest challenge for traditional materials and skills, innovative use, functionality and appeal offer great challenges for industrialised products.
Reinventing aesthetics and working towards this evolving style even as one operates in a market driven scenario is difficult sometimes. As the tendency is to relate to the ‘traditional’ elements and lose sight of the intent. This has been our biggest challenge.
Also, the value of building as a craft and an art has been steadily eroding, as traditional skills are not passed on to the next generation. Added to this is the inability to adapt to newer materials and applications. Artisans have stopped valuing their skill and degraded themselves to mere ‘labor.’ They don’t aspire to continue their craft, as there’s no value for it; and dream of a different life.
This is evident in most of the construction works, which is an industry that’s promoting skills v/s craft, instead of developing the two together. Apart from architects and engineers, the masons, carpenters, plumbers and electricians need to collaborate and stand proudly on par with each other. The opposite is also true; of architects and engineers lacking hands-on, practical skills and a feel for the materials and craft.
We, thus, work steadfastly towards reclaiming pride among our artisans towards their craft.
We hope that the future of architecture in India, imbibes and integrates the rich craft traditions in our country, with newer materials and applications.
Inviting warmth of a mud wall, as it wraps around a courtyard, its edges soft, smooth and cool to the touch, hint of a fragrance, comfortable spaces; cool in summer and warm in winter.
Homes that one had to engage with; a leak to be repaired, a wall to be patched or rebuilt. Our work is an attempt to bring back the comfort and energy that these spaces created, while adapting them to our contemporary lifestyle, by using technology.
Mud is the only natural material freely available, which can be completely reused or renewed. Our journey with different forms of mud has been an exciting and challenging one. There are no right answers, and the solution is constantly evolving. Mud is a forgiving material and that’s been our most important learning. And mistakes can be recovered from, in the path to mastering the technique.
A medium with endless possibilities, the adventure has only just begun.
Brick, its proportions, an example of perfection; the bonding, a discipline; has been a teacher to us. Most of our earlier work being built with burnt brick. The potential to push the limits of the brick and its craft through various forms and patterns; to create nuanced spaces with a distinct character, has been the highlight of our explorations with brick.
The burnt brick allows for the construction of load-bearing walls, up to three or four storeys; eliminating the need for reinforced concrete frames in most residential buildings.
Resistance to earthquakes can be achieved through the use of tie – beams at intervals, depending on the earthquake zone. We have found burnt brick to be easy to maintain, if appropriately detailed. Availability of skilled masons willing to work with exposed walls at a suitable cost, however, has been a challenge, as has been the ‘clean look’ that most users demand of us.
The most amazing thing about building with stabilized mud blocks is the awareness that the building is built from the earth that it’s sited on. As if it has grown out of the earth. Ours is a modern technology, applied on the age-old technique of making mud-bricks manually, using organic stabilizers.
The compressed stabilized earth block is made with the help of a machine, and uses cement or its equivalent as a stabilizer. Scientifically developed, to be strong and durable, it can be used in load bearing construction, and has been proven to be long lasting.
We have found it to be working well, even when we have applied it to larger scale construction; as the quality of production becomes viable to monitor. As do the logistics. Different colours of earth used result in different blocks and add character to the walls built.
Terracotta is a material that calls out to be touched and felt; its orange – red colour, complementing the space. It has thermal qualities that’s conducive to creating comfortable spaces.
The floor tiles are cool in summer and warm in winter. While the roof tiles absorb heat instantly, it also releases it quickly; especially if there’s a breeze. The hollow bricks, act as cavity walls, insulating the space within. The filler blocks in the roofing slab, play the same role, keeping the space cool, while reducing the concrete and steel content in the RCC slab.
Needing to be cared for, as a floor, no shoes or animal claws for it, or chemicals to clean it. Production of terracotta is a small to medium sized industry, where clay is mined and baked in kilns. Although this has an impact on the environment, due to mining and subsequent air pollution, when produced at a smaller scale, it is relatively less harmful than other industrialized products, like cement and steel.
Building with stone is like writing a poem; each stone is like a word and the composition tells a story. A higher plinth to give a stronger visual base, or fence to house a creeper with red flowers, stepping stones in the garden, or a window seat – stone can be the accent in any space.
Especially in Karnataka, where it is available in multitude of forms and can be used for various applications. Older structures in the state Karnataka, especially in the Vijayanagara kingdom used stone in amazing ways, and that skill still exists inspiring us to use the material well.
The craft of stone, its easy workability and durability, make it a preferred material to build with.
In many traditional societies in India, carpenter was the ‘master craftsman’ of the building, where the spaces, its proportions and details were a response to the property of the timber used.
Timber building and craft have been a rich tradition, which is gradually disappearing.
We believe timber is one of the most sustainable materials for the future of building and needs to be developed. Building with timber is an art, and needs a lot of rigour to understand the material, its strength and its responsiveness to the climate.
A living material, it offers immense possibilities in its expression, and inspires awe, when used appropriately. Timber is a large component of our aesthetic – pillars for verandahs, doors and windows, railings, jaalis, rafters, floors, in their raw form or subtly carved find their place in the panorama of the community.
They are like the ‘wonder’ materials of modern buildings. With the ability to create structures and forms, to any imaginable form, they have defined the way spaces and cities are experienced today.
The challenge lies in using these materials to its full potential, employing creative architectural and structural design. However, we have to restrain from over designing and wasteful applications, driven solely by marketing of the material in the absence of its engineering value.
Also, before using one has to bear in mind that it’s energy intensive in its production and cannot be recycled.
Glass is a contemporary material which can add value to a space if used wisely.
Bringing light into the home, has been our primary use of it. Large windows overlooking courtyards or open spaces, allow the outdoors to merge with the indoors.
One has to be careful while using glass, as it also traps heat, and if the expanse of glass is too large, it will heat up the inside. Using it as curtain walls, in the way that it’s popularly done, is not at all suitable for our climate, it’s appropriate for cold climate. We have used glass in skylights. Here we have found that if the size of the skylight is too large, it heats up the entire house, even if ventilation is provided at the roof level, to allow hot air to escape. Although large skylights add to the character of the home, one needs to be careful while deciding on the size.
Using coloured glass or waste glass bottles in some features of the space, is an art and adds a sense of play into the space.
Our approach to selecting floor finishes has been to keep it simple.
Preferring a single material in any one space, we have worked with highlighting it through inlays in strategic places or highlights.
Using natural materials in contexts that are applicable are preferred, although we use other materials if required. One has to be careful both while laying the natural floor and using it. A natural floor come with variations in colour and level. Cracks, stains and patches are a part of its aesthetic, and should be appreciated for its character. Don’t expect it to appear or behave like a synthetic floor.
Terracotta, Attangudi tiles, Kota and Cuddapah stone and wood are a few floors we have experimented with. We have also used ceramic and vitrified tiles where needed. Ceramic tiles are good for heat insulation, easy to maintain, but use a lot of energy in its production.
Many materials used in the building industry today are not only toxic in its production, but also emit toxins after application.
Paints and polishes are primarily applied to any material, whether wood, metal or masonry, to protect it from the elements and make it durable. The aesthetic is derived from that, and not vice-versa. A lot of these applications which claim to be environment – friendly have traditional variants that are less processed and work just as well.
They may require frequent maintenance but are definitely healthier and easier to do so. Water bound distemper which is a lime-based paint is suited for walls, and scores over emulsion or any other ‘plastic’ finish that may be available on these counts.
Using a mix of oils like cashew shell oil and linseed oil for the external finish for doors and windows is another finish we have experimented with. It protects wood from both insects and the elements. It allows the wood to breathe and retains its natural look.
Techniques are the silent storytellers of architecture; they dictate not only the aesthetics but also the longevity and sustainability of the spaces we curate. From the foundational bedrock to the finishing touches, our techniques are a testament to our commitment to excellence, sustainability, and innovation. Dive into the intricacies of our approach, where each method we adopt is a harmony of time-honoured craftsmanship and contemporary precision, ensuring that structures stand as symbols of enduring beauty and purpose.
These can be built as simple load-bearing foundations or be as complex as concrete pile and raft foundations, depending on the soil and scale. Intelligent engineering can reduce the costs and conserve the amount of resources used.
Designing for earthquake resistance needs to be taken care of, depending on the zone that the building is located on. We have used load-bearing stone foundations, that are built using dry packed stone below ground and built in cement above ground. A plinth beam ties the foundation together at the plinth level. It is economical and has worked in most cases. A reinforced cement concrete column and footing have been used wherever necessary. For taller structures and in Kerala where the water table is high, we have used well-designed pile and raft foundations.
Walls have been used for a range of functions, from enveloping spaces to taking the load off the roof. It is one of the elements that gives form to the structure.
Techniques of building walls range from building in adobe, where one must have knowledge of the mud being used and understand its behaviour, to building in brick where one must know the principles of bonding.
Housing utilities like electrical and plumbing, allowing for windows to be accommodated, and imparting a character to the space are also some of the functions.
The material used for building involves different crafts and engineering. We have worked extensively with many techniques to arrive at the language used in our buildings. From building cavity walls that will keep out the heat to composite stone walls that allow for the strength, and beauty of stone while accommodating the utilities are just some of its uses.
Screen walls built with bottles or with terracotta jaalis play a different role and enrich the spaces they enclose.
Lintels play the role of creating openings and supporting the wall or roof above.
Smaller openings can be spanned very economically and simply, while larger ones require heavier beams. A design which is conservative in its use of beams is more economical. Apart from using concrete lintels, which is the conventional practice, we have used stone slabs, wooden beams and steel to span some types of openings.
Using arches instead of beams is another option. Arches require skill to build and can add character to any space. Corbels with brick or stone are another way to span openings. Some of these elements are very strong in their communication and the design must take care of the proportion and composition.
In most of our work we have been using reinforced cement concrete for the floor slabs. Efficiently designed spaces lead to economic structural design of slabs. And this has been a good solution for most contexts.
Alternatives with floor slabs have been masonry vaults, filler slabs and even wood and steel. Some of these alternatives work in contexts of scale, skill and appropriateness. Choosing these options as a solution to economy and recycling need more study, as on detailed analysis they may not work; due to subsequent additions being needed to improve their performance or aesthetic as per expectations of the user.
Roof plays the important function of sheltering the building from the sun and the rain. The form of the structure is composed primarily of the roof and walls. In India, our climate demands that the roof has to protect the building from the heat of the sun and the rain. The use of the space also demands an appropriate response from the roof. For instance, verandahs and semi covered spaces require one kind of response while covered living spaces another. The form may require a flat roof or a sloping one, with the slopes varying with the material and climate.
In recent times solar energy and provisions for it, play an important role in influencing the roof form. We have been experimenting with different roofs in our work.
A double roof or a cavity roof, works best in our climate, which will waterproof the space below as well as reduce the heat within the space. This double roof has manifested as a filler slab, with terracotta Mangalore tiles and concrete composite, or a reinforced concrete roof with a lighter sheet above it.
In Kerala, we have even created a light roof above the main flat RCC roof, to insulate the space. Each solution has its pros and cons and the search continues. For semi open spaces like verandahs and car parks, we have used Mangalore (terracotta) roofing tiles wherever the slope is possible. These are comfortable to sit under and have a pleasing ambience. They require some maintenance, as they incur damage easily and sometimes shift and thus need to be adjusted.
When the form required has been flat, we have used polycarbonate sheets or glass. These have inherent issues of heat being trapped under and being difficult to clean. They need to be designed well and used appropriately.
Design of the staircase is an important feature in most of our work. Using it to connect the spaces vertically, the staircase is very often the focal point of any space. Depending on the space, we have built stairs in reinforced cement concrete, steel and wood. Concrete stairs require more labor, material intensive and need accuracy in casting, in order to achieve finesse in the detail.
Timber stairs are lighter and simpler. Selection of wood and the expertise to work with it are necessary. Steel stairs are minimalistic, and can span larger spaces.
We have been mainly using hardwood for the doors and windows. In some cases steel and aluminium have also been used, due to budgetary constraints. The preference is for timber as it imparts a warmth to the space that the other materials don’t. The craft of woodworking and joinery is slowly dying and its principles are important to learn, for future innovations.
Planting timber species to make timber a more sustainable material should be undertaken. Reinventing traditional sections and working with more economical sections, has been our effort. Similarly, as has been the idea to combine fixed and openable shutters in windows, to allow for larger openings and solutions which integrate insect proofing and do not block views out of spaces.
The most important aspect of finishing any constructed space is in the planning of the work and the housekeeping of it once finished.
Delicate floors need to be planned later in the sequence; surfaces must be protected from paints and polishes to avoid staining. The skill needed at this stage is one of diligence and common sense.
Especially when using multiple materials, the treatment and care of each one differs and needs corresponding attention. Crafts of oxide floors, lime plasters and wooden floors have dwindled due to difficulties of these techniques keeping pace with modern requirements and systems.
They need greater effort and we have used them where appropriate; realizing that they have been reduced to a fancy, and it will take a lot to make them ordinary again!
Doomsday predictions speak about wars over water and prompt the urgency of managing water well. The problem of water starts at the basic planning level, where the land’s ability to take the load, sustain itself and its dependents, is not a factor considered when deciding the scale of development.
Looking at water sources on the land, the rain, the groundwater and possibilities of recycling waste water should be the first priority in the planning of any development.
Thus, reducing the load on the state supply or bore-wells and intelligently harvesting the rain water has been our approach. The water supply is supplemented by rain water harvesting. The roof water is collected through a network of gutters and pipes. This is directed to a tank through a filter. The tank is designed to collect an optimal amount of water and it is connected to the main sump. Looking at the rainfall pattern in Kerala and Karnataka, it is not possible to collect the entire rainwater, as the storage becomes inefficient.
At GoodEarth, we reuse 100% of STP water for flushing and landscape irrigation. This helps in reducing the consumption of either rainwater or borewell water. The treated water also contains allowable leftover nutrient post treatment, which when used for landscaping enhances the growth of the plants and trees and reduces the need for fertilizers. Reusing STP treated water at Malhar reduces significant savings on water costs for landscaping and maintenance in the long run. It also reduces the expenses associated with the disposal of treated wastewater.
Sequencing Batch Reactor (SBR) is the sewage treatment system being used at GoodEarth Malhar now. SBR uses a compact design, saving space compared to continuous-flow treatment systems. It is relatively a low-energy consumption system due to efficient aeration control.
The design of the landscape focuses on creating ‘places’ in the campus; the character of which is developed through variations of function, material or feature. An important element of landscaping is the balancing of the ecology with the landscape.
Water bodies are planted with species that encourage insects and birds to visit, butterfly host plants and others that host bees create a buzz! The emphasis is on native species, but a balance being brought about by culinary and exotics.
Great care is taken to ensure that invasive species are not planted. Water intensive species are also avoided as far as possible. The landscape attempts to create themes of fruit trees, culinary herbs and trees, vegetable gardens, bird and butterfly host species, plants and trees of medicinal value and traditional species; reflecting sometimes forgotten cultural values.
Planting timber species is another focus, and we believe that timber is one of the most sustainable materials. We need to plant trees for it to be available as a building material of the future. Balancing the ecology along with the landscape design, creating a contemporary expression that’s neither forest nor urban park, but attempts a blend of the two, which we can learn from.
Approach for passive solar has been different in the different places we have built. In Bangalore the climate is less humid and the need for light is greater than that of ventilation. Larger expanses of glass which bring in light are used. Whereas in Kerala with high humidity and heat, the emphasis is on insulating the walls and roof, and thereby increasing the air flow.
In all cases, the ambient temperature and quality of air achieved within the space will be a marginal improvement from what’s prevalent outside at the time. One cannot expect air-conditioned levels of temperature by this method. We also feel that air conditioning is harmful for human health and for the environment, developing a tolerance to the temperature around is important.
Provision of a double roof reduces heat gain and the temperature within the home was approximately 4 – 5 degrees cooler than the outside temperature. Skylights which are double glazed reduce the heat entering through the skylight. Air vents at the higher end of the roof allow the hot air to escape. An adequate tree cover around the buildings shade them and reduce the absorption of heat.
Provisions are made in individual houses of most of our communities for converting to solar power, as and when desired. The internal house wiring is linked to an inverter which has a conduit laid to the roof. Solar panels can be installed on the roof and connected through this conduit. Solar geysers for hot water are mandatory and are installed on the roofs, individually.