Chitra Vishwanath is one of India’s leading architects. A pioneer in sustainable design practices, Chitra represents the responsible face of Indian design. Urging clients to think about the ‘effects’ of a design philosophy and staying away from ‘trends’ that do not promote an environmental perspective. Here, she shares with us the Olde Bangalore project—a clubhouse in an eco-friendly design framework.
In 1984, the World Health Organisation brought to light a new type of illness altogether—the sick building syndrome. SBS describes situations where occupants experience acute health and comfort problems, which seem to be a direct result of the time spent in the building. More than 30% of the world’s remodeled buildings have received complaints related to ‘indoor air quality’, most of which are a result of inadequate ventilation coupled with biological and chemical contaminants.
Today, when high-rises, luxury villas, and studio apartments are all the rage, exposure to the dangers of environmental neglect have led people to consider ecological sustainability. One such person is Chitra Vishwanath, who has dedicated her life towards promoting sustainable design.
Chitra is the principal architect and managing director at Biome Environmental, aiming to design by looking at spaces beyond the physical dimension, and viewing the ecological aspect as well.
Long before phrases like “eco-friendly” became fashionable, Chitra has been building environmentally sound, cost-effective, comfortable homes for a lot of people.
Her own home, on the outskirts of Bangalore, is a fine example of ecological and social sustainability and highlights the basic values on which an inhabitant’s well being depends.
Like her own home, most of the homes she has designed for clients are constructed with mud blocks, or mud bricks, stone flooring and tiled roofs. Rainwater harvesting and solar panels for heating, wide open passages, high ceilings, large gardens and airy rooms are some of the distinct features of Chitra’s earthy homes and she has received widespread acclaim for her work.
Setting an example in her own home, Chitra ensures that most of her needs are met by optimal utilisation of available resources. There are no air-conditioners or fans, compost pits handle the organic wastes, rice and vegetables are grown on a pretty terrace garden and even toilet wastes are separated and recycled into the ground.
This goes to show how a step in the right direction can work wonders.
“My father was a sculptor. In 1967, while pursuing his masters in the United States, he interacted with many architects and this led him to encourage me to study architecture. I studied civil engineering in Nigeria, and then continued architecture studies at the School of Architecture, CEPT Ahmedabad. I thoroughly enjoyed my education in civil engineering and being at CEPT was an incredible experience. I could not have asked for a better grounding.
At Biome Environmental, Chitra and her team have built spectacular homes, resorts, and institutions, emphasising strong communication channels with clients.
Recognising the fast growing need for rainwater harvesting and other sustain- able water systems, Biome has included water solutions and sustainability pro- jects to their business model and ad- vised many clients to carry out RWH, alternative sanitation and grey-water recycling.
A few noteworthy examples are The Ramachandra Mission, resorts like the Forsythe Lodge and Our Native Village, corporate campuses and several homes.
Chitra and her husband Vishwanath (a civil engineer and rain water harvesting expert), are constantly on the lookout for better means of conservation and constantly strive to improve their own knowledge and ideas. Through their work and training workshops, they aim to educate people and make them more receptive to ecological and sustainable practices.
By inducing social thinking and responsible living Chitra Vishwanath has achieved much success where many others have faltered. Spurred on by her ideology, spirit, and dedication to de- sign.
Dinesh, Sarita and David approached us at the recommendation of another client and wanted us to design a clubhouse . They liked the idea of building ecologically and wanted a different design framework as compared with run of the mill clubhouses, which were springing up all over Bangalore.
Another important aspect of the brief was designing the structure from a wheelchair- friendly perspective. Ramps and lifts were part of the de- sign brief right from the word go.
The clubhouse has a restaurant, bar, card room and sports centre with a provision for badminton, table tennis, billiards, and a shooting range. It also has an Olympic sized swimming pool and two seminar halls.
In terms of the building, we went with framed construction and the walls were in-filled with stabilised mud blocks. The soil was suitable to build with earth and by incorporating the basement in the design we were able to get all the soil required for construction.
Nowadays, there is a loss of context in design and we are increasingly designing for a flat world. This is perhaps acceptable for the few who are part of this flat world but there are many who do not belong to this and need intervention in terms of context.
Architects need to design bearing in mind climatic conditions, resources available and how their buildings can be multi-purpose, and built in a way that serve as quarries of the future. My design process is not a defined one, but more importantly it involves a lot of interaction with the end user. I like working with a team where I can discuss and bounce off ideas.
My designs are very uncomplicated at first glance but incorporate many small details, which are geared towards making living more comfortable and convenient. I like multiple views within a space and light has to come from different angles as the sun moves. Being in India, I try to work with an architecture in harmony with air since it is this element that makes our interior spaces more livable.
For me, sustainable architecture is not just about design; it is a lifestyle and we walk the talk. With a burgeoning population, lifestyles demanding more re- sources than in the past, dwindling resources along with the large inequities that exist in this world, it is unethical to consume resources without giving a thought towards the future.
Therefore, sustainability is the mantra for a better world and responsible living is pitched against the reckless consumption of the world today. Design is a response to a need—basic or evolved. It is basic human instinct to shape our environs— the first hut was a design. For me, design is a continuous process, constantly evolving— a process where ideas are born to serve a specific need based on the resources available.