“We must leave the built-site better than we found it.” This has been the foremost belief of the Centre for Indigenous Architecture and in almost all their projects they believe they have developed the site into a better place.
Anthony Raj, Founder-Director of Centre for Indigenous Architecture (CFIA) worked in the corporate sector for nearly four decades, before he discovered the beauty and the benefits of indigenous architecture in 2010. His early career included stints as Proof Reader (Chemical Weekly), Economic Research Assistant (Economic Scene from Tata Economic Consultancy Services), and Assistant Editor (Business India) and finally, Editor & CEO (Fortune India). Along the way, he explored many other career options, including Selling Advertisement Space (Sunday, Business Standard, Economic & Political Weekly), Advertising (RK Swamy BBDO, WordCraft), and Executive Director (Shriram Group, handling projects in Financial Services, Placement, Employee Training, Corporate Communications etc).
It is therefore a wonder that his career, following the corporate journey, being a graduate in Literature and holding a Masters in Linguistics, from the Bombay University and without a formal training in Architecture, is today considered a respectable “architect” in the area of Indigenous Architecture, with a regular clientele.
CFIA promotes Wellness through Holistic Architecture, by incorporating traditional construction concepts and techniques that are proved to be eco-friendly, energy efficient, cost effective and sustainable on a long term basis.
Indigenous architecture is all about incorporating climate-responsiveness, appropriate materials and local artisans in design and construction; reflecting the vernacular or the native style of construction practiced for decades and promoting thermal comfort. It involves minimal use of cement, steel, paint, glass and other manufactured and foreign goods. These naturally lit and ventilated spaces minimize the electricity need.
According to Anthony Raj here are the principles followed at CFIA:
- First and foremost they try to add green cover to the selected site. No trees are cut. New ones are planted.
- The second stage they study the on-site and off-site features carefully to locate the blocks in suitable positions.
- After this they get into the core building design concentrating on the two main aspects of climate responsive strategies – shading and ventilation, mandatory for designs in hot humid climatic conditions.
- Shading the external walls (up to 50%) from the sun is very essential in the hot humid climate. Keeping this in mind, verandahs are designed as buffer spaces that protect the main external walls from direct sunlight. These shaded buffers prevent the conduction of heat to the interiors.
“We believe that the construction activity should not have an adverse impact on environment. For instance, CFIA never cuts a tree at the site. Instead, we start planting more trees even as we commence construction,” points out Raj.
Today they are migrating to the major use of the Rat-Trap Bond style of constructing walls, which uses less bricks and cement, though labour intensive as local livelihoods are a major concern of native architecture.
Habitats themselves are naturally lit and ventilated, offering maximum thermal comfort and consume less electricity. This is achieved by using vernacular techniques like:
- Exposed brickwork, Rammed Earth Walls, Pitches / Tiled Roofs, Madras Terrace, which help in thermal insulation.
- Louvered windows, doors control natural light and ventilation manually.
- Verandahs around the core building, to protect the external walls from intense solar radiation.
- Use of terracotta, athangudi tiles reduce the internal heat gain of the floors and make them comfortable for the users.
- Jallis used at appropriate places to protect the interiors from direct glare and sun light. Openings are well ventilated and self shaded adding to the protection of inner spaces from heat.
- Using Salvaged wooden windows, doors and pillars, that is resource efficient. Reusing wood helps save existing trees.
- Such construction techniques are highly resistant to radiation and help in maintaining a comfortable indoor environment for the users.
CFIA’s built-sites have a low dependence on public utilities like Water Supply, Sewage System, Electricity, among others. Techniques like traditional Water Purification and Wastewater Recycling systems are integral to their design. They use root zone method for treating Grey water and reuse it to water the plants and recharge the ground water level.
CFIA boasts of an extensive specialized team which research and study materials and new techniques.
Materials for construction are procured close to site in order to save on the overall cost.
According to Raj, “The challenges faced in construction of these structures are great when compared to the contemporary style. For instance, the quality of soil at Arulville was found suitable to build Rammed Earth Walls. However, all my other projects, which are in and around Chennai, could not benefit from Rammed Earth technique, because of unsuitable soil. Today, we are almost exclusively using this method to build exposed brick walls, which produces a high level of thermal comfort. All our buildings are designed to provide physical and visual comfort. “
CFIA’s intent is to marry traditional techniques and manufactured material to meet the demand for a high level of contemporary comforts in the context of Indigenous Architecture.
CFIA also provides internships and actively involve young architects, helping them to research on indigenous architecture and share knowledge with them. As an institute it promotes traditional indigenous architecture amongst the students to aid them in learning how to leave a better place, besides offering design guidance and consultancy for residential and institutional buildings.