“At the age of 20, as a student of architecture in Mumbai, in a humanities class, I learnt of the catastrophic environmental devastation, resulting from run-of-the-mill construction practices, which devour the earth. I was upset and decided to chart a different path and work on ecologically sensitive architecture. Looking back, I am happy I took the decision,” says Trupti Doshi, who graduated from the Kamala Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Sciences, University of Mumbai and is now based in Puducherry.
Doshi’s areas of work include ecological design, earth technology, water and waste management, biodiversity, energy efficiency, thermal comfort and renewables. She worked as the chief co-architect of Sri Aurobindo Society and was one of the two architects who designed and built ‘Sharanam’ phase 1, Institute for Rural Transformation, on the outskirts of Puducherry, which was chosen by the United Nations Environment Programme as a model for sustainable development in India. After almost 12 years at Sri Aurobindo Society, she co-founded ‘The Auroma Group’, in 2013, which focuses on environment-sensitive construction.
Sharanam: A case study on how to construct a zero-waste building
Talking about ‘Sharanam’, a zero-waste building, Doshi says, “The idea was to draw from thousands of years of wisdom, to create something modern and of high-quality engineering. No professional contractor was hired. I trained more than 300 local villagers in over 20 highly specialised building skills. The primary building materials, came from the site. Less than 15% of the materials, were purchased from outside. The lowest point was dug out, which became the reservoir for harvesting rain water. The building blocks were made from the soil that came from this reservoir.” The building blocks (called CSEB – compressed stabilised earth block), were made on site and were not fired. A pinch of cement added to the soil, acted as a stabiliser. No firing meant no release of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere, she adds.
Puducherry has extremely hot and humid climate, with average summer temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius and relative humidity above 80%. “In such a challenging climate, we also designed several low-energy cooling strategies and integrated architectural features, which keep the building naturally cool,” shares Doshi.
The concept behind The Auroma Group
‘The Auroma Group’, which she founded along with her brother Viral Doshi (a building technologist), specialises in ecological architecture and sustainable engineering. Trupti Doshi has been working on Auroma French Villaments, a residential community in Puducherry. “In this project, fly ash is the main building component. It contains only 20% cement while the rest is waste product from thermal power plants. These bricks are stronger than conventional fired bricks. Also, these unfired bricks have reliable edges and are economical, as they entail lower cost for allied materials and labour. Unlike linear processes, which have raw materials and labour at one end and finished products plus waste at the other end, cyclical processes use the waste of one process as the raw material for the next. This is in sync with nature where there is no waste,” explains the eco-friendly architect.
The buildings have rainwater harvesting systems and the water from kitchens, showers and toilets, are treated and used for gardening. Also 100% recycled Burmese teak wood, has been used for wood work. “Each home is equipped with an inverter that is compatible with solar panels. The window-to-wall ratio has been optimised, to increase daylighting and reduce heat gain. Every home has windows in all directions (north, south, east and west) to increase ventilation and reduce day time temperatures,” says Doshi, the principal architect of The Auroma Group.
What building designers can learn from nature
Doshi states that like nature, which integrates many processes into simple operations, sustainable construction practices need to integrate a colossal amount of knowledge and skill into the simplest of elements like walls, roofs, waste management, rainwater harvesting and thermal comfort.
“For example, if a roof is only for shelter, it is answering only one-dimension. However, if a roof is required to harvest rainwater, capture sunlight, grow food, be thermally comfortable underneath and provide meaningful recreation and quality time for the family, in addition to providing shelter, it needs to integrate many diverse streams of knowledge. Such levels of integration and synergy, take longer to design and build than conventional linear buildings. We, at Auroma, believe that buildings and cities are not ends in themselves. They are part of the larger cyclical loops of nature and should be planned accordingly,” says Doshi who has given numerous lectures on sustainability, in India and Europe and has also been the speaker at the Bio-Architecture conference in Portugal.
The unifying ideology is ‘sustainability’ and emphasis must be on quality of life over standard of living. “With the pace at which India is growing, we need to urgently resort to responsible methods of building. I am glad that awareness towards sustainable architecture is increasing,” says Doshi, who has plans to work on an eco-friendly residential school near Mumbai and an institute for organic farming training near Indore.