The construction industry is responsible for about a third of the world’s carbon emissions, making sustainable architecture a pressing need. Natural building materials and techniques are becoming popular due to their design aesthetics and sustainability.
The Arulville retreat is an excellent example of how natural building techniques and vernacular architecture can create sustainable spaces that support contemporary lifestyles without harming the natural ecosystem.
Conceptualized and founded by Anthony Raj, Arulville is located in Mudaliarkuppam, Tamil Nadu about 80 km south of Chennai. Raj took the help of Dharmesh Jadeja, who is a well-known architect in Auroville for his sustainable practices in design, in order to come up with a design scheme that took inspiration from indigenous architecture.
Many of the construction techniques used while designing Arulville can be seen in the vernacular architecture of the Tamilnadu region.
The Arulville farmhouse is set in a rural context on an island. Water bodies dot the site and the project sits along the natural contours, incorporating the trees into the design as all of the trees on the property were preserved. Seating structures capped with stone, have been built around the trees so visitors can enjoy the experience of the natural “breathing spaces”.
Excavation pits were converted into lily ponds in order to encourage evaporative cooling. Grey water systems are in place across the site to deal with waste water generated, while natural filtration ponds use charcoal, pebbles and sand to cleanse the water pumped to the overhead tank.
Arulville boasts of a varied material palette, featuring exposed bricks, wooden pillars, clay bricks, terracotta tiles, and Cuddapah stones. Local materials helped reduce the carbon footprint of the project as they are durable and have a high thermal mass. This means that these materials have insulating properties that help regulate the temperature inside a building.
Another vernacular feature used in the structure is the Madras terrace, which adds a welcome break from the flat roof slab. A Madras terrace is constructed by laying terrace bricks diagonally across the room width, over wooden joists.
Climatology has long been practiced in vernacular architecture in India to understand the benefits and consequences of designing spaces. Vaastu principles have been used for centuries to characterize arrangements and geometry of spaces. Many of these principles were influenced by the Indian climate, which is why recommendations for orienting certain spaces have a logic behind it. Spaces are differentiated by activity and have been placed in accordance with the sun’s movement.
Sun-shading devices such as chajjas, jali screens and the roof overhang have been the quintessential aspect in Indian vernacular architecture to prevent heat gain through the walls. These features can be seen in Arulville as well.
A conscious design approach concerning the use of materials, energy and resources can help the building and construction industry further the momentum of the “sustainable architecture” movement.