As a commercial contractor, I have spent years working with clients who wanted to do something different with their building structure. Many wanted to implement sustainable facilities and green materials as part of an eco-friendly business plan. Today, the worldwide market for green building materials is at $116 billion. However, it’s projected to more than double by 2020 becoming a $254 billion market. As the world progresses towards eco-friendly changes, it’s important for homeowners and businesses to work together to invest and participate in green building and materials.

Millions of visitors swarm the Las Vegas strip looking for entertainment, world-renowned casinos and luxury restaurants. However, one of these hotels offers a better eco-friendly experience than the rest. The Las Vegas Palazzo Hotel and Resort was awarded the most eco-friendly hotel in America award because of its commitment to sustainable facilities and green practices. One way that the hotel changed its policy was by including water saving methods in its landscaping regimen. While the Palazzo is a big resort, some of its landscapes are made entirely of artificial turf grass, and all of the other areas are watered by drip irrigation systems that have moisture sensors. This prevents unnecessary watering throughout the day, and ultimately, the Palazzo has saved eight million gallons of water per year with these methods.

Homeowners can use the same techniques and a few others to conserve water. Drip irrigation systems are more commercial and affordable for home use. You can also collect gray water from laundry washer machines and showers to water gardens. Tankless water heaters are available that don’t require a tank of water to be stored at all times. There are also low flow toilets and shower heads that you can implement in the home to better conserve on water.

Natural lighting and heat sources are another way that people have been able to conserve energy. Solar panels are now built on roofs as shingles, which allow both businesses and homeowners to save on energy and even sell energy to local utility companies. Natural lighting in businesses is even more profitable. By installing skylights, high efficiency windows and sun-rooms, you can cut back on your need for fluorescent and incandescent lighting.

Homeowners are going beyond recycling and up cycling. Many people have found great value for their homes by building outdoor living areas like decks and porches. These are wonderful areas to have around the home that are naturally lit and don’t drain on resources needed for the home. Sun-rooms are also a great area to have in a house, particularly in the wintertime.

The innovation being done by businesses such as the various Las Vegas hotels as well as homeowners is extremely encouraging. It is important that this continues and is done throughout the globe.


This is a guest post by Sam Marquit, an independent ‘green’ contractor and co-author of Fair Marquit Value. You can follow him at http://fmarquitv.tumblr.com/

 

“I think I’ve lost my car’s registration papers.” she said. “I’ve been looking for it all over the place for the last couple of hours and can’t find it.”

“Stop stressing yourself out,” I said, “and stop looking for now. You’ll find it when you stop looking!”

It happens so often that we misplace or lose something and then go looking for it when we need it the most. More often than not, we tend to ignore the most obvious places where we might have to look. What is funny though is how when you find what you were looking for, it somehow always appears to make the entire search operation somewhat silly!

We definitely are in the process of losing something extremely important for the very basis of our existence. The rate at which forests are being wiped out trying to cater to the ever-rising demand from the lumber and mining industry, we will soon be looking for alternative solutions. In fact, there are a few amongst us who have been aware enough to start the search. The solution, like always, is all around us, waiting to be found!

Bamboo, the fastest growing plant (true grass) in the world can sometimes grow at the rate of 100 centimeters in 24 hours. Producing about 35% more oxygen than other trees and being a more effective binder of the soil preventing erosion. The possibilities for using bamboo in everything from creating household products to actually using it to build simple and complex structures are infinite. Bamboo naturally has greater tensile strength when compared to steel and can withstand compression better than concrete.

It would be wrong to say that we’ve been totally ignorant of the possibilities that this magnanimous plant provides. A few examples of organizations which are either involved in researching and exploiting these possibilities or have benefited from them are listed here. These should help get a better understanding of the advantages of Bamboo.

1) Green School, Bali, Indonesia

One of the most stunning examples of bamboo architecture, Green School is an institution that takes its stand of sustainability very seriously. The school doesn’t stop at being an example of sustainable building and existential practices; it goes a step further and is pioneering in sustainability within education.

Green School, Bali

Green School, Bali

Green School, Bali

Green School, Bali

Green School, Bali

Green School, Bali

2) Chiangmai Life Construction (CLC), Chiangmai, Thailand

CLC is one of the organizations at the forefront of research and construction using bamboo along with mud as the only media. The philosophy is to increase the quality of life of the client by using natural materials combined with modern, light and clean architecture. They specialize in adobe, wattle & daub and rammed earth walls, rammed earth floors, bamboo roofs, bamboo structures, bamboo pavilions. CLC designs and builds houses, schools as well as office and factory spaces.

The Panyaden School, entirely built from rammed earth walls and floors, adobe bricks, bamboo roofs and recycled hardwood, is one of the projects executed by CLC.

The Panyaden School, built by CLC

The Panyaden School, built by CLC

The Panyaden School

The Panyaden School

The Panyaden School

The Panyaden School

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3) Wonder Grass, Bangalore, India

Wonder Grass is an entrepreneurial initiative that strives to bring bamboo based building systems into the mainstream construction industry in India. Their primary work is in the realm of disaster rehabilitation, integrated rural housing, workers housing and rural infrastructure.

QuB bamboo cottage is a result of the research and construction techniques developed by the team at Wonder Grass.

Bamboo cottage by Wonder Grass

Bamboo cottage by Wonder Grass

Bamboo geodesic dome by Wonder Grass

Bamboo geodesic dome by Wonder Grass

Wonder Grass demo unit

Wonder Grass demo unit

4) Auroville Bamboo Center, Pondicherry, India

For the last six years, the Auroville Bamboo Center has been working with local youth and craftsmen from rural Tamil Nadu with the aim of bringing together traditional Indian craft with contemporary world culture. The goal is to be involved in unending research and development of Bamboo for the benefit of local and international communities.

The Verite community dwellings are a beautiful example of the work that is done by the team at Auroville Bamboo Center.

Entrance to the Auroville Bamboo Research Center

Entrance to the Auroville Bamboo Research Center

Store at Auroville Bamboo Research Center

Store at Auroville Bamboo Research Center

Bamboo roof structure prototype at Auroville Bamboo Research Center

Bamboo roof prototype at Auroville Bamboo Research Center

Bamboo housing at Verite, Auroville

Bamboo housing at Verite, Auroville

If you know of other interesting buildings or projects involving creative use of Bamboo as a base unit, do share it here.

Cafe Noir is an upmarket contemporary French restaurant located in the Brigade Orion Mall in Bangalore. The design for the restaurant was carefully detailed with the intention of recreating romanticism from the streets of Paris.

With its heartfelt hospitality and the quality of its traditional cuisine – bread and pastries, Café Noir sets you in a typical bistro ambiance that characterizes every great French city. Here, the duck confit competes with the veggie burgers; the Caesar salad accompanies the fish soup and the homemade sandwiches. The design of the restaurant adds to the dining experience that only Café Noir guarantees.

*All photographs are co-owned by Vijay Nambiar Design and Cafe Noir Restaurants India Pvt. Ltd.

In earlier posts, I have focussed on design solutions that involved recycling and reusing building materials and other products of day-to-day use. These solutions involve the use of materials and products with a limited life cycle and a lot of them would sooner or later end up in landfills and the problem of sustainability would resurface. Reusing or upcycling products primarily ensures an extension of the shelf life, in other words, we would just postpone the inevitable!

In striking contrast, using natural materials already available in abundance in their basic form presents itself as a more intelligent solution to our environment-related woes. Since time immemorial, we’ve used nature in its purest form for most of our needs. Curved branches formed bows, two stones made a fire, vines formed rope to build huts with thatch roofs.

WE WERE MOST DEFINITELY INTELLIGENT.

Even if I take references from closer home and from not so distant a past, in India, till about a little more than a decade back, our milk didn’t reach us in packets or ‘recycled/recyclable’ paper boxes, cola wasn’t available in pet bottles, power hogging machines did not dry clothes and more importantly we never needed to get anywhere fast enough to use fancy looking gas guzzling transport.

WE STILL HAD INTELLIGENCE.

And then the world got smaller, we became citizens of the world. We forgot about how solutions that work in Arizona wouldn’t necessarily work in Bangalore or that homes built in Delhi had to look different from the ones in Budapest. We have now flattened the many dimensions that formed our beautiful planet.

WE THINK WE ARE THE MOST INTELLIGENT!

But we’re not…
In my opinion, the only way to go and saving ourselves from catastrophe would be to get smart and maybe unlearn a bit. Lessons are there to be learnt from the world around us. Lessons from the mistakes that we’ve made and continue making. This post features five creations that involve making use of the resources nature provides and using them in their unprocessed forms. These are intelligent solutions, solutions we can’t ignore any more…

Straw Stool’

Designers: Gina Hsu and Nagaaki Shaw from DHH Studio, Taiwan
Materials: Rice, Grain, Straw, Coir, Epoxy Resin


‘Bent Reed’

Designer: Taylor Mckenzie-Veal
Materials: Reed


‘Kagome’

Designers: PPAG & Simon Oberhammer + Stefanie Mayer
Materials: Willow saplings, Raffia of wood, Humus


‘Loofah Products’

Designer: Fernando Laposse
Materials: Loofah, Wood, Clay, Steel

‘Urushi Lacquer Bench + Stool’

Designer: Max Lamb
Materials: Cleft Chestnut, Urushi Lacquer

          
It’s time we became INTELLIGENT!

Credits: The solutions listed here were sourced from http://www.designboom.com/ 

 

Space dividers play multi-functional roles in an office space. Other than creating spaces within spaces, they act as acoustic insulators, vertical storage units, signage holders or even message boards. Every office design brief today specifies the need to incorporate cabins, meeting rooms and conferences as an integral aspect of the space planning and in most cases, interior designers and architects end up specifying toughened glass, gyp-board or MDF partitions in their design specifications for partitions. The benefits of using these materials are pretty obvious but also extremely over-rated.

The impact that glass and particle board production has on the environment has been widely documented and conveniently ignored. From the mining of sand for the glass industry to the release of potentially lethal gases and VOCs during the production process of glass and particle board, every step is a step towards an unsustainable tomorrow. A rather direct and simple way to tackle these issues would be to simply reuse and recycle these materials. It might not be easy or even practical to completely do away with the standard materials like glass and particle board, but would it do us harm though to think outside the box and look at the many eco-friendly and brilliantly creative solutions that are already available today for the modern office space. Not only are the solutions highlighted in this post simple, recycled, recyclable, they add a lot of character and design value to the spaces they are installed within.

‘Fort’ Acoustic Partition System

Designed by Arihiro Miyake, the individual modules of this acoustic partition system are formed of recycled PET bottle fibre. The assembly of modules is facilitated by integrated high-performance magnets which allow easy modification and unlimited extensibility to this system.

Recycled Water Bottle Partition by Klein Dytham 

Tokyo-based practice Klein Dytham Architecture has recycled used water bottles to create partitions for the office of Danone Waters.

‘Nomad’ system by MIO

Made from recycled, double-wall cardboard, Nomad is a modular architectural system that can be assembled into freestanding, temporary partitions without hardware, tools or damage to existing structures. The modules can be arranged into open or closed configurations creating private environments or light and airy room dividers. The Nomad System can also be configured to create doorways and corners, easily adjusting to any indoor space.

‘Ditto’ by 3Form

Individual cross-shaped pieces combine to create a three-dimensional partition, wall feature or even an art piece. Ditto allows for high design customisation with the low impact of 40% pre-consumer recycled content.  Ecoresin, the 3Form product that is used to make the pieces that form Ditto, is a non-toxic and sustainable material.

‘Tikibaq’ by Bleu Nature

Marketed as an outdoor screen for decks and patios, Tikibaq from Bleu Nature can become a beautiful screen for office spaces. Formed from driftwood and lacquered stainless steel, Tikibaq acts as an interesting space divider.

Barrisol sheets

Providing a variety of solutions for partitions and ceilings, the Barrisol sheet is formed from a co-polymer material which is guaranteed to be lead-free and 100% recyclable. Barrisol takes back old Barrisol sheets after years of use for recycling.

Having lived in your home for a few years now, do you now feel that you need to do something to make it feel new and invigorating again? Do you feel that one bright painting on that wall might lift the gloom from your living room or that a fresh coat of polish might make that dining table breathe life into those dinner parties that you host so often? Being an interior designer, I am constantly asked by friends and family for ideas to make their lived-in homes, warmer and may be a tad bit more alive.

Here are some unique and creative solutions that may help you if you face the same conundrum every time you sit back on your favourite couch after a long day at work. All you need to do is get up and make a start, the world is full of inspiration!

WALLS AND PARTITIONS

The first thing that you think of when you want to make your home look new is paints. Coating the walls with a fresh coat of paint has always been our answer. How about stripping the plaster off the walls and going for a rustic exposed brick look? Or maybe get someone to paint caricatures on the wall. Creating a wallpaper with old newspapers could do wonders too! You could also get creative and create partitions or screens by recycling materials like old beer bottles.

Exposed brick wall with old photo frames

Walls with caricature sketches

Newspapers used as wallpaper

Discarded beer bottle partition

CEILING AND LIGHT

Lights play an important role in changing the aesthetic appeal of a space. It is true that the light is more important than the lamp itself but it would do no harm to have a lamp or lamp shade that in itself could become the pièce de résistance. Lamps could be created from discarded tubelights, bulbs, milk cans, etc. Moreover, the day and age of white gypboard false ceilings is long gone. If you look around with a creative eye, something like discarded pet bottles could become interesting ceiling elements.

Pendant lamp created with discarded fluorescent tubes

Cambell’s soup cans reused as suspended lamp shades

Pet bottles with coloured liquid used as ceiling element

Another view of the ceiling element created with pet bottles

FLOORING AND RUGS

It is not always necessary that making a change or improvement to the existing tiled flooring in your home will cost you a lot of money. There are many ways of doing these improvements at a reasonable cost and a lot of these are Eco-friendly solutions which involve recycling or reusing materials that would generally be discarded. Using reclaimed wood planks for wood flooring is a great idea as reclaimed wood has its own patina and adds a lot of warmth to a space. You could even use a bit of paint and use your creativity to add value to the wood by painting motifs onto the floor. Using old carpet tiles of different colours and patterns to create an area rug could be another way of sprucing things up. Similar rugs could also be made with pieces of discarded fabric woven together.

Wooden flooring with reclaimed wood planks

Reclaimed wood flooring with motifs painted onto it

Area rug for dining table created with a combination of bright carpet tiles

FURNITURE AND ACCESSORIES

Reusing or recycling materials or products to create interesting pieces of furniture has limitless possibilities. Old chairs reupholstered with pieces of discarded fabrics, coffee tables made using waste or reclaimed wood, dining chairs created from discarded street signs, the options are infinite. Accessories like photo frames or wall shelves created from reclaimed wood or display units created using old jewellery boxes could all add that zing to your home.

Contemporary urban furniture from recycled road signs by Boris Bally

Discarded skateboards make interesting stools. Designed by Jason Podleski for Deckstool

Chair made with old pipes

Irregular profiles of waste wood combine to form a beautiful coffee table

Antique or old wooden frames have a natural patina that gives them character

Old frames of different sizes and finished create an impact on a white wall

Pieces of old wood fixed to a metal bracket create an interesting wall display unit

PLANTS AND LANDSCAPE

Nothing could possibly breathe life into a space better than plants, literally. Adding plants to an interior space has now become easier than ever. Self-watering planters, recycled pots and similar products are readily available in the market today. Information about the kind of plants that grow in spaces without too much direct natural light and ways of keeping indoor plants from withering are easily accessible on the internet. Having an indoor organic herb garden in your kitchen is now the first step to a healthier lifestyle. Plants in unique and interesting planters or pots have now become the center pieces in homes today.

Inverted planters by Boskke create an interesting kitchen herb garden

Cacti and other plants in interesting wall-hung planters

Moss terrarium in old wine bottle from Uncommon Goods

Inverted planters by Boskke form an interesting suspended landscape

Having had travelled to many destinations across India in the past, the craving in me to find a unique and exciting travel experience had been higher than ever before. The first time I heard about the ‘Off the Grid’ Exploratory trip, I had an inkling that this was going to be all I had wanted and more. It wasn’t too often that one gets to visit a quaint little farm nestled within the forests to participate in a workshop that focussed on introducing hardened city folks to the nuances of building cob structures. In simple words, this trip promised to be muddy, wild and exciting!

It would not be possible to start talking about the trip without talking about our fabulous hosts and the one man who made all the hard work seem so easy.

John Pollard, our host, happened to chance upon beautiful five and half acres of land within the Western Ghats in the quiet little town of Castle Rock in Uttara Kannada. The site, a ten kilometre scenic drive from the Castle Rock railway station, has everything that one might need to call a place ‘heaven’. Blessed with beautiful densely forested hills around it and a perennial stream that also creates a stunning waterfall within the farm, John and his wife Sylvia, a very talented potter, have patiently over the years made this a sustainable ‘off the grid’ home for their two children and themselves.

The accommodation available at the farm consists of two roof top rooms with almost panoramic views of the surrounding greenery, two simple tents with wooden decks looking over the stream that flows adjacent to the farm and two spacious tepees with a small sit-out at the entrance of each. Even during the summers, these options remain very comfortable and the need for fans is hardly noticed.  The small water tank outside the hosts’ house allows visitors to cool off during the afternoons to beat the summer heat. The tank, the opening dining area, the wood-fire oven, the barbecue and the spot where campfires are lit on cool starry nights are all located close by and help create the most beautiful and fun-filled evenings spent listening to the many stories that John and his guests love to share.

John and Sylvia’s beautiful home with the Western Ghats and the beautiful majestic Mango tree forming a stunning backdrop

Tents with wooden decks projecting over the stream and open-to-sky bathrooms

One of the tepees that we stayed in and these also came with open-to-sky bathrooms

Water from the stream kept the tank full and the water clean

Solar powered lights that were used at the farm being recharged

The group of fifteen who were put together by Santosh from Getoffurass got a chance to interact during the overnight train journey from Krishnarajapuram to Castle Rock railway station. The anticipation of this being a great trip was only increased by the fact that the group consisted of a few techies, a photographer, an interior designer, a graphic designer, an artist/educator and last but not the least, our mentor for the workshop, Jackson Porretta, an expert at bamboo and mud structures. Jackson, also known as Mudjack, has been actively involved with rainwater catchment systems, grey-water recycling, micro-intensive gardening, organic design and natural building.

On reaching the Castle Rock railway station, we found our welcoming hosts John and Sylvia waiting for us with their SUVs. After managing to pack ourselves and our bags into the two vehicles, we were off on our short but beautiful drive to the farm. What was unique about this drive was that after having driven a couple of kilometres away from the station, there was hardly any suggestion of inhabitation all along the route. John later told us that this was a very sparsely populated region and the farm was part of a village that was formed by only 3 houses. Being away from the normal barrage of societal interaction that one gets used to in a city was in some senses a very special experience.

Once at the farm, we took a little time to absorb the freshness and tranquillity that the place had to offer. We set our bags in the allocated accommodation and gathered near the dining area where John briefed us about the farm and all that we would need to be comfortable during our stay.  The short informal Q&A session that happened next allowed us to know Jackson better and also understand what this workshop would be all about. We would be building a cob bench, a cob chulha (stove) and a sweat lodge during our stay at the farm. Jackson would guide us through the cob building parts of the workshop and John would lead the sweat lodge building exercise.

Project 1 – The Cob Bench:

The workshop began with the digging and sifting of mud that had been excavated and dumped by John close to where we wanted to build the bench. We needed soil that consisted of slightly grainy mix of sand and silt particles. After having collected the necessary amount, Jackson displayed how by doing a few simple tests, we could check if the collected soil had the right proportions of silt and sand. Simultaneously with this, the area where the bench would be positioned was roughened up with a shovel and then stones of approximately 9” to 12” diameter were placed to form the foundation. The next step was to mix the soil and straw with water on a tarp laid on the floor to create the cob that would be applied over the stone foundation of the bench. This is known as the ‘stir and tread’ process which involves mixing the soil, straw and water by stomping on it with bare foot and then pulling the sides of the tarp to turn the mix over into itself. Repeating this process a few times for every batch gave us batches of uniform homogenous cob of the right consistency.  Once the cob was ready, balls made from this were placed over the foundation and pressed with the hands to help fill the gaps in the stone foundation bed. The pressure applied with the digits also created an undulated top surface which allowed for the layers to mesh well with each other. The layers were added till the height of the seat was around 15”. This had to be left to dry for a week or two before the final finish of smooth mud plaster could be applied and hence it was decided that John would finish this part of the exercise later. The work on the bench was spread out over our three-day stay at the farm and the result was most satisfying. It was great to know that we could actually sit on the cob bench that we had created for our final group photograph that was taken just before we left the farm.

Sifting the soil used to make the cob

Foundation of rocks for the cob bench

The bench taking form and ready to take the first coat of cob plaster

Cob bench backrest detail with embedded wine bottles

Project 2 – The Cob Chulha/Stove:

The requirement for this project arose from the fact that cooking on a low stove while squatting was not easy and there was a need to build something that would allow people to stand and cook. The process of building the chulha was similar to the cob bench, the difference being that the foundation was made of bricks and not rocks. The design allowed for two burners which could be used simultaneously.

Mudjack and the team working on the cob chulha

Creating the base mud mortar to hold the foundation bricks for the chulha

The cob chulha almost ready to take the coats of mud plaster

Project 3 – The Sweat Lodge:

As a location to build the traditional Indian sweat lodge prototype, John had identified a clear piece of land in the small dried piece of paddy field next to the house and close to the water tank. The idea was to use thin but strong and pliable branches of trees to form the segments of the base structure of the dome that would be the sweat lodge. The frame structure would then be covered with blankets, sleeping bags, etc. to insulate the structure and to allow for a breathing structure that would hold steam inside. The important thing here was to use materials that would not suffocate people inside the structure when it was in use.

After clearing the area, we marked the profile for the sweat lodge which would be about 16 feet in diameter. A small 6 inch deep trough of about 2 feet diameter was dug in the centre. This would hold the hot stones that would help create the required steam to make the sweat house work. A channel was made that would allow us to drag the smouldering stones from outside to the centre of the structure. After having marked nodes at 3 feet on the perimeter of the circle, we dug 10 to 12 inch deep holes that would become the foundation that held the structural wood segments forming the dome. The broader end of the branch was then placed into the hole that had been dug and this was then filled with soil and small stones to create a foundation that it was firmly set into. This was done in two diagonally positioned nodes of the marked circle simultaneously. Once this was done, the narrower free ends of the branches were gently bent towards the centre and the overlapping ends were tied together. This created an 8 feet high arch the centre of which was right above the central trough that had been dug earlier. Repeating this process in progression resulted in a dome with the branches acting as the segments. The overlapping parts that were tied at the centre created a strong structure which John tested by hanging from it. We were now confident that if the structure could hold John’s weight, it could withstand everything that nature could possibly throw at it!

Finally, ready to cover up the exposed frame, John and Jackson used up all the available sheets, blankets and sleeping bags and the sweat lodge was finally ready for the smouldering stones to go in. The stones were laid in a pyre with wood logs beneath and above them to heat them uniformly. As the stones were getting heated, John created an amazingly ingenious basket to drag the stones into the structure without having to get too close to them. By the time we got the stones into the lodge, we were already sweating like crazy and couldn’t wait to reap the rewards of the hard work that was put in.

After a short ‘traditional tribal dance initiation ritual’ led by John, all the sceptics (to a certain extent, this included me) followed John and Jackson into the sweat lodge to take our places around the sacred red-hot stones. The steam that filled the structure once the lemongrass oil infused water was poured over the hot stones made everything worth it. It was for sure, one of the best experiences I’ve had. The feeling of relaxing in the cold water in the tank after having sweated inside the sweat lodge for almost 15 to 20 minutes and then repeating this a couple of times has to be felt to be understood. The drinks and the dinner with all the chatting that followed sitting under the beautiful night sky just made the day complete!

Working on the structure for the sweat lodge

John working on covering the structure of the sweat lodge

The almost ready cob bench and the fully functional sweat lodge

Another project that Sylvia guided was to bake some bread. The results of this project were devoured by everyone in a little more than 15 minutes the next morning at breakfast.

Having described the projects that we undertook over the 3 days of our stay at the farm, it seems like I might have projected the workshop as an ‘all work and no play’ episode, but that is far from the truth. The work in itself was a lot of fun which involved getting dirty in the mud and jumping around in slush. But what really made our stay very enjoyable was the fact that amidst all the fun we had doing the work, we managed to swim and have a great time in the waterfall that was close to where we were working. The short early morning trek through the forest surrounding the farm was as refreshing as the unending supply of coffee and tea that was available while we worked. The bread baking, awesome pizzas from the wood-fire oven, the raw mango pickle, the beautifully sweet ripe guavas that were straight from the tree and the time spent chatting after sundown discovering the pleasures of drinking Goan Urak with some great people for company only made the stay more wonderful.

The stunningly beautiful waterfall

Another picture of the waterfall

Crossing a stream while on the early morning trek through the forest

Guavas plucked straight from the trees at the farm

The team striking a pose with the cob bench and the sweat lodge

The one thing that comes to my mind as I end this post and think about the fabulous time spent at the Off-the-Grid farm is a quote by Mark Twain…

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

I’d like to specify here that this post is issued in absolute selfish interest but not in any specific individual’s selfish interest! Once you have read through this, it will be clear that this is in the selfish interest of each one of us who takes pride in the home we live in.

We are a country where, every time a festival approaches, the first step to prepping up is to clean up the house that we live in and make it look as festive and bright as it possibly could. Walls painted, shelves dusted and floors polished to be squeaky clean. It is quite a stunning sight to see freshly painted homes lit up in colourful bright lights for Diwali!

What is shocking though is the apathy we have for the larger home that we live in. The street, the block or even the city we live in is in every sense our home too. We don’t seem to care too much about how the walls of this home are! We do look away or cover our noses whenever we see a filthy street corner where men have traditionally peed on posters of movie stars posing seductively or on posters of politicians wearing the most artificial smiles begging for votes. The fact that we seem to forget is that a problem does not disappear if you choose to ignore its existence! The need is to tackle the problem and the need is of great urgency. It is important to identify the problem and understand the causes.

  • Dimly lit and badly maintained street corners.
  • The tendency of the male species to mark territories wherever and whenever possible.
  • Rampant vandalism of public (our) property by people trying to sell products, services, entertainment or themselves.
  • Lack of a practical functioning maintenance system and the infrastructure to maintain the system itself.
  • Etc. etc. etc.
Typical example of a filthy pavement. This was ‘fixed’ later by the group ‘The Ugly Indians’.
Photo courtesy: The Ugly Indian facebook page 
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Column covered with posters of politicians.
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A private parking space is being washed right next to a space that has been ‘demarcated’ as a public dump where garbage gets collected. An example of our apathy!
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If you thought these were the causes that I had listed out, you were wrong. These are the elements that take advantage of the real cause and yes, these are all in a weird sense thriving in a brilliant symbiotic manner. Let me explain this in one simple statement. If there were no street corners that were not properly maintained, there would be no filthy walls and spaces where vandalism was rampant and that would deter the male species from being extremely territorial in the most shameless manner. The cause here for everything that makes us walk quicker and look away is our own apathy. The fact that we have lost all sense of civic responsibility and would rather look away if we could when we see the state of affairs is the root cause of this growing evil.

Haven’t we all, at some point or the other, taken a stand in an argument where a visitor from a foreign country (who sometimes maybe of Indian origin) has complained about the stench and filth that is exhibited in our public spaces. By talking about an issue which I think is a national shame, I don’t in any way imply that we as Indians should take any less pride in all the greatness that can be attributed to our nation, our home. The attempt here is to make my home even more beautiful than it already is. An attempt to paint the walls, polish the floors and dust the shelves!

About a year or so back, I chanced upon a group of anonymous individuals on Facebook who call themselves the Ugly Indians. After going through the page and seeing the work that this rapidly growing group of completely unrelated individuals made me wake up to the reality that it was time to act. A lot had be said, very little had been done. And yeah, it was wrong to call them unrelated, they did have one thing in common, they refused to look away. The first step of understanding what this group was all about was to accept that we were all Ugly Indians and there was a need to get rid of the ugliness. This group in the last 18 months or so has managed to cause a mini-revolution and has managed to raise awareness about the issue that is being discussed here. It is not surprising that this movement has been lauded by everyone who has come across this group on Facebook and they’ve even been reported on by national and international print media and even BBC radio. The point here is that, the Ugly Indians who take pride in their anonymity and have used it as a tool in their exploits, have shown us the way and it is now our responsibility to take it further.

The before and after photos clearly show the impact that the Ugly Indians have on a public space. For more such examples, visit the facebook page of this group or visit http://theuglyindian.com/

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I am sure that there would be many such groups or individuals who at some level have been aware and have done their bit to make their homes look and feel better. But we are a nation of more than a billion people and even if a small percentage of that population woke up to this, we would have a better case to argue next time someone spoke lowly about this beautiful home of ours.

The need for a city, and its dwellers, to be compelled to accept the dynamic design sensibilities that the world had adopted in order to enhance the sensory experience of shopping, is most obvious in the city of Bangalore.

I was more than eager to begin working on the design of a high-end fashion store in Bangalore when the offer to collaborate on the same was put forward by architect Fabian Ostner. The chance of working with Fabian, a perfectionist at detailing, was an opportunity that I could not have refused. The challenge of designing an experience, that would not only stun the perceived notion of a high-end fashion store, but would also draw the attention of one and all, was an appealing incentive offered to us when we first met the client. It only helped to have a client who had an extremely refined perception of fashion and all that it encompassed.

The fact that the store would be retailing international fashion labels like Nina Ricci, John Galliano, Christian Lacroix, Helmut Lang and others, was an overwhelming driving force behind the need to create a unique shopping experience for the customer. Research on various emerging design trends and ideologies and deliberations with the clients on their aspirations for the brand, helped us reach a point where it became inevitable to design the store using experiential design as a tool. The site being located on Lavelle Road, the idea was to create a space that would stand-out in the already brimming world of retail with other high-end stores positioned in the immediate context. Allowing a large amount of flexibility in the visual merchandise design and permitting various permutations and combinations for display became another important aspect guiding the design of the store.

The existing structure and the almost disturbingly sorry state of its insides became central to the design concept.  The unfinished almost dilapidated shell was retained and in some aspects the condition was exaggerated to ensure that the shell though rustic in its appeal, played only a secondary but irreplaceable role in highlighting the merchandise. The plaster was chipped off the walls and the steel used for the staircase and display props was corroded to create this base canvas for the product display. Tiles mimicking the rawness of cement were used for the floor to add to this feel. The space was now ready to accept the ‘crisp’ burgundy panel insert, which would generate a noticeably loud visual buzz. The dynamic panel, beginning on the outside, bends and folds while moving through the store allowing the store to make use of its body, before forcing its way out through the façade glass. The lighting and the display props have been designed and used in a manner that allowed them to be viewed as designed objects without overwhelming the underlying purpose of being functional elements.

The ‘crisp’ burgundy panel, in many senses, would embody the experience, the journey that was envisaged for a visitor to the store. The visitor would enter the store with preconceived beliefs and during his time at the store, his notions and perception would be treated to an unknown, shocking, yet pleasantly exciting world that would let him leave with a renewed, progressive and invigorated understanding of the possibilities that the world of retail could provide today.

‘Crisp’, like the fashion brands that it is related with, was created to be a leader in stimulating and challenging the sensibilities of the most discerning fashion connoisseurs in Bangalore.

Photographs of the completed store.

All photographs are co-owned by Vijay Nambiar Design and Fabian Ostner Architecture Pvt. Ltd.

Photo Credits: Seemal Karthik and Karthik Chandrasekariah

I remember, my first visit to Auroville many years back, like it was yesterday. A friend who was working at an architect’s studio there invited me and that was the beginning of a long and fascinating love affair with this beautiful place. I was overwhelmed by the cordial smiles and the very affable nature of most of the people I met there. But what amazed me the most was how the early settlers had worked on a dream to transform what was once a barren and dry stretch of land into an oasis of green. Sustainability and eco sensitivity were the key words all through those years and even today. Over the past 44 years, Auroville has now grown into this green forested expanse with over a hundred settlements nestled amidst this landscape.

The Banyan Tree, the center of Auroville, 40 years back.

The Banyan Tree, the center of Auroville, with Matri Mandir behind it, today.

On the 28th of December this year, Cyclone Thane, with wind speeds of 85 mph and tidal surges of about 1.5 mts, hit the east coast of south India. Auroville was right in the path of the cyclone and had to bear the full brunt of the winds. I reached there on the night of the 30th of January and even on my way from Chennai, I could see the dark silhouettes of fallen trees all along the east coast road. It seemed a lot worse than I had expected. But then it was dark, I could hardly see anything much through the tinted glass window of the bus and the drizzling didn’t help either. In Auroville, the night seemed to make everything calm and peaceful, like before. Standing on the terrace with the gentle breeze for company and listening to the sound of the waves, I somehow felt a sense of relief assuming that the cyclone hadn’t changed things too much there.

The next morning though was different, very different. I decided on taking a long walk, a walk down memory lane, it had been more than 4 months since my last visit. As I walked through those places which had been so familiar to me for years now, I couldn’t help but feel this enormous sense of pain and grief. The place had changed. The trees which had made everything else seem more beautiful were now lying dead against the land. They had been uprooted or had been bent and disfigured after being hit by the winds. The ones that stood tall seemed to be depressingly lonely with most of the others around them having fallen. Later on in the day, an Aurovillian I met at a café told me that almost 40% of the trees had been hit.  All through the day, I started looking for signs of this devastation wherever I went. Houses which had no roofs, fallen trees, lots of chopped timber lying in huge piles everywhere, shut shops and sudden empty looking patches of land.

The devastation the Cyclone Thane caused in Auroville.

Piles of chopped wood from uprooted trees…

But as always, Auroville didn’t fail to surprise me this time too. Nobody there was really discussing the cyclone and its aftermath. People seemed to have understood that the only way out was to stop cribbing and move on. It was quite evident that the work to restore Auroville had begun and that it was being done quietly and efficiently. Everyone knew that it would be a long process and there was a lot of work involved but then Auroville always believed in working together towards a larger goal. Over the next 3 days, the cheerful faces ensured that the signs of devastation became blurred backgrounds to all that was beautiful there. The fallen trees suddenly became like huge canvases which fostered and brought to life paintings full of beautiful flowers and young saplings in bright shades of green. People working on new and better housing or even repairing their houses seemed to be brimming with energy that was not seen before. It for sure was going to be a long and arduous road and there might be many setbacks on the way, but then what other option did they have? The enthusiasm of the people there and there stunningly positive outlook immediately after such a crippling natural disaster made me believe that optimism and faith would never let us down.

I spent three days working there out of an office in a community named Progress and to say the least, it was a beautiful and phenomenally productive experience. Eating a basic Indian meal for lunch at Indus Valley was more fulfilling than the food that I have eaten at some fancy restaurants in Bangalore. Playing basketball with a ten year old boy on the dusty uneven half-court at Certitude, one of the worst-hit communities in Auroville, on a hot Tuesday afternoon was most definitely more enjoyable than the games I’ve played in some of the air conditioned indoor courts across the country. Chatting with people there and seeing them look at the future with so much hope was better than going to some of the best clubs and spending time with people who were trying to drown their struggles with alcohol only to wake up the next day with bad hangovers.

An architect’s studio in Auroville.

The bright green of the bamboo leaves against the clear blue sky.

After my stay in Auroville, I am now pretty sure that I too would want to struggle all my life but not to earn loads of money or to fit into a system which only demanded more every time. The struggle I want to be in would be the attempt to stay away from the demanding and eternally dissatisfied parts of the machine that we call society! The struggle, for me, began a couple of years back but conviction and belief may have come only now. This might be like a never-ending road trip and may not even make sense to everyone around me, but to me, it will be a wild ride on the highway of life going towards a destination called joy. My glass is half full and it will remain that way. As American author Ursula K. LeGuin so wisely quoted,

“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

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