Interview with Architect Chitra Vishwanath of Biome Solutions

Tete-A-Tete with Experts Dated:  Sept. 28, 2015
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Ar. Chitra Vishwanath

Chitra Vishwanath is one of the most-talked about architects in the country, yet pretty simple and more casual to have a dialogue with. She is an inspiration for architects who start out with Sustainable and eco-friendly designs, but opt out due to commercial and monetary pressures. Money is a concern in today's world, but to save the earth could be considered more important! 

Please tell us a bit about yourself as a person and what led to the idea of Biome.

I am a very nice person..:):)....

"Biome" the name was my husband Vishwanath's idea. Biome as an ecological practice started way back in 1990 in the name of "ChitraVishwanath" architects (for want of any creative idea to name the practice as such which on hindsight was a good thing- imagine being called CV Architects--very boring!).

In 2000, Vishwanath started "Rainwater Club" which still exists as an NGO. Rainwater Club worked on water and sanitation issues and it did not mostly work on any architectural projects by Chitra Vishwanath Architects but on projects handled by other architects and developers..

In 2008, Rainwater Club and Chitra Vishwanath architects came together and formed Biome. By 2008 Chitra Vishwanath Architects had established a name on design of ecologically sensitive architecture which integrated building with earth as well as intelligent water and sanitation solutions.

"Biome is defined as an - ecology of a place- and since we work on ecological designs we felt this was an apt name for the office.

Bedroom DesignMaster Bedroom - Hornbill House

Could you elaborate on the techniques used by your team in building design? 

The technique used in building design is just like what any architect is taught and trained to do. Discuss with the client, note the site and design according to the climate while keeping the costs incurred frugal.

You are very focused about eco-friendly design and even have a trust which works on projects to benefit the natural environment. So you are the right person to ask this question... We are a developing country and "Green homes" in cities are often more expensive. Can we really afford them?

Green homes are not more expensive. When they are, they are green washed and not truly green.

We prefer the term ecological than Green. Why ecological? It is a term which embraces both ecology and logic!

Our designs are contextual. We have grown as a practice in Bangalore.
Architecture requires resources to build with and resources to survive. In Bangalore, the materials used to build are granite stone and bricks. Granite stone walls are thicker and increasingly becoming difficult and further to source from . Bricks are made in abandoned agriculture fields and the process leaves the land completely fallow. The soil being sandy than clayey the bricks are not of very good quality so need to be plastered. All these-making, firing , transportation and plastering- adds to the ecological and carbon footprint.

The soil for earth buildings are sourced from below the foot of the owner-the space which would be a-biotic. A basement is created by giving soil for the home as well, at times, for another home nearby. This way the ecological and carbon footprint and embodied energy are minimized.

Bangalore gets its water from places 100 kms away from the city and lifts it up by 1/2 km. Whereever we do not get water supply from Cauvery, the owners dig borewells which have reached the depth of 300 meters now. This too is high in embodied energy and is not a resource which can be depended upon life long. Bangalore is truly placed to in terms of the rainfall. We incorporate rainwater harvesting along with greywater/blackwater treatment thereby minimizing waste flows and providing for water security.

Integrating renewable is not becoming a way of life in Bangalore and it is a plug in solution.
With all the systems incorporated the cost not more than conventional buildings, but surely the ecological cost is lower which should be the determinant.

Living AreaLiving Area - Hamsa's House

Land today is more expensive than anything else and often the only choice with most end users is to book flats in condominiums. In such a scenario, how does an end users ensure their homes enhance and not degrade the environment around?

The cost of the land is high due to the failure of planning process and corruption. Here in such a situation a community action would make more sense than only individual action. Community should; come together study their energy and water requirements and seek solutions wherein the solutions provided are long term economical and ecological. The Community should come together to study their energy and water requirements and seek solutions wherein the solutions provided are long term economical and ecological. The community should come together and seek solutions for its surroundings too so that it becomes an eco system than an island of prosperity which could be parasitic.

Given the fact that all cities in India, including the original garden city Bangalore are fast becoming concrete jungles, how do you think one can engage with citizen groups to ensure environmentally conscious decision making when building or buying homes?

We have been engaging with the city--check the

Tell us something about the activities of the Rainwater Club.

See it in the web

You are amongst a handful of architects in India today for whom ecologically sensitive architecture is the only way of life. Does the journey get lonely at times?

Not really, there are many Indian architects who are doing excellent works in this field. They are either media shy or have not been discovered by the popular media that is all.
It is not lonely for me personally since I am lucky to have a team which fosters the same sensibility and challenges one another.

Master BedroomMaster Bedroom Design - Hornbill House

Which has been your most trying project so far?

All projects are trying. Good stuff do not come easy. Guess our own home was the most trying.

Which of your projects did you enjoy the most?

Almost all. Architecture is a catharitic process.

When not at work, what does one find you doing?

Nothing much, a bit of many things - dominated by watching TV, gardening, reading and sleeping.

Words of wisdom for young architects?

One of the best professions to be in. Enjoy the process.

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