Over the last few years, architects have begun to reflect on their praxis and share insights on the nature of projects. These publications are essential in the context of a rapidly transforming social and economic context. The impact of the industrial revolution over the last two centuries has also begun to have an adverse influence on the environment, as experience natural calamities such as floods, heavy rains and pollution. It calls for a renewed ecological consciousness, among architects, designers and patrons to explore a more holistic approach to design and construction.
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Biome Diaries is a set of three publications about the people, projects, and processes at Biome Environmental Solutions (formerly Chitra Vishwanath Architects) that have consistently pursued an integrated exploration of an ecological consciousness in the design and building of human habitat. The set consists of three hardbound diaries of A5 size, namely “Then”, “Now” and “Emergence”.
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The anthology of essays, recording the last three decades of practice of this Bengaluru firm, documents a diverse set of typologies, indicating the timeframes. The projects weren’t limited to architecture, but extended to significant issues in addressing water ecologies and energy management as well.
It is of particular interest that the anthology strives to record design processes to understand approaches to ecological design, in a narrative form, that is communicable and complemented with illustrations. These approaches narrate the team’s varied experiences, through their initiatives, insights and achievements.
The diaries have a plurality of voices, with different authors writing about their experiences and perception of design. The text is richly complemented with drawings, photographs, sketches, poetry and diagrams. The voices range from architects, patrons, a contractor and several others engaged with the built environment. The contributing architects are RJ Vasavada, Rahul Mehrotra, Gautam Bhatia, Khushru Irani, Soumitro Ghosh, Falguni Desai, Vivek Muthuramalingam, Vidushi Gupta.
And construction methods are illustrated through comics rather than construction drawings alone. These drawings and comics are done by in-office talents.
The dialogue on ecological approaches to architecture, at the moment, is incomplete and hence there is a need for references, with a sense of urgency. The diaries are a reflection of multi-disciplinary processes that are anchored in pragmatic, well-informed decisions. The city of Bengaluru, is the context of the practice.
The projects and initiatives of Biome, thus responding to the crises that the city has faced. However, the striving was to think afresh of an architecture that shapes ecosystems within an urban context. Biome’s work consists of several homes, of different character and many scales. It was the homes designed on tight budgets on small sites that became the sites to explore ecological architecture and then extend those ideas to larger sites.
The editorial team consists of Chitra Vishwanath, Sharath Nayak, Anurag Tamhankar and Ishita Shah. As the editorial note suggests, “the journey of mainstreaming ecological practices in architecture and alternative ways has been constantly supported by artistic collaborations, legal expertise, community-bases engagements and systematization of the design practice.
The first diary in the series titled “NOW” highlights key approaches to sensitive design, critical research in construction practices and recent projects. Mehrotra identifies the emergence of Biome, with the transformation of Bengaluru, from a small town to the frenetic metropolis it is today. By building in urban peripheries, Biome had to confront the rural hinterlands, which shaped its ecological approach to architecture. In such a context of the Indian city, the contributions of Biome are significant. The illustrated essay by Sidharth Achaya discusses the role of design thinking.
Water conservation expert Vishwanath Srikantaiah describes “biomes” as distinct biological communities that are formed in response to a shared physical climate. “Is it important for architecture to respond to a biome?” In a context where society today is confronted largely by social and environmental challenges, responding positively to biomes could address many of the ills of urbanisation.
The second diary titled “THEN” reminisces the past and the beginnings of Biome’s, when Bengaluru was a relatively small town. Vishwanath shares experiences that recap the initial intentions and imagination of the first decade. Some of the essays refer to what is lost in the transformation of the city and the new challenges to design ecologically in a fast-growing city. Essays on the practices of conserving groundwater, recycling waste water and conserving energy complements the pursuit of an ecological approach to design.
The third diary titled “EMERGENT” addresses the uncertainties of the future with an emphasis on thinking collectively. The discussions on new forms of ecological construction practices and recycling kitchen waste attempt to chart alternative ways to address future challenges. The essays delve into architects’ social responsibility and community’s aspirations.
Vasavada’s essay examines the practices of salvaging old building materials as a testimony, and of eco-sustenance. It highlights the over-exploitation of natural materials (sand, timber, stone) and suggests rediscovering the wisdom of salvaging and optimizing our built environment to resonate with traditional building practices. Irani recalls visiting some of the homes Vishwanath and Biome designed and observing the authenticity of Chitra and Vishwanath’s own home to embody an ecological living. It’s in this context that Biome Diaries is of relevance to university students, architects, and those interested in the built environment.
(Durganand Balsavar is principal-founding architect, Artes-Roots Human Settlements Research Collaborative, Chennai)