Nestled in the heart of Maharashtra, 100 km north of Mumbai, is a model farm community and retreat centre named Govardhan Eco Village. Managed by ISKCON society, every part of the site boasts its principle ‘Simple Living & High Thinking.’ The arena is a replica of the spiritual triangle of Vrindavan, Barsana, and Mathura. The Ecovillage is like an interpretation centre where one finds everything ranging from temples to forests existing in the area. It is an attempt to recreate the spaces and bring that spiritual experience closer to people. It is a place where one can connect oneself with organic and sustainable living.
Established with the purpose of farming and rural development, the Ecovillage today has a wellness and retreat centre, waste management system, cottages, Yoga hall, swimming pool, Gaushala, Research facility, workshops, seminar rooms, and many other facilities.
With time, the place established its image of a retreat and wellness centre and started preaching education. In a period, the Ecovillage gained popularity among the public, leading to a rise in footfall. The centre did not have any accommodation facility during the start. Thus, the management decided to extend its services and develop residential as well as other facilities. The concern of the management was the probable impact of the upcoming infrastructure and its construction.
Here is, when the approach of Ar. Chitra Vishwanath of the sustainable building stood firmly and gave an image to the Eco Village as ‘evolved’.
As an architect, Ar Chitra Vishwanath is known for giving utmost importance to the ecology of the site and the use of eco-friendly materials. Her general approaches are to keep the negative impact of the structure on the environment zero, conserve water and energy, and the concept of reusing the waste. Rammed earth, Reusing scraps of any form, filler slabs, passive heating and cooling strategies, rainwater harvesting, waste treatment, and turning the spaces green are a few fragments of her philosophy.
Analyzing the site and its needs is the first step towards any project by the firm. Stabilized mud blocks form a significant part of her projects which are created on-site.
Design concern and Planning of the Eco Village
The functioning of the Eco Village depends on the availability of groundwater, which was a radical concern while planning the space. A hydro-geological study was carried out that helped to acknowledge the water-retaining and recharge structures, services, and roads. All the areas are zoned based on the natural drainage of the site. The buildings have been skirted around the valleys to allow a clear passage to water, while the lower areas have been implemented towards the growth and cultivation of flora.
The hills surrounding the Eco village act as an advantage to the site, leading all the rainwater to the large excavated pond, therefore, accumulating the water coming down through the hills.
The buildings have been allocated higher contours to take up the shape and receive better air. Large semi-covered spaces provide ample ventilation and light to the inner corners along with areas to spend daytime. These spaces also connect the indoors with nature standing outdoors. The sustainability of the Eco Village is based on four primary aspects of the firm Biome Environmental Solutions, run by Ar Chitra Vishwanath and team, which are Natural building, Sewage treatment, Organic farming, and Alternative energy sources.
The construction phase extended for a period of eight dry months. Building techniques like rammed earth walls, stabilized mud block walls, and pre-cast roofing elements have been used in the construction together with timber, bamboo, and Mangalore tiles as construction materials. The structures are load-bearing, deploying arches as support elements. The ceiling height of the floors is kept higher and balanced by the arches given at a comparatively lower height. Space thus created acts as a buffer zone and maintains the thermal comfort inside the built mass. The Mangalore tiled double roofing provides better insulation due to the presence of an insulation cavity.
Before starting the overall construction, the Eco Village management was given a trial of rammed earth construction to gain their trust in the technique and material usage. The Yoga Hall is constructed as a large circular semi-covered pavilion covered with a thatched roof. With nature all around and the serenity of the materials, the premise renders a positive vibe to the person dwelling in.
Well equipped with water and waste management skills, Ar Chitra Vishwanath introduced the concept of Soil Biotechnology in the project that has initially been developed by IIT, Mumbai. The technique is used to filter the greywater being excreted from various parts of the site. The cow dung coming out from Goshala is utilized in organic farming, and a large part of it is used for biogas generation. Hence, it functions as a cycle from generation to use and then regeneration.
Making a building sustainable brings out its potential to function independently using and recreating energies. ‘Simple Living and High thinking’ is the concept of the Ecovillage as well as the working of Ar Chitra Vishwanath. Similar philosophies of the two gave an outcome that today stands as one of the biggest sustainable projects. The project has won many awards ranging from the category of sustainable building to water conservation and organic farming.
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Chakravorty, S. (2012). Govardhan Eco Village. Indian Architect & Builder, Volume (Issue), 40. https://image.isu.pub/120913100727-c60ef59345ca40db8eee6daf2fdb3b17/jpg/page_13.jpg. [Accessed: 3 July 2021].
Biome-solutions.com. n.d. projects « biome. [online] Available at: <https://www.biome-solutions.com/project/> [Accessed 30 June 2021].