Highlighting one of the most ardent and influential ecological architects of our time, Chitra Vishwanath is a pioneer in this category. Her career as an architect reflects not only her physical surroundings and the vernacular culture that so obviously impacts her architectural solutions, but over time she has been able to propagate intelligent architectural systems that have made sustainability an inclusive component of her practice.
Her architectural philosophy revolves around considering sustainability as a social responsibility and showcasing that in her architectural feats. Her design approach involves the culmination of ecology, sound, and climate into the built form. This integration is further brought about using local materials, with the intent of giving back to nature through their usage. Overall, the design philosophy is all about embracing the vernacular element and integrating it with the concept of ‘green architecture’.
Exploring Vishwanath’s works
In the words of Soprano, ‘Good design is obvious, but great design is transparent’. This is what shines through the architectural feat of the Paper Workshop by this renowned architect. Located in Bengaluru, Karnataka, the design approach that has been used to formulate a formal workspace whilst keeping in mind the ecological aspect of the architect’s design ethos speaks volumes about ecological architecture and impregnating the architectural semantics with vernacularism. Chitra Vishwanath has been able to give an earthy and warm undertone, which is what the client’s requirement was, to what would have otherwise been a very harsh and regimented workspace.
The Paper Workshop is a prime example of how a canonized version of a workspace can be uplifted through an ecologically sensitive architectural response. This is exactly the grounding upon which the space has been designed. Keeping in mind the architect’s uncanny affiliation with nature, the Paper Workshop makes use of local materials such as brick, mud, and coconut leaves to mark the vernacular imprint and bring about a sense of belonging in the workspace for the employees so they can practice their traditional methodology of making paper in an otherwise quaint space.
Spatial layout and use of material
Categorically being a commercial space, the unique aspect of this built structure is the spatial layout and the materials that have been consciously used to bring about the design ethos being deeply rooted into nature. Highlighting the spatial configuration of the structure, Chitra Vishwanath has made use of semi-open verandas to maintain the hierarchy of spaces and utilize natural light and ventilation to ensure a comfortable indoor climate.
Moreover, the division of space between the staff accommodation units and the workshop allows for a free-flowing space to be established and reinforce the theme of fluidity and harmony that the architect has tried to bring about the architectural response that is so informed by nature. The structure is made of rudimentary and local materials such as brick and mud to highlight the vernacular aspect of the site and its surroundings.
All workspaces have been allocated sufficient natural light to ensure not only a well-lit space but also give the workers a sense of calm. The usage of brick and granite also signifies showing the true essence of the built structure. Using skylights and patterned fenestrations is also another way through which daylight has been encapsulated within the structure and brings life to a typical workspace.
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The architect has also tried to consciously leave a visual physical imprint of nature by using coconut and teak leaves in Reinforced-Cement–Concrete slabs in the built structure to reiterate the social impact of merging nature into the developed form. The roof of the built structure has also been given special treatment whilst keeping the raw nature of cement and rocks intact.
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The modernist dogma of ‘truth to materiality’ is what shines through by the conscious employment of local materials in an optimized manner whilst planning the building.
How the Landscape encapsulates the built structure
Coming towards how the landscape speaks to the built structure, it is necessary to note that without it, the building would lose its ecological charm. The landscape has been consciously made to visually bind together with the built form and give it its distinct character. Taking ‘Green Architecture’ into literal terms, Chitra Vishwanath has been able to conceive an environmentally sound project and embody it in the way the landscape envelopes the structure and site in general.
Small, landscaped pockets are seen to be attached with functional spaces such as the kitchenette and staff rooms to create a visual relief for the users and give them views. These landscaped pockets also act as ventilators and sources of natural light along with serving the function of outdoor workspaces.
Use of Sustainable architectonics
Bearing in mind that the client wanted the architect to produce an architectural solution that would reconnect her to Earth, it is no surprise that this aspect of sustainability is also implemented in the architectural technology of the workshop. Being the brains behind the infamous ‘Zenrainman’, the building has been integrated with rainwater harvesting technology.
The water wasted from the paper-making process as well as greywater is also recycled and used for gardening purposes on-site by the client for her organic garden. Chitra Vishwanath makes use of this intelligent architectural system that ensures cost efficiency and promotes a zero-carbon footprint for the future.
Overall, the built structure speaks of the amalgamation of the love for nature that the client and architect both dearly hold. The Paper Workshop is a labor of ecologically conscious architectural love that has brought about an architectural solution that determinedly inculcates the existing ecology and social aspects into the semantics of the built structure.
Dezeen. (2021). Dezeen Awards 2021: Chitra Vishwanath.
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