Once in a while, you get this exciting opportunity to design a building in a place far removed from the urban setting; with abundant privacy, unhindered views, singular development, no neighbors, embraced by nature, with silent, placid, and serene starry nights. Designing in remote locations unshackles the architect and possesses the potential to create freeborn, sustainable, and especial design interventions with myriad benefits to the environment and socio-economic culture of the region.
Designing for a remote location has its lessons to teach, but before beginning, we have to prepare for the unknown well, so we can mitigate problems faster and keep up with the timelines. As with remote locations, the responsibilities lie in the long-term commitments of all the people involved, as it takes a lot to create, operate, and maintain a building in a remote location. For architects, it’s the challenge to create the perfect building block that will fit into the context of the surroundings and the limitations of the client, considering all the aspects involved.
Here are a few things we curated from personal experience designing for remote locations.
The planning process is the most important as it will give you a roadmap to all the things that shall creep up and help prepare for it in advance.
Site selection depends on the client; sometimes the land is owned by the family for generations, and sometimes clients like calm, isolated places, and are looking for land perfect for their building. While selecting a site, some things to keep in mind are whether the land and the soil can support construction, how accessible is the location, are ample resources available to the site such as water supply, drainage, and electricity. Getting resources and amenities is very different in remote locations compared to urban settings, for example, a three-phase power connection if required has to be applied for in advance to the authorities, which takes time and may disrupt timelines.
Site analysis and assessment play a major role to understand the potential and the limitations of the place, which will help understand the extra investment of cost and time. Understanding logistics in terms of personnel travel and also the transport of materials and systems is critical. Consider climatic conditions, harsh weather, varying temperatures, etc., which will affect the choice of material.
Keep the regional and environmental impact in mind while planning for the project. Keep the impact minimum and understand that indigenous elements survive longer in their natural surroundings than foreign elements.
Once the basics are in place, you can start planning the building in terms of what structure you will use, will it be prefab or site built? Though prefab may sound the best way forward, the quality control is almost nil and the problem of logistics will play a big role. Like in our case, a boat was the only access to the site and had a steep climb of 115 steps, and carrying prefab concrete columns and beams was next to impossible without the costs sky-rocketing.
Participatory planning is very important here. Clients and users must take part in the design, selection, and delivery process to keep the decisions smooth and maintain easier timelines.
Choosing locally available materials and simple construction techniques will help reduce the transport and other costs and also help in hiring local labor and skill sets, generating much-needed income in the region, and also upgrading the skills of the masons and artisans. Simplifying construction techniques goes a long way in maintaining the building and repairs that the local laborers can do easily.
Special building materials, systems, or services need ordering in advance and a buffer for issues arriving out of transportation to and from the site.
The building program must rely heavily on sustainable techniques and materials to ensure a long life to it and save the region’s natural environment.
Using passive design strategies like heating and cooling of the building naturally, allowing ample daylight and protection from the harsh climatic changes can reduce dependence on mechanical ventilation. The path of the sun, wind movement, and other climatic data inform you of the placement, size, and orientation of the building that may help achieve thermal comfort.
Although using photovoltaic cells for power generation and solar water heaters may reduce the running costs; these must be designed keeping in mind how many seasons the building shall be occupied continuously.
Waste management, recycling the water within the site, harvesting rainwater and stormwater, are a few techniques that can help reduce running costs and also reduce the long-term impact on the region’s ecosystem.
We must control the Impact on the environment right from the beginning of construction, as the environmental penalties of construction itself take a long time to overcome. Low-impact foundations limit excavation and activity during construction that requires machinery and equipment shall reduce. Ensure that building equipment does not hamper the precious surrounding land.
Design considerations such as window performance, insulation, and protection from bugs and insects in the early stages can help mitigate patchwork later. Connect the building with the surrounding nature as much as possible through large windows framing important views; Nature was the key factor that brought you to the remote location in the first place. Landscaping around the building can help mitigate situations like landslides, proper channels for rainwater, or if your site is in a desert, it can provide much-required shade and buffer from sandstorms. Preserving and promoting the natural topography and landscape of the place shall reduce costs and improve the sustainability of the surroundings. Taking cues from buildings in the vicinity, you can understand the shading concerns like eaves and overhangs, window sizes, plinths, structures, etc that you can incorporate in the design for providing a longer lifespan of the building.
An important part of building in a remote location is the documentation from the architect or the designer. Timely drawings with extensive details that the contractors can read and understand are important to maintain the schedule of the project and also to minimize site errors. Remember that the site visits will be few and far, and this necessitates a detailed drawing along with material specifications and other important documents to be prepared for execution and also to maintain a transparent process. Using 3D visualizations, sketches, and models appropriate to explain the design faster and easier for the contractors.
Another technological tool is video conferencing and image exchange that can help save days of precious time and energy, provided there is cell service in your area of choice.
Depending on whether you use a contractor or a supervisor to execute the project, there are a few considerations to incorporate into the building contract. Adherence to code of conduct and fire safety and other environmental codes that the contractor may overlook owing to the remote location and that few checks are initiated, compared to urban settings. Another important factor is to control the disturbance to the residents of the region and the surroundings that the workforce may overlook. Because of minimal supervision, contractors may shirk duties and future problems may arise related to yours and your client’s environmental concerns. Problems like these are overcome by using a local contractor and labor, where the contractor, being born in the place, looks at it as his own and feels the concern to preserve the land and aligns his thoughts with yours.
These are some basic things that an architect can consider while designing for a remote location. It is not an exhaustive list and the first-time experience can teach you many things that cannot be generalized for every location. Going ahead with an inclusive and sustainable attitude will serve the architect and the owner and lead to some wonderful architecture and self-sufficient habitat that will survive the test of time.
We leave you below with some beautiful projects designed in remote locations
Keemala Resort Phuket, Thailand by Architects Space