Introducing Biome Environmental Solutions

Biome Environmental Solutions is a Bengaluru-based company that serves as India’s modern-day environmental missionaries: seeking to grant the common citizen agency through self-sufficient architectural and conservation grounded solutions. From architecture to peri-urban communities, Biome has reworked urbanization and presents the idea of sustainability as a circular economy -taking root in every individual and expanding outwards towards the community at large. Since Bangalore city has been documented as primarily a watershed, much of Biome’s work in the area includes understanding aquifers in micro-watersheds and water conservation and management practices. Above all, Biomes’ key philosophy remains striking a balance between the overall environmental footprint while developing a humanized urban space, sensitive to social and cultural practices.

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Planters to develop synergy between built and manmade environment_©Gautam Vishwanath

Design Process

Biome’s design process entails intensive site analysis focusing on incorporating passive design strategies that develop a synergy between client needs and site features such as soil profile, water, and biodiversity. The common question they re-iterate in every process is how they can develop an all-encompassing green project in the truest sense of the word. According to Biome,” A sustainable project should be socially relevant, technically possible, institutionally responsible, financially viable, legally correct and ecological.” 

Their design process includes consultation from experts specialized in biodiversity, tourism, hydrogeology, and material science and discussions with clients to ensure that the result is a happy merger between sustainability and client expectations. Biome’s initial projects included middle-class homes inspired by Laurie Bakers architecture, experimenting with water harvesting, rainwater collection, treating wastewater while creating mezzanine spaces in space-challenged settings.

Vernacular Techniques and Passive Solutions-Charis Residence Case Study

Biome is particularly interested in re-introducing indigenous earth architecture techniques within an urban setting, busting myths involving preconceptions of time and effort required during construction. An excellent example of earth architecture given modern context by Biome is the Charis residence. Earth construction was experimented with in different ways in this project, taking the form of stabilized adobe walls, a rammed earth foundation, and a soil biotechnology method for greywater treatment (a first for Biome). The foundation was first layered with plastic connected from the surrounding, later excavated earth was rammed for the foundation up to ground level. Stabilized adobes were used in the guest wing because they had a structural strength equivalent to that of CSEB’s and reduced the dependence on hiring technically trained personnel and machinery thereby making the construction process more sustainable. Bricks made on site were preferred during construction to reduce exploitation of distant resources, air pollution, and energy spent in transportation. The corner plot was utilized in such a way that the building could be viewed from both sides, revealing its character through punctured walls with windows of various sizes and hues, telescopic vaults, and sloping roofs at jaunty angles. To maximize the scant sunlight received year-round in Bangalore, clerestory openings were created on both the north and south via the telescoping vaults alternating in size. Hollow clay was used to fashion the two smaller vaults connecting to the larger concrete one, ensuring that the southern clerestory was slightly shaded to reduce radiation and glare from the lake. The warmth of the bricks and natural material and finishes lends the interior a heart-warming spatial quality amplifying feelings of harmony and serenity through the central internal courtyard, veranda, and terraced garden.

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Charis Residence Indoor Central Courtyard_©Vivek Muthuramalingam
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Charis Residence Exterior_©Vivek Muthuramalingam

Buildings As Waste Sinks-Eklavya Case Study

Other passive techniques employed by Biome solutions include using buildings as waste sinks, as seen in the case of the Eklavya Project in Bhopal. A waste sink was created by sourcing construction debris from demolition sites to refill the building. Materials were carefully chosen to reduce wastage and increase durability: locally sourced composite fly ash bricks were used in the walls (no pollution is produced during their manufacture, and they reduce cement consumption by allowing the walls to be left exposed), curtain walls made of scrap railway material, concrete flooring reinforced with metallic floor hardener and partition walls made of discarded paper rolls. To protect the building from the heat in the paper storage area located in the southwest corner (lest risk damage to the paper), the façade was constructed as an envelope of repurposed louvers (discarded railway windows) to help mitigate heat gain and reduce temperature fluctuations. 

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Eklavya Project facade detail exterior_©Pratik Chandresha

The Eklavya project also employed an efficient strategy for water conservation and biodiversity. A 100,000-liter underground tank and four recharge wells harvest rainwater collected on the roof and site. Later the effluent water is filtered through a treatment system before repurposing in flushing and gardening thereby creating a closed-loop system. To encourage self-sufficiency, edible landscaping was prioritized by creating organic farms on the roof and fruit-bearing trees on the ground. Ficus flowering trees and plants were carefully chosen to attract birds and pollinators such as bees to increase the existing biodiversity of the area.

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Eklavya Project garden and landscaping along with materials used in exterior_©Pratik Chandresha

Transposable Buildings-The Atelier School Case Study

Another concept explored by Biome solutions was designing buildings in such a way that when the building reached redundancy, all its elements could be repurposed and recycled. This concept was practically applied in the design of The Atelier School Project, materials such as steel, earth, pavers for flooring, and paper tube partition walls allowed the building to be taken back as a technical mutant. Exploratory learning is encouraged using transposable materials and walls of varying heights enclosing curvilinear classrooms and common spaces under a skylight-dotted roof.  CSEB’S are used in the walls and are made from different soils in the locality making construction more cost and wastage efficient while creating pleasing patterns that blend in with the flooring. A sense of warmth is created using a false ceiling of bamboo matt plywood on the GI sheathed roof which helps to provide thermal and sound insulation. Biome also encourages the preservation of local techniques and culture by showing preference to hand-crafted material (bamboo matt) over conventional plywood to help local artisans. The roofing is supported by eight tree-shaped columns that allude to the traditional idea of learning under a tree while combining an element of fun and modernity using minimum material wastage.

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The Atelier School Indoor Aerial view of Partition Screens_©Vivek Muthuramalingam
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The Atelier School Exploratory and Play based Transposable design_©Vivek Muthuramalingam
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The Atelier School skylight, roofing, and flooring detail_©Vivek Muthuramalingam

Sustainability In A Rural Setting-The Farming Collective Case Study

When considering a large scale inclusive to rural outskirts, Biome’s work on the Farming Collective is an insightful study in teaching management techniques to the local populace and introducing a sustainable model for permaculture, animal husbandry, conserving resources, and promoting resilience in farming communities. In the Masalewale village, the three micro-watersheds identified within the hydrological study helped to develop strategies to conserve water, soil, and moisture in the area. Stone-colored walls and staggered terraces helped to reduce soil erosion and water movement. Half-moon terraces were carved out of the higher slopes and local fruit-bearing trees were planted with grass alongside the streams buffer and slow water speed. Cow sheds were designed with green roofing systems to create a closed-loop for the growth and consumption of fodder. Carvey grass was incorporated into the shelters residing in the highlands to match those found in the village.

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The Farming Collective Cowshed Design Proposal_©Biome Environmental Solutions

Water Conservation And Management-The 100 Well Project Case Study

Similarly, Biome has also worked on existing water management facilities in their 100 wells campaign, aiming to apply their community-based findings on a larger scale throughout India. A community on the outskirts of Bangalore first approached Biome to resolve their drying borewells and reduce dependence on water tankers for daily usage. Biome undertook a 12-year long journey to find water by digging individual bore wells, developing a system to recharge wells while maintaining a high engagement within the community to replenish and reduce water usage. The process has led to zero liquid discharge and is documented in comics showcasing how far a community can be ecological in its learning process. Introduction of biological wastewater treatment technology in the form of a garden that helped treat wastewater so that it brought down 200,000 liters to approximately Rs. 30,000 per month with minimal pumping and mechanization. The greatest challenge of the practice involved addressing social and economic concerns of inequality and poverty with those environmental concerns presented by climate change. The 100 Well Campaign’s end goal was to minimize environmental damage while empowering the clients and construction workers.

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The 100 well initiative comic proposal_©Biome Environmental Solutions
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The 100 well initiative waste water treatment flow diagram_©Biome Environmental Solutions

Moving Forwards

Ultimately, Biome focuses on projects that are economical in both materialities as well as client expectations. Using strategies such as: locally sourced and responsive materials, transposable materials, buildings as waste sinks, waste material as a filler for RCC slabs, reusing debris and material for construction and application of rainwater conservation and waste management techniques-Biome solutions establishes an experimentally beautiful architectural dialogue with nature that helps you connect emotionally with the environment. The crowning glory of Biomes portfolio lies in their dedicated compilation of all their synergistic practices and projects on a readily available learning platform that is available for the masses at large. The team has a free and open learning environment that aims to rethink our habits in terms of individual space requirements and manage existing resources more efficiently. Biome’s work is diverse and stimulating, offering a progressive journey towards a collectively beneficial and healthier environment.

References

ArchDaily. 2021. Biome Environmental Solutions. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/office/biome-environmental-solutions> [Accessed 17 November 2021].

Archello. 2021. The Atelier | biome Environmental | Media – Photos and Videos – 8 | Archello. [online] Available at: <https://archello.com/story/41918/attachments/photos-videos/8> [Accessed 17 November 2021].

Barot, P., 2021. Brown with blue is green | ArchiDiaries. [online] ArchiDiaries | Just another WordPress site. Available at: <https://www.archidiaries.com/brown-with-blue-is-green/#pgcSgb-sl-6_29011> [Accessed 17 November 2021].

Biome-solutions.com. 2021. projects « biome. [online] Available at: <https://www.biome-solutions.com/project/> [Accessed 17 November 2021].

Brickarchitecture.com. 2021. Residence for Charis / Biome Environmental Solutions. [online] Available at: <https://brickarchitecture.com/projects/residence-for-charis-biome-environmental-solutions> [Accessed 17 November 2021].

Home-review.com. 2021. My Space – Biome Environmental Solutions -. [online] Available at: <http://www.home-review.com/2014/02/space-biome-environmantal-solutions/> [Accessed 17 November 2021].

Shah, R., 2021. Biome Environmental Solutions: Integrating ecology into architecture. [online] Tfod.in. Available at: <https://www.tfod.in/art-design-articles/4872/biome-environmental-solutions-integrating-ecology-into-architecture> [Accessed 17 November 2021].

Author

A self proclaimed literary geek, Aiman Shahid has a soft spot for all things archeological. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, she is currently surviving her third year as a student of architecture at N.C.A. She hopes to make her fellow architects feel less at sea ,one article at a time.

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