Cluster housing can be green too
It demands lot of design thinking, construction coordination, control on the materials, and mastery over landscaping, but the benefits are many.
What has a community of many families living together in a neighbourhood to do with eco-friendly living? Apparently they are unconnected, with individual families living with their own carbon footprint, but upon deeper study, we realise living together can bring down the overall consumption and increase efficiency.
Even a cursory look at the traditional patterns of community living – agrahaara, vattara, chawl, katras, mohallas – prove how resources can be shared. The happiness of social life apart, such traditional patterns have many hidden lessons to learn from, applicable even today.
The Good Earth community has proven that despite the planning bye-laws which seem to favour individual plots with isolated houses within, we can design houses as row houses, saving on land available. By placing these row houses around a central court, we can create clusters with minimal houses to promote interaction between families. Many decades ago itself, HUDCO successfully promoted cluster development, besides many DDA flats in Delhi and the Asian Games Village project by architect Raj Rewal proving the advantages of such design approaches.
The configuration of individual units need not be dull and boring, but by staggering each unit appropriately, visually pleasant forms and spaces can be created. They would shade neighbouring walls, reducing direct solar heat gain. With no openings in the sides, walls being attached to each other, cross-ventilation can be a challenge. As such, rooms need to be carefully located in the windward directions.
Among the activity attractions and eco-attributes of clusters, common spaces score high. Flanked by houses all around, the air therein gets heated up and raises, letting cool air flow in.
With ample green plants in such common spaces, oxygen supply increases, creating a healthy ambience. The idea of outdoor greens connected to indoors further enhances the ecological characteristics of any project.
Architecturally, many other aspects like scale, privacy and sense of entry matter in a house, which can be better controlled when we club many houses together. In case the site is sloping, the formation of terrace levels, also called as sky-line, can be developed to be both attractive and ecologically meaningful. Terraces in different levels shade the lower areas, allow more efficient collection of rain water and can lead to effective positioning of overhead water tank and solar panels for hot water.
If such and many other advantages can be attributed to cluster housing, why aren’t all our faculty housing in institutions, gated communities in cities and industrial quarters follow them? Its difficult to reason this, but generally a well developed cluster development demands lot more of design thinking, construction coordination, control on the materials, mastery over landscaping and such others. Not in every case, the investment thereupon may get returned with adequate benefits, so people may play safe building the conventional.
It also may be that we are forgetting the eco lessons from our past and its time to return to them.