The Initiative for Green Habitats represents a long term commitment towards providing solutions for the creation of Sustainable Built Environments. This blog attempts to provide an insight to our views, commentaries on our work, ideas that we are working on, and provoke thought where there are more questions than answers.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

House 3: Friends of Camphill- India, Bangalore

Proposed House 3 at 'Friends of Camphill'
A residential facility for persons with special needs, Friends of Camphill India, FoCI- is an institution that believes in providing its differently-abled residents a home like environment for leading a life of dignity and freedom. House 3 at Friends of Camphill India, FoCI was meant to be an addition to their existing campus at Bannerghatta Road which contained two houses and a central training cum workshop unit. The folks at FoCI knew fairly well what they wanted. The 'house parents' - the Aradhyas, set the tone for what was to come. After a rather interesting first meeting with them- during which they told us a little about the philosophy of 'social therapy' , their approach to community living with the special residents, initial impressions on what they hoped House 3 would come to be- we hit the drawing board to begin ideating on House 3. We felt a strong need to understand the special needs of these residents and therefore we began to read up literature and case studies on similar homes around the world.

What they wanted House 3 to be: A housing unit for about six residents complete with accommodation for the house parents (the people in charge of the running the house), co-workers (the ones that assisted the house parents), guests (family of the residents visiting them) along with the requisite ancillary facilities. The Aradhyas desired House 3 to be a secure, practical, simple, beautiful, durable and environmentally sensitive development.

What we began by doing:
The North East corner of the camphill site, where we chose to locate House 3
Identify the best location to site the new House 3 based on an analysis of the site: We found the site to be a green haven- comfortably remote and removed from the din of the city. We did not want to change this special quality of tranquility and peace that the campus already had. We therefore began by carefully examining the site, analysing its potentials and threats in terms of- topography, site drainage, climatic factors, vegetation & trees, water features, circulation and relation between existing buildings and many more such factors that would influence the ultimate siting of House 3. The site sloped from the south down towards the north west. The northern edge of the site was used for waste water treatment through a system of linear planted beds and sedimentation tanks. The north west corner- being the lowest portion of the site had a large well which was used for recharging ground water- from run-off storm water and the treated waste water- this in effect was the soaking zone of the site. We therefore had to restrict how close we could build to this soaking zone, keeping intact the water treatment beds on the north. It was concluded that House 3 be ideally located nearer to the North-Western portion of the site making it easily accessible to the existing road and creating least disturbance to the existing land form and vegetation.

Analysis of terrain, physical connects, no-go zones, etc.
Identify the strengths of the existing units and their functional organisation: Since we saw merit in the way the existing two houses functioned, we thought it prudent to identify aspects of design that were working favourably in the existing two homes. For eg: The sequence of spaces starting from the forecourt (in which the residents assembled during celebrations)-to verandah (the public private interface)- enclosed living (where the residents gathered daily for various activities)- semi covered court and finally the living quarters we thought served well in the functioning of the house.

The public entry court to House 3. On either side are the private courts.
Evolve a new organisation diagram: The location so chosen for House 3 did not allow for the inward looking square plan as of the previous two houses- thus in an attempt to conserve as many trees at site and adapt better to the topography there- we began to evolve a more open plan form that would be better suited.

Design intentions/ What we wanted House 3 to be: We wanted to carry forth the elements of design that we found working well in the older developments while creating a new building type specific for the current need. The residents who were to occupy House 3, we were told, were going to be either the elderly residents or those requiring additional physical care- perhaps wheel chair bound individuals too. We therefore felt the need to give them a sense of private space within the collective while providing for a multi-sensory experience throughout the home- making for an interesting world within a world. It was required to establish secure connections with the outdoors for these special residents and also create living spaces which would be safe for them and easy to monitor by their care givers.
Within one of the private internal courts
We also wanted to provide the residents with the option to personalize internal spaces by allowing for varying storage configurations. A variety of common and private gathering spaces for residents- both indoor and outdoor were also being planned.

What House 3 is: Simplicity of structure being a driver, we generated a grid that would accommodate the bed and storage units and included a seating alcove within each living unit. Building in this modularity ensured there would be flexibility in use as the occupants of these spaces, as we had seen in the existing two homes, liked to make their portion of the room that little bit more special- some created photo walls while others decorated niches.

The basic module flexible to combine into a larger space, and
of internal organisation.
What evolved thus was an open L shaped plan with two wings- one for the male and another for the female residents. At the intersection of these two wings were designed common facilities and the main entrance and at their free ends were bundled the toilet, bath and laundry spaces. The lower floor was to accommodate facilities for the residents and house parents while that of the co-workers (the support staff) and the guests (visiting families of the residents) were placed on the upper floor for the convenience of its users. The external edges of the two wings were treated differently owing to their orientation- the Northern wing had seating alcoves with windows facing due North, while that on the West was more carefully treated to keep out the harsh west sun and allow light mainly through the north and south sides with smaller openings for venting at an upper level on the west wall.

The Ground floor plan. The red space is the central dining and
prayer space. The floor above is similar, but for a clothes drying terrace
The central living area was conceived as a large volume multi activity space- accommodating configurations for daily dining, prayers, occasional meetings and gatherings of all the residents. Although the clients gave us the option of building closer to the well as they were open to the idea of relocating it; we decided to distance the building from the well on the north west corner- keeping intact the water recharge and soaking that naturally occurred there. This space, being central to House 3, allowed users to step out on to decks that over looked the north west corner affording glimpses of the setting sun.

The upper level, providing interaction spaces, seating zones, and
an engaging area away from the ground.
The built: The structure of House 3 was envisioned to have load bearing rammed earth walls with vaulted intermediate floors. The sloping roof was to be in lightweight ferrocement channels- a decision we took although the existing buildings on site had Mangalore tiled pitched roofs as the latter was, according to us, a higher embodied energy material. We were told in the first design review meeting that the general textures of this place could not be fragmented or appear to be so- as this the residents would find disturbing- so we replaced our prior recommendation of a Terrazzo floor with that of homogenous pigmented oxide floor. Rough stone for the toilets and a randomly patterned stone flooring for external courts was suggested. The walls were to be finished in lime and plaster rendered with natural lime and painted, where necessary, with non- toxic paints. All the joinery of House 3 was to be in reclaimed timber.
Working on the House 3 at FoCI was an enriching experience that gave us an up-close insight, albeit briefly, of the many complexities that people with multiple disabilities had to grapple with and the phenomenal courage, commitment and discipline that was required to keep a home such as this going. Design wise- it made us more committed to being sensitive to user requirements as they were so unique here and needed to be dealt with great care. We attempted in House3 to develop a built environment that not only responded well to its immediate context but also functionally satisfied the special needs of its users.

(PS: For more images of House 3- click here)


  1. Hi, I am wondering if this house no.3 was ever completed? Thanks

  2. This project was never actually executed. How I wish it was. It was fun going through the design stages of this project though.