Mahatma Gandhi is remembered for several things—be it his principles of non-violence and truth, his contribution to India’s Independence movement, or his globally-followed ideologies that are relevant even today. But for Earthitects, a Bangalore-based architectural firm, it is his teachings on living in harmony with nature that stand out the most. We spoke to the firm’s MD and Principal Architect, George E. Ramapuram, about Earthitects’ design philosophy, sustainability, and their latest Stone Lodges project in Wayanad, Kerala, that has become the talk of the town in the design world for its concept of reverse urbanization. Excerpts from the interview...
Beautiful Homes (BH): What is the core design principle of your firm Earthitects? George E. Ramapuram: We describe ourselves as architects of the earth. Rooted in the values of the land, we believe that every dwelling should blend seamlessly into its natural habitat and emanate from the very earth that binds us all, staying true to our philosophy by creating ‘around’ nature rather than ‘on’ it. Ecologically-conscious design and careful selection of materials provided by nature that age gracefully, is our guiding principle in any endeavour we undertake.
BH: Why did you decide to take this approach?
GR: “God is the greatest architect and nature is the greatest design to ever exist."This core belief, ingrained in me, and consequently every member of Earthitects, has resulted in harnessing nature to facilitate ‘life’ in its abundance by enabling the fullest enjoyment of god’s creations. This inbuilt sensitivity of our signature design style finds expression in every Earthitects’ creation. In experiencing ‘life in its abundance’, the outcome is a design that works closely with the environment with an uncompromising need for the perfectly balanced relationship between man, the built space, and the natural environment.
BH: How do you balance the subtle art of designing luxury projects yet remaining in sync with nature?
GR: A home amidst nature is what we as humans were meant to live in. With internet connectivity making 'work from anywhere' possible, many are considering making their home an oasis of calm in tranquil locations. Focused on living in harmony with nature, we wanted to change the way people live by bringing a new dimension to luxury with the essence of wilderness in every square foot. There is now, more than ever, a need for balance and a longing to reconnect and experience the luxury of nature and space. We wanted to re-imagine the experience of everyday living by allying with Mother Earth in designing and creating dwellings that are in harmony with oneself and the natural environment; dwellings that facilitate ‘natural life’. It's important to us as Earthitects, that we leave the earth better than we found it.
BH: How has Mahatma Gandhi’s principles influenced your work?
GR: Our principles very much align with Mahatma Gandhi’s views on nature, sustainability, and urbanization. He said, “The Earth has enough resources for our need but not for our greed.” In most urban settings today, the very basics of “living”, such as clean air, adequate water, waking up to a birdsong, the joy of being able to taste a fruit fresh off the tree, or even the ability to experience a quiet moment, have started to become a scarcity. Even birds and bees have started to leave us. Are they convinced, too, that our current urban-centric lifestyle is not “living” to the fullest? The natural replenishing capacity of our earth has been rendered ineffective in most of the current urban settings that we inhabit, due to their high densities of population. We believe that reverse urbanisation is the future of living. If done right, it has all the benefits of living in an urban setting without the disadvantages on our earth.
BH: What was the inspiration behind the concept of the Wayanad Stone Lodges project?
GR: Our objective has always been to restore the environment and build a more sustainable future. The concept of being close to nature has now been accelerated by the pandemic. The design of Stone Lodges is inspired by the grammar of mountain lodges and the native design aesthetic. The villas are hidden amongst dense foliage and designed with unique elements, keeping sustainability and innovation in mind.
Only five years ago, what existed as a neglected coffee plantation in Wayanad soon changed, when we planted more than 8,000 native trees. The once bare site of Stone Lodges was transformedinto a lush forest, with carefully selected native species of plants and trees. Native bird species soon returned, thus enhancing the birding experience allowing man and nature to coexist in harmony. Today, it’s not rare to see endangered birds splashing around the lily pond on the deck of the private residences. With the planting of an abundance of butterfly-friendly plants, it’s an everyday occurrence to spot dozens of butterfly species too. The protection and conservation of native species of bees have been facilitated by us with beehouses around the residences.
With ‘sustainable living’ being our core idea, we have used upcycled wood from construction for the craftsmanship of fittings and furnishings while maintaining its organic shape. While most of the natural materials used are acquired from the site itself, other materials are sourced locally. When a building comes in the way of a tree or boulder, the design is modified to go around it to be a part of our natural design. Thus, the existing flora and natural features on the site play their part in enhancing our carefully designed living experience. We hope this concept of reimagining the experience of everyday living will inspire and encourage others to follow this journey and lead a sustainable lifestyle.
BH: Tell us about your other upcoming projects.
GR: There are 10 more Stone Lodges residences that are under construction right now. We also have an upcoming project in the picturesque hill station of Coorg, Karnataka. The private residences will be inspired by the architectural style of the plantation bungalows of Coorg and be one with nature to rediscover estate living. There’s also a private residences project planned in Kabini.
BH: What would you like to tell young architects about sustainable design?
GR: We hope to pioneer, innovate, and inspire young architects to design spaces, keeping in mind the ‘living’ concepts of the
future with no impact on the environment. Nature’s materials are timeless. Thus, by designing with natural materials we can help facilitate a timeless design that doesn’t age while also surrounding ourselves in a toxin-free environment. By designing and implementing sustainable landscape measures we can conserve and protect native species of flora and fauna allowing them to co-exist with us thus combating climate change and restoring the ecosystem. Our objective should always be to restore the environment and build a more sustainable future. It's important that we leave the earth better than we found it.