CHENNAI: “Give nature a little nudge and it will take over,” said Rajeev Kathpalia, architect and expert at Nudging Nature. He was sharing his experiences while speaking at the Chennai Water Forum organised by Goethe Institut at Kalakshetra Foundation.
Rather than looking at the act of building and expansion as something that goes against nature, Kathpalia believes it is possible to transform sun-baked land to forests, rustic countrysides into modern living spaces, all without losing the original essence. “It is possible to convert rural areas to urban areas without losing the benefits of a rural set up,” he said.
Many of Kathpalia’s projects are based on the nation’s lost culture where the course of water bodies decided the way that cities were laid out, he said. When his team was asked to work on Nalanda University that he calls ‘the most evocative pile of bricks anywhere in the world’, his team worked out a strategy to build with what was available locally: to transform the 455-acre terrain to a pedestrian-friendly space not only having urban amenities but also integrating them with the landscape that defines them – the hills, the five villages that it connects and the two areas where water collected.
“The soil was clayey. So we built with what was available by transforming the clay into compressed earth blocks to create a Net Zero campus,” said Kathpalia.
The first thing these architects do before starting a project is to map the watersheds and study the rainfall patterns of the region.
Smritivan was no different. When he and his team were asked to build a memorial park dedicated to the 13,805 victims of the January 26, 2001 earthquake in Bhuj, Gujarat, they were shown a barren land. Today there are about 1,700 trees on two acres of land, he said.
“Such is the transformational quality of water,” he said. The team noticed that the otherwise dry land transformed during the first monsoon. So they decided to map every drop of water that fell on the land and to device a way to capture them, he said.