Society for the Promotion of Art and Culture

A House in the Country

Gargi Gupta

Dilwara Bagh is an incredible place, finds Gargi Gupta, which marries the best and most advanced concepts of green architecture with the appurtenances of gracious living.

Tucked away somewhere on the bylanes off Pataudi Road, only a little distance from the burst of the glass and concrete in Gurgaon, is a house that’s so singular that it’s probably the only one of its kind not just in Delhi, but also in India and even Asia.

Tucked away somewhere on the bylanes off Pataudi Road, only a little distance from the burst of the glass and concrete in Gurgaon, is a house that’s so singular that it’s probably the only one of its kind not just in Delhi, but also in India and even Asia.

Dilwara Bagh, Reena and Ravi Nath’s farmhouse, was featured last year on American TV as an outstanding example of sustainable architecture in Asia.

It has been written about extensively in technical books and journals; faculty and students of architecture colleges have studied its many energy-conserving and earth-building features; it was included in the TERI booklet, Energy-efficient buildings in India (2001); an episode of Turning Point, the popular science programme on Doordarshan, was shot there; and if it hasn’t been all over the popular media, it’s only because of the owners’ justifiable reservations about opening their home to all and sundry.

Dilwara Bagh isn’t new. Designed by Gernot Minke, the German architect who’s considered the “pope” of earth architecture, and Sanjay Prakash, the Delhi-based purveyor of low-energy construction techniques, it was completed in 1995. Yet, even now, it remains at the cutting edge of green technology.

“We met Minke in 1990, I think, when he had come to India for a conference,” remembers Nath. “He was already an authority on earth buildings and wanted to design a house in India. We asked whether we could afford him, and he said no, but we could foot his air fare to India and take care of his boarding in Delhi, as payment.”

Reena Nath says that her only brief to Minke was that the house “shouldn’t be a typically Delhi marble palace”, and that it should keep out the dust and creepy crawlies.

Minke’s design fulfils all her criteria and more. Built on a plot of four acres, the 206 square metre single-storied house is made entirely of unbaked mud blocks and stone — the pillars supporting the roof (very like the Dilwara Jain temples in Abu, from where the house got its name) made of red sandstone, lighter coloured Dholpur stone on the roof (for its higher light reflection qualities), the door-frames and built-in shelves, a dark brownish Kota stone on the floor in the courtyard and rough slate in the other rooms, golden Jaisalmer in the living room contrasting with the white marble of the step-down seats that function as the sofa.

Even the dining table is a slab of the most exquisite marble, with lovely green and yellow grains polished to a high sheen. The only cement and steel used in the entire structure is in the earthquake band.

Thanks to the aerodynamically designed conical roof, the positive air pressure inside and other features, very little dust goes into the house.

“The white curtains you see were bought sometime in 1995 and have been washed five-six times only in all these years. In contrast, the curtains for our city house, which I bought around the same time, have long gone,” informs Reena Nath.

The creepy crawlies have been kept out by the simple device of grooves etched into the door sill so that there’re no gaps for the insects to get in.

As for the green features, the most distinctive is the earth tunnel system used for temperature regulation and air circulation within. It consists of a 200-feet long pipe buried under earth at a depth of 4-6 metres; at one end of it is a fan that sucks in the ambient air, while the other end forms a network which has openings in all the rooms.

The temperature at that depth being a fairly stable 26 degrees or so, this simple device helps to keep the building cool in summer and warm in winter obviating the need for energy-guzzling ACs and heaters.

Then there’s the berm, an air cavity formed by a stone slab resting at an angle against the outer walls, especially along the west which catches the sun’s glare, which provides insulation (besides being a wonderful place to hide bottles in prohibition-era Gurgaon).

The same principal is used in the roof as well, which is double layered with an air cavity in between. The stone louvres on the windows too help to optimise daylight, at the same time deflecting the sun’s glare in summer and letting it in in winter.

As Minke writes in a letter, “The passive cooling and heating system of the house needs less than 10 per cent of the energy to be used in a comparable modern house in the same climate.”

The same concern for minimising the house’s impact on the earth’s finite resources is seen in the doors made of wood recycled from packing crates, the garden pathways and outer fencing made from stone left over from the construction; and various features that allow recharging of groundwater like the open-joined outer paving, the natural grass covering on the grounds, the drip irrigation.

The imaginative landscaping also helps to regulate the microclimate of Dilwara Bagh. A flat piece of farm land when the Naths bought it, Minke worked on a contouring that’s both pleasing to the eye and ecologically sensitive.

His main intervention was to scoop out two ponds on the south and west of the house and to use the scooped-out mud to create a gently undulating topography that, thanks to the landscaping on the berms, seems to encompass the house in a sweep of grass, shrubs and low trees.

This is no manicured garden, but one where nature has been allowed a free hand. So you have dense vegetation with heaps of dry leaves everywhere, clumps of flowering plants growing wild, orchards of local fruits, natural grass.

Dilwara Bagh’s interiors are equally distinctive. Reena Nath’s colour palette is largely austere, as if she didn’t want to distract attention from the mud walls. So you have old, faded pictures in thin frames, pen-and-ink studies, and wall hangings in pale, washed out blues and beiges.

But every room has a focal visual element — the bright red of the bedspread in the master bedroom, the old four-poster in the spare one, or the busts and statuettes collected from the Naths’ travels around the world. Everywhere surprises abound — the built-in niches, cosily lined with a mattress and strewn with cushions.

The central courtyard is, of course, the piece de resistance with its skylight pouring sunlight over a small pool with a fountain, lotuses and hanging lamps. Nath also makes imaginative use of the pillars as framing devices for large pieces of furniture like the bed and dining table. Every corner of Dilwara Bagh exudes a quality of quiet repose and gracious living, the perfect weekend getaway.


posted by S A J Shirazi @ 2:30 PM,


At July 3, 2010 at 12:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



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