Building tranquil homes in crowded cities (Comment: Special to IANS)

Development brings better facilities, improved lifestyles and economic growth. It also brings us crowding cities, noise and pollution. Villages turn into towns and towns into cities and cities can’t stop expanding. The demand for built-up spaces increases many fold. This adds to the load on roads and increases pollution to the extent that even metropolitan cities like New Delhi are considered not suitable to live in.

Recent announcements by Union Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu allowing the registration of new vehicles only after showing proof of adequate parking space and transforming the iconic Connaught Place into an exclusive pedestrian zone could be some small victories for the capital.

We need more out-of-the-box initiatives like the ones proposed by Naidu to make Delhi a comfortable and livable city for all its residents.

Ever-increasing real estate costs are forcing people to fight for every square foot, be it in their work space, parking areas and even their personal space. In urban areas, there is a need for bigger living rooms, more bedrooms and additional storage in homes. In this constant struggle for space, extending our homes in every possible direction, although tempting, should be avoided. These extensions give homes a tight and claustrophobic feel.

Traditionally our houses were built around a courtyard area that served the crucial need of the entire family, congregating as they did for informal chats, discussions, daily chores and open playing area for children. With increasing urban pressure, our plots have become thin and long. This restricts light and creates ventilation issues in the centre of the house. One of the easy ways to solve this problem is by opening the house from the middle, creating a three-sided court, which is easily doable within the permissible Floor Area Ratio (FAR).

I will recommend that the spaces around these courts have planters, or if possible a green wall that takes away the dry and cold look from the house. Opening the spaces around the court through doors, window openings or fixed glass brings the outdoors indoors, breaking the monotony of the house. Subconsciously, greenery has a very relaxing effect on one’s mind. Plants like syngonium, areca palm, snake plant and spider plant can be used in pots indoors and in the courts for absorbing pollution and cleaning the air.

Traditionally, where kitchen activities were divided into cooking, cleaning and preparing — and the cleaning space was never part of the main kitchen. However, with space becoming scarce all cooking related activities were crowded into the same space. As this changed, we didn’t make enough windows for light or sun to enter the kitchen, resulting in a dark, closed and claustrophobic space.

Indian cooking has always been an elaborate affair with more members of the family taking an interest in the activity, I feel that it should be one of the most important and central parts of the house. It becomes essential for such spaces to be well lit and ventilated. More light also makes a space feel much bigger than it actually is. One of my favourite things to do is to give some greenery around the kitchen window or towards the door that opens out, which can have herbs or vegetables that can be plucked freshly for use. This also gives visual pleasure and warmth required for peace of mind while working in the kitchen. With less space and more need for storage space full height pantry units are a must now in urban homes. These units give a lot of space for dry storage in the kitchen.

We often tend to neglect the entrances to our homes. In an attempt to keep up with civic regulations in the past decade, most multi-family apartment homes have provided disorganised stilt parking, which interferes with the welcoming feeling of entering a home and instead gives the feeling of entering a drab parking lot. Instead, these areas should be reorganised. The entrance to each home should have a bright and beautifully designed entrance lobby to mark a sense of arrival.

Now more than ever, there is a need to create informal lounge spaces for families to come together. Courtyards open to the sky can bring in much needed light, ventilation and greenery to the central part of the home. Family spaces built around these courtyards can add soul to the space, transforming it from a house into a home.

By building right with enough light, ventilation and insulation, the electricity requirement of the house can be reduced by a third. This can be achieved by shading the openings, blocking the harsh sun by giving cupboard or storage in that direction, and adding insulation on roofs and walls. All this can help to reduce the temperature by up to five degrees.

Owning a house in India is a really big achievement for which people earn for years. They start conceptualising the house in their minds since childhood. They are emotionally connected to the house even when it is not there in a real sense as they have dreamt about their perfect corner, perfect balcony, or kitchen. For most people, this exercise of building a house is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Therefore, while building a house, an architect should think of a home which is timeless. Even if there are restrictions in space, the look and feel should be such that it could stand the ever changing trends in architecture.

(Preeti Harit, a School of Planning and Architecture graduate, is with Prithu Homes, a residential home building specialist. The views expressed are personal. She can be reached at preeti.harit@prithu.in)

–IANS

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