In the ever-evolving realm of architecture, a captivating transformation is taking place. This transformation transcends mere aesthetics and functionality; it embraces a profound responsibility toward our planet. We are honoured to introduce you to Shipra Singhania, an architect whose work embodies this transformation. Through this interview, we embark on a journey into the heart and soul of sustainable architecture, eco-design, and the timeless harmony between modern living and nature.
Shipra Singhania’s story is not just one of concrete and steel; it is a narrative of respect for tradition, collaboration with experts, and a passion for sustainable living that has permeated her work. With each design, she seeks to echo the wisdom of centuries-old building techniques and weave her family’s organic farming legacy into the very fabric of her creations. Join us as we explore her world, where mud and brick breathe life into her architectural marvels, and where rooftops cool with the whisper of ancient wisdom. Shipra’s work is not just about constructing buildings; it’s about building a greener, more harmonious world.
Foyer (F): Good day, Shipra. First and foremost, I’d like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to you. I recently learned that you’ve been shortlisted for the design of the Mud House, and I must say, this is truly remarkable!
Shipra Singhania (SS): Thank you, it’s truly heartening to witness Indian designers and architects gaining international recognition for their work. I, like you, was pleasantly surprised when my application led to this opportunity. With so many talented designers worldwide dedicating their time and energy, I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m thrilled to be part of it.
F: It’s genuinely inspiring to see that recognition coming our way. Given the multitude of architects and designers globally putting in substantial efforts, the honour is truly appreciated. So, my first question for you revolves around what sparked your interest in sustainable architecture and natural building techniques. Could you share what initially led you to explore this domain more deeply? You mentioned how it started, but I’d love to hear more about it.
SS: Of course. Back when I began, I was primarily educated as an interior designer, and I’ve been working in that field since my graduation in 2009. A pivotal moment arrived a few years ago when I was approached by a former client. He had a vision to establish a dwelling on his farm, providing people with an experience of his agricultural passion, even before phrases like “farm to table” and “ecotourism” gained popularity. Our project research led us to focus on utilizing natural and humble materials, with mud as the primary choice due to its alignment with the local architecture and environment. This became the catalyst for my journey into sustainable architecture. As we delved deeper into our understanding of the material and architectural techniques, this journey continued to unfold.
F: Ah, got it. Well, let’s dive into a project that’s generating a lot of attention: your eco-friendly weekend home in Alwar. Could you guide us through the process of designing and constructing it, shedding light on any challenges you encountered and how you overcame them?
SS: Certainly. You’re referring to the Mud House in Alwar, correct?
F: Yes, indeed, and I’m particularly interested in the challenges you faced during the construction and how you resolved them.
SS: When we embarked on this project, there were initial concerns about sourcing materials because these weren’t typical construction materials available in the market. Finding the right source for these materials was a significant challenge. Equally, there were uncertainties about who would carry out the construction since working with these materials required specialized skills.
The breakthrough came through conversations with experienced masons, especially those who no longer actively worked but held valuable insights. Their wisdom guided how to work with these materials. Additionally, we consulted with experts in stonework and other natural materials. We delved into extensive documentation and reference materials related to natural materials and their use.
F: I see. So, moving on to sustainability, how do your natural building techniques contribute to energy efficiency and climate control within your home? Could you elaborate on the measures you employ in this regard?
SS: Absolutely. You’re referring to the microclimatic aspects of the house, correct?
F: Yes, that’s correct. How do you naturally incorporate these elements into your building?
SS: One of the fundamental approaches we utilize is implementing vernacular techniques, which have been forgotten in modern architecture. By strategically placing windows, we maximize natural ventilation in specific spaces. We have worked with varied roof techniques. Sloping roofs work better than flat roofs in hot areas as they reduce contact with the sun for 50% of the area at a given point in time. Mangalore tiles, stone sheets (patod, known locally), and thatch are a few techniques. In my experience, thatch is one of the most well-performing roofs, which helps maintain comfortable temperatures. For flat roofs, we have used stone, lime and filler slabs (which was introduced by Laurie Baker)
SS: Would you like to know more about these materials?
F: Indeed, I’d appreciate more insight into the materials used in your roofs, especially alternatives to RCC, and their impact on climate control.
SS: Certainly, we’ve employed a variety of materials. We have worked on varied roof techniques. Sloping roofs work better than flat roofs in hot areas as they reduce contact with the sun for 50% of the area at a given point in time. Mangalore tiles, stone sheets (patod, known locally), and thatch are a few techniques. In my experience, thatch is one of the most well-performing roofs which helps maintain comfortable temperatures. For flat roofs, we have used stone + lime roof & filler slab (which was introduced by Laurie Baker)
F: These are indeed innovative choices. Now, can you share some of the traditional methods you’ve incorporated into your designs? Are there any specific techniques that stand out to you as particularly effective or culturally significant?
SS: Absolutely, traditional techniques are integral to our work.
F: Could you provide some examples of these techniques?
SS: Sure, some of these include using “Bagra” waste, which is a byproduct of lime production, mixed with sand to create our mortar. This is a traditional and highly effective method. We’ve also revitalized the use of “Kulhars” in roofing systems, which are quite efficient for temperature control. Furthermore, we have incorporated age-old construction methods such as ‘Ramtek’ walls to enhance thermal insulation and utilized ‘Jaggery’ as a binding agent in our recent project, resulting in favourable outcomes.
F: Fascinating! Your dedication to preserving and employing these traditional techniques adds a rich layer to your designs. Now, you have a strong connection to organic farming through your family. Could you tell us more about how this has influenced your views on sustainable living and responsible land stewardship?
SS: My family’s involvement in organic farming has been immensely influential in shaping my approach to sustainable living and architecture. It has instilled in me a deep respect for the land and a responsibility to minimize our environmental footprint. The way we interact with nature has a direct impact on the environment, and it’s our duty to be responsible stewards. This perspective is deeply embedded in our work, where we aim to strike a balance between modern comfort and minimal environmental impact.
F: It’s clear that your family’s connection to the land has had a profound influence on your values and work. It’s a testament to the importance of sustainable practices. Now, if someone were to embark on a sustainable building project, what advice would you offer them, given your extensive experience in this field?
SS: My advice to anyone embarking on a sustainable building project would be to seek the guidance of experienced professionals who specialize in unconventional and natural building materials. Additionally, thoroughly research the materials you intend to use, considering their environmental impact. And most importantly, don’t merely chase aesthetics; carefully consider the practical aspects and long-term sustainability of your design choices.
F: That’s excellent advice for those looking to make a meaningful and sustainable impact through their projects. Collaboration is often key in this domain. Could you describe your collaborations with fellow architects and experts in the field of natural building and sustainable materials?
SS: Collaboration is indeed essential in this field. We have had the privilege of working closely with architects, civil engineers, and organizations that specialize in natural building. My induction into natural building happened with Thannal, a research-based organisation that conducts multiple workshops. Apart from this, I have collaborated with Design Undo for a recent project. We are a small community of natural builders in India and due to the nature of work, we always try to learn from other builders and their experiences.
F: It’s wonderful to hear that you’ve found such supportive partnerships. Lastly, I’m curious about the experience of designing the mud house alongside your family. Could you share some insights into how this collaborative effort unfolded and any memorable moments during the process?
SS: Designing the mud house with my family was a truly fantastic experience. My mother-in-law, in particular, brought her expertise in farming, gardening, and landscaping to the table. Her insights were invaluable in ensuring that the structure blended seamlessly with its natural surroundings. It was a harmonious collaboration that brought together tradition and modern comfort.
F: That sounds like a beautiful experience. Family involvement often adds a unique dimension to such projects. Shipra, thank you for sharing your insights and experiences with us. Your work is not only admirable but also a source of inspiration for aspiring architects and designers.
SS: Thank you, Foyer. I appreciate your interest and the platform you provide for discussions on sustainable architecture. It’s crucial to foster awareness about these practices and their positive impact on the environment.
F: You’re most welcome. I believe it’s vital to shed light on these practices and spark important conversations. Best of luck with your future projects, Shipra, and keep up the excellent work!
SS: Thank you. I look forward to continuing to contribute to the field of sustainable architecture.
As we conclude our enlightening conversation with Shipra Singhania, we’re left with a powerful vision of a world where architecture and the environment seamlessly coexist. Her journey is an embodiment of the belief that building a sustainable future is not just an aspiration but a collective commitment to our planet. Shipra’s dedication to the environment, her unwavering collaborative spirit, and her dedication to reviving age-old practices serve as a timeless testament to the transformative potential of sustainable architecture.
In an era where the clock is ticking on environmental challenges, her work stands as an enduring masterpiece—a testament to the ability of architecture to shape a better future in perfect harmony with the natural world. We eagerly anticipate Shipra’s continued contributions to this vital field and the impact she will make as she guides us toward a more eco-conscious, sustainable world.