Story of Malhar
Vision and Intent
To build a sustainable community within the city which begins with the essence of a village and works toward being relevant, progressive and inclusive.
An ecovillage that…
inspires its residents to make lifestyle choices that are synonymous with sustainable values.
creates a sense of identity and belonging for the group that lives here, while being inclusive to others around.
brings commonsense sustainable practices to mainstream thinking.
prompts the values of higher thinking and simple living.
explores alternatives in urban development that have the potential to influence and be adapted to different contexts.
is one of the best places to live in Bangalore.
To build spaces that are climatically comfortable, human in scale and culturally relevant.
To design with respect for land and nature.
To create experiences that stimulate all the senses and heighten awareness of the environment.
To promote the philosophy of community living through the caring & sharing of common spaces and resources.
To question the idea of individual identity while allowing for individual expression in the architecture.
To influence sustainable lifestyle choices in organic agriculture, holistic health and livelihood.
Context and Challenges
Within most urban areas, housing solutions are limited and do not offer qualitative choices in terms of lifestyle or impact. Group housing activity in India today is dominated by the real estate sector, rather than initiated by communities interested in living together. The truth is that most people are actually looking for communities that are secure, comfortable and affordable – communities which will give them a sense of belonging and a place to put down roots, usually missing in urban development.
The Real Estate model is a result of the broader economic environment within which all development takes place, where the limited focus of investors and ambiguous government policies dictate a process which has become disconnected from “housing”. The result is that housing has become a game of numbers; where the social, environmental and long term economic costs remain hidden – their impact neither understood nor anticipated.
One must question the quality of life as it is promoted and perceived in these environments. On one hand, the lifestyle sold as an aspiration is disconnected from the experience and culture of our society. On the other, water shortages, power cuts, and abysmal waste management are not unusual. Homes are often characterised by uncomfortable living spaces that require artificial light and ventilation.
The environment is also a victim of this uncontrolled development. Land value speculation leads to higher densities and vertical development patterns that strain the carrying capacity of the land. Depleting green cover, diminishing groundwater resources and climate change are only the tip of the iceberg. While there is a growing awareness to conserve and care for the environment, this awareness has unfortunately been assuaged using consumable “green” technologies, which have become marketing tools for developers. Often, the technological solutions offered are to “fix” problems inherent in the design.
In this context, the way forward is through a collaborative approach. Decision making should involve all stakeholders – from the architect, engineer, and carpenter to the end user, community and natural environment. Holistic development is not top down but shared and joint. Our experiences in collaboration in Malhar have illustrated that building sustainably not only creates sensitive environments, but also makes business sense.
Rising land costs render cutting back on the construction cost almost insignificant and lead to higher costs of housing.
Current building bye-laws are designed for vertical apartment development or “layouts” and do not recognise or allow any alternatives.
Limited availability of skilled labour motivated to build alternatively.
The traditional developer-user interface is limited by the transactional model. This builds a consumer culture which is not participatory in essence but demands maximum value for minimum participation.
Alternative co-housing models face challenges of leadership and accountability. The [buy-in] required from community members is significant and not always assured.
The existing process of development has an inherent atmosphere of mistrust across all participants due to perceived conflicts in risks and expectations. There is a need for social facilitators in the community that will build trust, consensus and cooperation to take the idea of a sustainable and conscious community forward.
GoodEarth Malhar is located in the village of Kambipura, near Kengeri Satellite Town. Kengeri is a suburb of Bengaluru, located roughly 20 kilometres south-west of the city centre along the Bengaluru-Mysore Highway. With the rapid urbanisation of Bengaluru over the last couple of decades, and the exponential increase in migrant population, suburbs around the city have gradually developed into self-contained hubs, offering their residents amenities from education and health care to retail and entertainment. Kengeri is one such suburb. An old town with a rich history from the time of the Cholas and Tipu Sultan, the expansion of Bengaluru has had a significant impact on its growth.
We began our experiments in building communities in and around Kengeri in 2004, and it soon became familiar territory for us. The area was attractive in many ways – large institutional land parcels which would prevent sporadic and disorganised development, a high water table, and accessible by road, bus and soon-to-be commissioned metro rail. Our early communities were typically built for 25-50 families, which was a scale we grew comfortable with. Through it all, our vision of an eco-village on a grander scale remained.
It was while exploring a shorter route between two of our sites that we first came across the land where Malhar exists today. A narrow mud road with overgrown foliage on either side surprised us with a delightful pond full of lilies. The unassuming water body merged seamlessly with the vegetation around it, and was buzzing with bird and insect life. After a long and dusty day’s work at a construction site, the serenity of the place was a sight for sore eyes. With a thought of perhaps building our office on the edge of this lake, we investigated the ownership of the land. That was how we came across the Asirvanam Benedictine Monastery. The Monastery had existed in this locality for over 100 years. It was well known in Bangalore for its dairy farm and the relationship the Monastery had with local farmers. We met the Fathers who owned the properties around – and discovered that they were looking to dispose of some land!
The Monastery owned a much larger tract, a part of which they wished to sell. That “part” ended up extending to over 50 acres! The possibility of access to a canvas at that scale, one at which a true eco-village could be developed, was truly enticing. While far beyond our capabilities at the time, we convinced the Fathers of our long-term vision, negotiating a staged purchase and development plan to last over the next several years. The lake that brought us here could not be a part of Malhar, as the land around it was not available. Instead we were offered a grazing ground for cattle as a potential location. Surrounding us was a newly developing residential area, the adjacent land parcels large and primarily institutional.
Our first official visit to the site was in early 2010. The acres of land stretched out before us, a sea of fodder grass with some areas wild and unapproachable. A few thorny jungle jalebi trees stood out for their character, as did several fig and rain trees. A water channel towards the east of the site was hidden by trees and shrubs. It was a magical little place, and a bench in one of the clearings indicated that others who used the land thought so too! Our instinctive thoughts were to retain this water channel as a feature, by building small check dams and water recharge wells along it.
The gradient was approximately 1:30 towards the south, and became an important feature in the design, used to create interesting levels and a source of soil mined for mud blocks. The terrain was hilly and formed gentle hills and valleys, and the natural water flow created seasonal water bodies and channels which drained into the nearby Vrishabhavati River.
After that first visit, it became a ritual to visit the Malhar site, walk its length and breadth to get a sense of the place, and visualise what it would become. The vibrant natural ecosystem of plant, bird, insect and snake life almost made the space feel sacred. It became one of the intents to retain this habitat as far as possible. The quiet energy of the land gave us the continued strength and courage to make all the ideas we had been dreaming of a reality.