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Shillong House Gets Eco Makeover (India)

Credits: ©2010 Nico Saieh

Meghalaya is a small state in north-eastern India. The word "Meghalaya" literally means "The Abode of Clouds" and it occupies a hilly strip in the northeastern part of India. The capital is Shillong also known as the Scotland of the East, where about one third of the state is forested and known for the biodiversity of mammals, birds, and plants. It is within this region that Habari Warjri and Gerald Pde acquired an existing house while they were in New York. They decided to renovate based on their use requirements, and wanted to use the home as a showcase for environmental design in single family residential projects. Emphasis for the project was to re-use as much existing materials as possible, recycle any waste generated onsite, improve the indoor environmental quality and save energy.


shillong Clerestories

In winter, when the clerestory windows are shut, stratification of warm air due to solar and internal gains offset heat loss from the upper roof and window areas, keeping the space warm in the Shillong House in northeastern India. ©2010 EarthStudio

The Shillong House is located in a locality of Upper Shillong which is about three kilometers from the center of the city’s business district and still maintains its original forest landscape. It is a unique residence that floats above its more typical concrete and brick neighbors. The view from the site is of pine trees and a scenic panorama of Shillong town towards the east and the Umiam Lake towards the north.

The original house was L-shaped, a plan that was maintained to preserve the house’s original integrity. The entrance of the house is from the studio which leads into the open loft consisting of living, bar, dining and kitchen areas. These spaces are all arranged in one arm of the L-shape plan. A door from the living room leads on to the more private sections of the house which include the master bedroom and bathroom, the guest bedroom and bathroom and the utility space. These private living areas are arranged in the other arm of the L-shape plan. Originally, external verandahs typical Assam-type typology wrapped the house an all sides. However in the renovation, the external verandah was broken up to accommodate the master bedroom, the bar and the maid’s room. The verandah was articulated into a kitchen verandah, and a verandah around the living and the bedroom areas.

The requirements for the project:

• One master bedroom with attached toilet

• One guest bedroom with common guest toilet

• One studio

• One Living, Kitchen and Dining

• One Maid’s room with External Toilet

• One Utility Room

The intent for this project was to use recycled and local materials as much as possible, including a combination of wood, brick, stone, glass and metal. Recycled materials from the existing structure such as wood, stone and brick were utilized as much as possible to reduce the necessity of harvesting new materials.

Locally available wood such as English Pine, Poma, Tita-champa and Teak were used for various wooden applications in the project, including exterior louvers. A locally available Cherapunjee stone was used as interior and exterior stone cladding and also the project’s external boundary wall.

Environmental sustainability was an important facet of this project and efforts were made to apply environmental design principles conducive to the project, including:

Rainwater Harvesting: Shillong receives a large amount of rainfall yearly however rainwater is not actively used in Shillong except for minimal washing. This project attempts to use rainwater actively by offsetting washing, cleaning and toilet flushing demands. Rainwater gutters line the roof channeling the rain water into an underground tank where it is pumped into a rainwater overhead tank for toilet flushing and irrigation.

Solar Hot Water: A solar hot water system made of flat-plate collectors is installed on the roof which preheats water before it is supplied to hot water geysers in the house. This offsets a significant amount of heating energy required for washing and bathing. Solar hot water is also used directly in the kitchen sink to supply warm water for washing.

Daylighting: One of the primary objectives of the house is to use daylight as much as possible for visual comfort and energy savings. The roof-form which on one hand sits on the existing structure was modified to allow daylight penetration over the perimeter verandahs into the interior spaces. The roof-form that then arrived was inherent to the design to allow for daylight given the restrictions on-site.

Natural Ventilation: Shillong’s climate is very conducive for natural ventilation which is used to achieve thermal comfort in a building. In this project, natural ventilation is driven by wind-pressure and by stack ventilation where warm air is exhausted from the higher clerestory windows. IN winter when the clearstory windows are shut, stratification of warm air due to solar and internal gains offset heat loss from the upper roof and window area keeping the space warm.

Envelope Performance: To minimize heat loss especially during the cold winter months, the entire roof of the house was insulated using fiber-wool insulation sandwiched between two layers of board. Corrugated sheets were then used as the rain layer over the insulation layers. Building insulation is not commonly used in Shillong and the intention of the project is to investigate the benefits of roof insulation. While interior temperature data is yet to be taken, the temperature conditions in the house are comfortable and additional heating is not required. In addition double paned glass also reduces heat loss through the external glazing due to the air space trapped between the two layers of glass.

Reuse/Recycling: An effort was made to reuse as much material from the old structure as was possible. Old wooden rafters were re-used to provide a backing for the new wooden floors. All reusable brick was utilized in walls or for soling. The entire steel structure of the house was preserved in the design. Originally the steel columns where hidden in concrete plaster and the project tried to expose the texture of the original steel as much as possible making it an architectural feature.

Relevant books:
Passive Solar House
The Green Self-Build Book