We are constantly asked why have homes in clusters, when ‘farm houses’ are always individual and far apart. Here are some key reasons why..
POSSIBILITIES OF A COMMUNITY
In a community land of let’s say 60 acres, members would usually love to have a 5 acre lake. But where does this lake come from? Who would volunteer to give up a portion of their land towards this lake? In case of farm plots, a developer would have to first sacrifice 5 acres for a lake. And then, divide the remaining 55 acres into individual plots. But to make such a lake sustainable, it takes a lot more. A lake does not function in isolation – it needs a catchment, inflow channels, overflow channels, ecosystems etc, so all of this would need the 60 acre piece to function in unison. It is simply not possible to achieve this when each 1.5 acre behaves independently.
Now in contrast, imagine the homes are now clustered into 6 acres, i.e 10% of the property. The rest of the land can be treated as a single farm. All 54 remaining acres can be designed with the sole purpose of creating an ecosystem that encourages the water flow into a water body. This is how a natural sustainable lake becomes possible.
A HOME IS NOT JUST A HOUSE
A home doesn’t function in isolation. It needs infrastructure like access roads, water line, electric line, sewage line, recycling mechanisms, solid waste management mechanisms, broadband cabling etc. Cutting out farm plots implies spreading this infrastructure all over the landscape for each house. This is far more devastating to the landscape than it seems. Excavations to lay criss-crossing pipelines and cables would lead to altering the natural stability of the landscape. The result could be devastating. Never mind the cost of laying such infrastructure. Access paths are the other aspect. Ideally roads should be laid along contours to ensure maximum stability of a landscape. But under a compulsion of connecting every corner of the landscape, it is almost impossible to stick to this guideline, while increasing the costs dramatically. In a clustered mechanism it is possible to identify a small patch of about 10% utilisation, which lies close to an existing pathway, on moderately high ground, close to a water source, on stable ground and relatively flat. This minimises the costs of building the same 40 homes (assuming 1.5acre each) down to a fraction. To drive home the point, a 1.5 acre farm plot project would mean around close to 1.4 Km of roads and main water & sewage lines. A clustered approach compresses that to around 600m.
LET THE LAND BE
Collective or clustered planning allows us to leave the land unaltered – allowing stability that has been achieved through many decades of natural processes to be maintained. This, in our opinion is the most compelling reason to choose clustered homes. To do this, instead of fitting a landscape into the design, we should try to fit the design into the landscape. For example, instead of busting down a huge boulder feature, use them as wind blocks and find another spot for building homes. In a lot of cases, the utilisation actually improves (as shown in the picture above). Similarly, if there is a natural water channel, use it as a riparian zone – a place that will be the epicentre of your ecosystem services like water harvesting, filtration mechanisms, forest zones etc. Again, for housing, look for another place that’s high ground but sufficiently close. Remember, it takes 100 years to create 1 inch of topsoil. That alone should be enough to stop us from excavating and destabilising the soil that took millennia to get there. In the above picture notice how the old pathway, hardened by centuries of walking has been manually destabilised to build new ones! Collective implies de-risking. The Hyderabad Collective is located in Ibrahimpatnam, an area that has traditionally been seen as a dry belt and drought – prone. Talk to any landowner there and you will hear endless stories of how the wells have gone dry and the bore wells are getting deeper. Now we took this on as a challenge and again, a clustered approach helped.
On paper the area receives 650mm of annual rainfall, not too different from Hyderabad city itself that stands at 780mm. It turned out, that the rainfall itself is not the problem. The problem really is that the rain, all of it, comes in the two months of monsoon and just drains away. So our task was very straightforward. Make running water walk, and walking water stand. This translated to around 51 check dams and 1 four-acre lake in phase 1 alone. Once again, it is the cluster option that offers ample area for such essential actions.