January 5, 2016

Spaces: Casa Rana by Made in Earth ONLUS

by Maanasi Hattangadi

Images & Drawings:  © Made in Earth ONLUS

A version of this story on Casa Rana was originally published in Matter, a content initiative that aims to celebrate the diversity and richness of ideologies and practices that are quintessentially Indian and relate to challenges and opportunities that are presented by our context.

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Occupied by several fleeting instances, the broader picture is full of life with painterly details; carefree children in a playground across a colourful geometry of five cuboids, an intricate pattern of a peripheral bamboo curtain animating the inside in sunlit chiaroscuro. Grounded in these gestures, Casa Rana has been designed as a shelter for around fifteen HIV positive children ‘who are orphans or have been abandoned by their family, or with parents who cannot take care of them’.

The thought was to extend their sense of belonging – to a family, to a place where they can grow up with other children – to ‘a place that is itself a toy, to be discovered and exploited.’ The project was commissioned by one of the patrons of Terres des Hommes Core Trust.

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A conceptual sketch of Casa Rana

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Above all, it stands at the intersection of architecture and social impact. The first of many of Made in Earth ONLUS’s projects, Casa Rana in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu adapts to their people-centric process and approach to create positive change.

Made in Earth ONLUS is a non-profit organisation that works on humanitarians projects in developing countries, collaborating with other organisations. […]A fundamental goal for every project,” they mention, “is to combine ethical and aesthetic values in order to protect people’s dignity, with a real attention to their needs. This way, architecture becomes a chance to pursue bigger goals: this is our idea of sustainability.”

A versatile matrix to guide projects of various complexities and scales, these principles characterise their notion of the role design should play in effectively enabling people to achieve the basics of living at an elementary level. And programmatically, this is what Casa Rana adheres to.

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Plan of Casa Rana

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Cross-section of Casa Rana

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Diagram explaining ventilation

Besides an architectural idea, the value is placed more on its residents and is deeply contextual to both; the basic emphasis being on function and simplicity. Core to the evolution of the design process, was viewing the children as participants and not only end-users. The children were asked to sketch their aspirations of a home. This steered for the architects a trajectory to ‘give them a place full of joy and colour to live.’

“The bright colours of the walls,” they say, “refers both to the well-known Indian culture of colours and to a big, oversized toy. They also help to give an identity and appropriation feeling to the little inhabitants.”

Interlacing two planes – an elevated plinth (to avoid floods) and the roof slab – the inside spaces are choreographed over 375sqm of built-up area between broader placements of five volumes.

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Scripted at its threshold, governing a balance between privacy and openness, the bamboo allows for a deeper ingress of the sun and a higher environmental index as a more sustainable alternative to wood ‘owing to its fast-growing peculiarities’.

In an asymmetrical alignment along the north-south axis, two structures – one comprising of the storage and caretakers’ (fondly referred to as Mummy) room and the other, a dormitory – lie to western side, and three – kitchen, a communal semi-open distribution space and two dormitory blocks – towards the east and at the end, is framed a tree.

Amply lit, the singular composition is oriented to maximise cross-ventilation and the colourful boxes emerge above the roof plane to accommodate skylights, chimneys and form pathways on the terrace.

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Appropriated to counter the predominantly hot climate of the region, the restrained material palette is expressed as a concrete structure supported with walls made of handmade bricks to ensure good insulation. The waterproofing was made using a traditional technique, a mix of broken bricks, sand, water, cement and a liquid that comes from the seeds’ fermentation of a local plant.

The building works within this whole patchwork, compartmentalising each activity tactilely and visually in unexpected ways.

Beyond the provision of a shelter, in this case, architecture also implicates a socially-driven dimension. It is about the children, everything that needs to surround them, the bare and the essential. Rooted in this reality, it is about architecture with a conscience.

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Information
Project: Casa Rana
Location: Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu
Architects: Made in Earth ONLUS
Principal: Giancarlo Artese, Sebastiano Gorini, Diego Lama
Design Team: Cristina de Gennaro, Adriana Raguso
Client: Terre des Hommes Core Trust
Consultants: Livio de Santoli, Energia & Ambiente S.r.l.
Commencement of Project: 2011
Completion of Project: 2013

AREA
Site Area: 1600 sqm
Built-up area: 375sqm

Maanasi Hattangadi is an architect based in Goa and leads a content initiative on architecture entitled Matter. She is also involved with developing Kokum, an interdisciplinary resource programme with a focus on ‘Design in the Public Domain’.

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