Building for the Community
Compartment S4 designed a homestay with earthquake resilient features, the BASA Tourism Centre in Khirsu and built it with the help of locals as part of the Uttarakhand government’s initiative to promote homestays amongst locals to aid the village economy as well as the social fabric of the region.
Architecture that comes as a solution to living conditions in earthquake vulnerable locations was explored through the Resilient Homes Design Challenge, an international competition hosted by World Bank, UN Habitat, Build Academy, GFDRR and AirBnb. The challenge generated designs for disaster-resilient and sustainable houses that could be constructed for under $10,000 for people living in areas affected by or vulnerable to disasters caused by natural hazards. There were three scenarios, out of which three winners per scenario was chosen. This design proposal is the winning entry for Scenario 2 which included earthquakes up to 7.0 on Richter’s scale also resulting in landslides for mountain and inland areas.
The main challenge in this scenario is to design a house that is not only earthquake and landslide resilient but also takes into account the increasing remoteness and difficulty in transport as altitude rises. The house is designed with a heavy stone filled retaining wall at the bottom and a light wooden structure on the top. Materials and technologies that would be easily available in the local context and can be easily transported via small pickup van were used. A balance between local knowledge and modern construction techniques is incorporated in order to encourage community participation and ownership. Earthquake resilient features are integrated into the traditional building practices with minor changes to the available skill set so that its construction does not require expert or non-local craftsmen.
“The initiative called BASA Tourism Center responds to the cold climate of the Himalayan mountain region, and the design is a simple effort to create a modest shelter by applying engineering, architecture and local techniques together,” according to the architects, Compartment S4. The firm Compartment S4 was founded in 2017 by eight architects namely Monik Shah, Aman Amin, Manuni Patel, Prasik Chaudhari, Krishna Parikh, Kishan Shah, Vedanti Agarwal and Nishita Parmar, who graduated from the Centre of Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) University. They joined hands with the locals to build the center and conducted workshops with the volunteers. The Uttarakhand government’s aim is to gradually increase the global presence of rural areas. BASA is thus introduced as a model for locals to get inspired to open-up their spare rooms as homestays in Khirsu. As an initiative executed and managed by locals, it is aimed at revitalizing the local economy and instilling a conscious approach to tourism which can help preserve the natural and cultural landscape of Khirsu.
The building is designed with heavy stone filled gabion retaining walls at the bottom and a light wooden structure on top covered with wattle and daub panels as an infill material. Undressed stone is used as the gabion walls because it can be picked up from waste and also reduces the labour. It is crafted with a balance between local knowledge and modern construction techniques aiming to encourage community participation and ownership. The Tourism Center has a community kitchen and a space to display their local produces, on the lower level. The upper floor houses an exhibition portraying the local heritage and culture of Khirsu along with essential information for tourists. This space can also function as a recreational space for the tourists who are staying at the BASA homestay.
BASA in Garhwali language is an expression to invite guests to your house for a night halt. This initiative focuses on the local needs, economy and architecture in a way that the locals develop a sense of ownership and add value to it. Women empowerment is an integral part of the initiative since they are considered the driving engine of Garhwal region. The place is made to be run by the local self-help group, Unnati. BASA consists of a cottage with four rooms, a community kitchen, a tourism center and a packaging and selling unit of local produces and handicrafts. Located in the snow peaked mountains and within forests, the tourists can experience the landscape as well as the village life and local food. The cottage is adorned with wooden carvings done by local craftsman which adds to the aesthetics. A rain water harvesting tank with a capacity of 27000 litres of water is also provided with the intent of spreading awareness amongst the villagers to save water in the water-scarce region.
Along with handling the stay, the women will also be engaged in production and packaging all the local village produce and crafts which will be sold to the tourists. An existing government block is converted into a selling and a packaging facility for the local produce.