SPACES Magazine, an architectural and design magazine published in Kathmandu, recently did an article on the eco-friendly and economical aspects of our new Ama Ghar home. Copy and photos from the article are excerpted below. Thank you for the donations that made this home possible…
Nepal, a developing country, still has an underdeveloped education and health system, especially with regard to children. According to UNICEF, 4.8% of children under the age of 5 died in 2010; 650,000 children were orphaned in 2009, and 39% of children under 5 years of age were underweight (according to World Health Organization). Statistics like this, and numerous other related issues like child marriage, child labour, urbanization etc, highlight the necessity to provide children with basic rights.
With these very feelings, Mr. Shrawan Nepali, along with co-founders Ama Tika Basnet and Shekhar Silwal, initiated the Ama Foundation in 2001. The word ‘Ama’ (literally meaning Mother) represents love, faith, affection and belonging in our culture. Ama Ghar was started under this foundation by Mr. Nepali to commemorate his upbringing by his godmother Ama Tika Basnet. “Ama Ghar” or “Motherly Home” is a home for orphans and underprivileged children, 20 kms south of Kathmandu, in Godavari. In 2012, Ama Ghar moved from an abode for 14 children in a rented house, to its own building that houses as many as 46 children and 7 staff members.
Besides being a home for children, Ama Ghar also features exemplary Green Architecture. The requirement for the building was to accommodate 70 children and 30 staff members. The client also wanted the building to have a ‘home like’ environment instead of a ‘hostel’. The architect, Prabal Thapa, has designed the building with a minimalist approach, and whilst meeting the requirements, has also managed to keep the dependence on non- renewable sources of energy to a minimum.
Ama Ghar is built on 13-ropanis of land (1 Ropani = 5476 Sq. Ft.). Since the area is contoured, sloping from east to west, the building is oriented towards the west to harmonize with the hills. Active and passive solar techniques have been incorporated for maximum usage of solar energy to meet heating and lighting needs.
The building has open plumbing and electrical system which makes repair and maintenance hassle-free. In addition, the problem of water supply has been carefully tackled with wastewater management and rainwater harvesting. Ama Ghar is located on moist grounds so the French Drain foundation was built to keep the building dry, and avoid any kind of seepage/leakage through floors.
1 French Drain is a trench covered with gravel or rock that redirects surface and groundwater away from an area. French drains are common drainage systems, primarily used to prevent ground and surface water from penetrating or damaging building foundations, Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_drain
PASSIVE SOLAR ENERGY
The building of Ama Ghar is U-shaped, opening to the west. The northern wing is longer than the southern wing so that the rooms in the Northern and Eastern wing get the afternoon sun all year round. Since the kitchen and toilets are mostly occupied in the mornings, these rooms have been planned to receive the early morning sun, thus minimizing artificial lighting requirements. All rooms have cross ventilation to provide cooling requirements for summer.
Planning and layout
All the walls of Ama Ghar are 14” thick, in order to insulate the heat inside the building. The U-shaped building has common activity areas, and rooms for boys, girls, and staff or visitors. The ground floor of the northern wing has rooms for a children needing mobility assistance, a study/library, and access staircase to the boys’ rooms on the first floor. The eastern wing has a common activity room, office room for staff, and a staircase to the girls’ rooms in upper floors. The southern wing houses the kitchen and the dining area – as well as covered sit-out spaces.
The concrete block paved courtyard is used for games. The building as well as the courtyard faces the garden, and open fields to the west. The courtyard has raised platforms for plantations that are also used for seating. Since the site has contours, the amphitheatre space is designed in steps facing a gazebo that acts as a performing stage. The curved ramp is designed for ease of access for wheelchair users.
ACTIVE SOLAR TECHNIQUES
PhotoVoltaic Cells (PV Cells) are positioned on the southern slope of the building. The electrical energy from PV Cells is adequate to light the rooms and cook rice in the kitchen of Ama Ghar.
THE MINIMALIST APPROACH
Ama Ghar is minimalist in design and cost. The building has an exposed brick façade which eliminates the need of plaster and paint. The concrete surfaces are also exposed in ceilings and walls, without plaster or paint, which appears raw yet finished. The openings and balconies/verandahs are supported and covered by light metal sections. A traditional essence is maintained through the slope roof, facilitating rain water collection as well. The wooden rafters in the roof are visible, and so is the jhingati roof in some
places. The rooms of children are open (i.e. no doors), thus reducing the cost of wooden fixtures. The aluminium windows further enhance the heating system in the building
and avoid the problems caused by wooden windows such as sagging of sections, dust accumulation, termites attack, etc. The open plumbing and electrical systems reduce the cost of concealing these features. In addition, the lobby in the first floor has a skylight, thus reducing artificial lighting requirement.
WASTE WATER MANAGEMENT
Ama Ghar incorporates decentralized wastewater treatment system (DEWATS), along with organic waste management. The treatment system, designed for 100 people, has treatment capacity of 8 cubic meters of waste water per day.
The DEWATS here has three stages of wastewater treatment.
The Primary Unit: The primary unit involves the sedimentation of wastewater and sludge, and their primary treatment in septic tanks. This unit treats black water and organic solids to produce 5m3 of bio gas per day, which fulfills one-third of fuel requirement for cooking.
The Secondary Unit: In this unit, both black and grey water is treated in a chambered Anaerobic Baffled Reactor (ABR). The ABR reduces biological and chemical oxygen demand by anaerobic digestion inside the chambers.
The Tertiary Unit: The final unit involves aerobic/anaerobic treatment inside Horizontally Planted Gravel Filters (HPGF) that reduces colours and odours.
After tertiary treatment, the vegetables/garden plants absorb phosphorus and nitrogen. The treated water is used for flushing of toilets and gardening, thus, decreasing the use/ requirement of fresh water. The byproduct, biological and chemical oxygen demand (BOD and COD, or the biological and chemical remnants), are discharged into the nearby Godavari River.
In maintaining a traditional Nepali homes essence, the sloped roofs of Ama Ghar drain the rain water to gutters and pipes for rain water harvesting. After adequate treatment, the water is collected in a separate tank. This harvested rainwater is adequate for household purposes for 5-6 months every year.
Ama Ghar has synchronized architecture with energy sustaining methods, thus, making it an example of sustainable architecture. The Ama Ghar building not only reflects traditional Nepali Architecture in its exterior, it also demonstrates a practical approach to environmentally sustainable technology as a whole. While the city faces drought and power shortage most of the time, these aspects of water supply and electricity are well tackled at Ama Ghar. Architectural aestheticism, structural stability, ecological
sustainability and cost effectiveness are assets of Ama Ghar. It is also an exemplary building that highlights the importance of non-renewable energy, and advantages of renewable sources of energy. It is obvious that the current power cuts, inadequate water supply, and gas shortage can be tackled with careful investment in environment friendly and ecologically sustainable technologies in the construction of a building.