Adopting a “building within a building” concept as a response to the extreme hot semi-arid climate of Dharmapuri in Southern India, the Primary healthcare center is a high-quality outpatient healthcare facility that intends to serve a group of agricultural villages in the vicinity. The project was completed and occupied in September 2011 and is reported by the architects to be functioning well on subsequent visits.
Elegant simplicity on a tight budget
Incorporating “green design” features, and working on a shoe-string budget, the architectural vocabulary of the Primary healthcare center exploits local construction skills and utilizes a material palette predisposed to available building skills in grass thatch and random rubble masonry to accomplish a highly weather tight, secure and easy to maintain clinic building. Innovative structural design utilizes the strength characteristics of individual materials. This is furthered by simplicity of plan and repetition of building elements.
Sensitivity to local produce and practice makes use of vetiver grass woven thatch window panels and the agricultural practice of clearing stone rubble from fields to prepare for cultivation. While the vetiver grass grows in the region and is a traditional building cooling system (by wetting woven grass mats and allowing air to pass through), the rubble stones are used to build retaining walls for the raised floor plinth including the outdoor gathering space and for landscape bund elements. The project also employs the best sustainable water management practices including both, rainwater harvesting and ground water recharging and drip irrigation.
The lightweight corrugated galvanized steel “shade roof” channels rain water into the central concrete gutter (which also supports it) for collection, groundwater recharge and storage. The cost of conventional water/weather proofing over the lower concrete roof is eliminated; while creating an additional intermural envelope serves to house service units and piping which are easy to access and maintain. The initial proposal to use recycled tetrapak™ roofing sheets was aborted because the material was not available locally (the nearest source being over 1,000km away and hence greater logistics and environmental costs) and furthermore because no clear performance guarantee for long-term use with respect to alternating exposure to extreme heat and heavy monsoon rains could be secured.
Composite structural frames
The unique portal type frames combine slender 65x65mm double steel angle sections that sandwich two structurally profiled “shera” 12mm thick flyash cement fiberboards. The resultant structural frame produces optimal structural efficiency and stiffness while consuming a minimal quantity of expensive steel.
Movable thatch panels
This uses the aromatic vetiver grass thatch mats as infill. A simple drip irrigation pipe is used to wet the panels in the hot dry summer; lowering temperatures and humidifying air passing into the interior by evaporative cooling. The panels can be opened or closed depending on the degree of climatic protection required for the interior. The earth toned panels also filter the abundant ambient dust prevalent in hot dry summers.
The landscape plan uses vetiver cultivation for soil stabilization at the terrace edges and also for future use in making woven thatch mats. The project client, Mahalir Aran Trust-MAT, operates a garment stitching unit within a kilometer of the Primary healthcare center, which employs local women who belong to a rehabilitation halfway home also run by MAT. These can be manufactured locally by MAT to replace existing panels after their expected usable life of 3-5 years.
Plinth retaining walls
These are clad with small stone boulders cleared from the soil at the building site. The natural earth texture of these rocks provides a maintenance-free plinth protection; a perfect visual foil which absorbs dust / earth splash without looking “unclean”.
Objectives of the project design
The overall objective was to create an innovative prototype modern building (inspired by traditional architectural elements like the protective “verandah”) that would serve as a benchmark for the construction of buildings in the local region. By employing a “hybrid” construction team that consisted of a core group of skilled craftsmen brought from a few 100km away and local workers, a very high quality of workmanship was achieved while transferring the expertise to local agencies.See more
Winners of the Holcim Awards for sustainable construction projects and visions from Asia Pacific have been announced, including six Acknowledgement prizes. A primary healthcare center, near Dharmapuri, in a hot and semi-arid rural region in Andhra Pradesh, India designed by Rajesh Renganathan and Iype Vernperampil of Flying Elephant Studio provides a shaded and well-ventilated waiting and gathering space together with a high-tech medical core.Read full media release – Holcim Awards 2011 for Asia Pacific »
The jury recognizes the strength of the project in its sophisticated detailing. Materials are employed respecting their specific qualities. Altogether this forms a simple and elegant design. This is continued in the natural simplicity of providing gathering spaces that will be utilized for providing health awareness programs to the local community. This small-scale edifice is an outstanding example for comparable building tasks.
This project is located in a rural area, 20km west of the town of Dharmapuri, in the state of Tamil Nadu which forms the southernmost part of the Indian peninsula. With a low budget, the project shall serve to improve healthcare in this hot and semi-arid rural region.
The compact and small-scale building distinguishes between a high-tech medical core and a low-tech surrounding layer. The latter serves as a shaded and well-ventilated waiting and gathering space. A team of specialists and local craftsmen that will benefit from professional exchange undertake the structural work – the first to erect the inner core, the latter to build the envelope.
Strong focus is laid on the efficacy of simple and local materials, whose characteristics are well-considered in their specific application. The roof consists of recycled tetrapak™ containers, base walls are made of rubble stones, and shade screens are manufactured using a local variety of vetiver grass which is moistened to create an evaporative cooling effect during the severe dry tropical summer. Rainwater is collected and used for water-efficient irrigation. The climatic concept incorporates the vegetation surrounding the building where plantings contribute to the cooling of the building and control glare and dust.Download project entry poster (PDF, 1.46 MB) »See more