Habfest – 30th anniversary and Seminar of Habitat Technology Group

‘Habitat to build 1,000 homes toward LIFE Mission’: Pinarayi Vijayan

Chief Minister inaugurated the valedictory function of HabFest-30 exhibition on Sunday

May 14: Observing that an architect builds not just houses but also fulfills people’s hopes and dreams, Kerala Chief Minister Shri Pinarayi Vijayan here today lauded Habitat Technology Group for building 1,000 homes under the LIFE mission project.

“Nearly five lakh families are without a home in the state and LIFE Mission is envisaged as a complete rehabilitation package to directly benefit the homeless and landless in Kerala. Over the next five years, the project will see a number of worthy agencies and institutions, including Habitat, work with the government to fulfill the potential of this comprehensive housing scheme,” the Chief Minister said.

He handed over a memorandum to Habitat Chairman Padma Shree Shankar G. to mark the commitment. Habitat will collaborate with a number of partners, including SNDP Yogam, to fulfill the mandate.

The Chief Minister was inaugurating the valedictory function of HabFest-30, a four-day exhibition conducted as part of Habitat’s 30th anniversary celebrations to spread the message of low-cost, eco-friendly architecture methods and traditional building techniques.

“On Mother’s Day, it must be remembered that every person associates their sense of home and belonging with their mothers. People remember those who helped make them a home. That is way architect of the poor Laurie Baker is still remembered today. It is commendable that Habitat has taken the message of cost-effective, green homes forward,” he said.

The Chief Minister then presented the National Habitat awards for Green architecture to Shri W.R. Reddy IAS, Director General of National Institute for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, COSTFORD Director Shri T.R. Chandradutt, Asset Homes Managing Director Shri V. Sunil Kumar and Shri T. Rameshan, President of Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society (ULCCS).

The function, which was presided over by Dr Shashi Tharoor MP, saw in attendance Shri O. Rajagopal MLA, eminent poetess Smt. Sugathakumari and cine icon Smt. Manju Warrier as well as Poojapurra councilor Dr Vijayalakshmi.

“Habitat has closely followed the pioneering efforts of Laurie Baker, whose birth centenary falls this year. Together, they have championed the message of sustainable architecture and environmental consciousness across the state and beyond,” Dr Tharoor said.

In his welcome address, Shri Rajagopal lauded Habitat’s efforts to address the housing shortage in Kerala and expressed hope that there would be sufficient political consensus and bureaucratic will to bring about a lasting solution to the issue.

The function, which also saw felicitations by Smt. Sugathakumari and Smt. Manju Warrier, also marks the start of a year-long programme of activities by Habitat. Over the next year, Habitat will undertake several national level construction projects on behalf of Central and State governments and institutions.

Free consultation services prove hit at HabFest-30

May 14: Of the many stalls showcasing a variety of products and services during the HabFest-30 exhibition, three booths in particular consistently drew the largest crowds to the tune of nearly 500 visitors over the past three days.

The free housing consultations offered at these booths daily by engineers and experts of Habitat Technology Group proved a huge draw at the exhibition, fielding inquiries from as far away as Kasargod and Kannur. The majority of the visitors were from the city.

While most questions centered, perhaps expectedly, around the 303 sq ft model brick home situated directly across the booths, the aim of the consultation service was to provide informed answers to any and all queries posed.

Shaji, a prospective homeowner, took a bus into the city from Kollam just to take in a consult. Besides the standard questions about the effect of rain and sunlight on the exposed brick masonry, Shaji asked, “If you can build a 300 sq ft home for Rs 3 lakh in three weeks, why can’t you construct 1,500 sq for Rs 15 lakh?”

This was a commonly asked question and comes out of a mistaken assumption, according to Chandrakumar Ananthakrishnan, Chief Engingeer (Projects) at Habitat, who has manned one of the booths for the duration of the exhibition.

“There are technical difficulties. A 1,000 sq ft-plus structure has its own foundation and other limitations. For one, the dimensions of the rooms will change. The costs of cement flooring and interior wall plastering will not be the same. Most importantly, the foundation costs will increase. Foundation costs are 15-20 per cent of the construction costs and the larger area will mean more money sunken in for the base,” Chandrakumar said.

Explaining that one could save money by adding another storey on the same foundation, he said that engineering principles, workmanship and structural stability would not be diluted or compromised. That would like akin to cutting corners in the name of cutting costs.

“The goal should be limiting the ground consumption while adding value and raising awareness of Habitat’s governing ‘home for the homeless’ ethic, he said. This is the sort of intervention that Habitat is known for. The services on offer here are purely engineering consultations. There are no blueprints or plans drawn up. We have no agenda to promote ourselves or sell any products. We don’t even have banners or brochures,” he said.

Viewing homes as commodities has lead to  housing crisis: Laurie Baker tribute finds

Seminar organised by Habitat Technology Group calls for master architect’s
teachings on affordable, appropriate construction to be heeded, emulated.

May 14: The commodification of homes, elevation of comfort over community needs and hegemony of Western building codes had resulted in unsustainable construction trends and acute housing crisis, a memorial here to low-cost architecture pioneer Laurie Baker heard on Saturday.

 “Homes today are assets and speculative investments. Today, there are 12 lakh unoccupied homes in a state where there is a housing shortage of 4.5 lakh. This massive transformation in the built environment owes to hyper-consumption by the middle class, outsourcing of design ideas to the West and global capital flows to the construction sector,” said Chandra Dutt, Director of Centre of science and technology for rural development (COSTFORD).

Dutt, a renowned social activist who co-founded the housing non-profit with Baker, former Chief Minister C. Achutha Menon and eminent economist K.N. Raj, said Baker had predicted this transformation from community mode of architecture to commodity mode and called for the rejection of imported rating systems like LEED certifications in favour of traditional vastu shastra principles.

The tribute to Baker in his birth centenary was organised by Habitat Technology Group as part of its HabFest-30 exhibition event in Poojappura ground. The occasion saw a number of notable personalities participate in a seminar titled ‘Laurie Baker’s Legacy’.

Inaugurating the seminar, Director General of National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR) Dr W.R. Reddy IAS said Baker’s pioneering construction techniques and traditional low-cost technologies needed to be mainstreamed.

“Tendencies of wealth exhibitionism and seeking immediate comforts and conveniences have resulted in distorted architectural designs and practices, unsustainable housing initiatives and the inadequacy of housing in both urban and rural sectors. There are widely held misconceptions about affordable housing being meant only for the poor and that a house must by definition by a concrete-cement structure,” Reddy said.

Calling for an “unlearning of such lessons”, he said the lessons left by Baker – creating living situations as close to nature as possible using locally available materials and ensuring as little wastage in the construction cycle – could only be utilised by the construction sector after they had been enshrined as PWD and CPWD codal provisions.

Echoing this sentiment, architect and COSTFORD Joint Director P.B. Sajan advocated a community-based approach to construction that involved participatory planning, education and women empowerment.

Over a presentation on ‘Slum free cities through community-building’ that recalled a 1996 booklet by Baker titled Are slums inevitable?, Sajan said, “The financial empowerment of women and education of children is the key to ushering in home ownership in the slums and ending the cycle of subsidy dependence.”

In his opening address, Habitat Chairman Padmashree Shankar G. said Baker had left behind a legacy that both empowers and challenges Indian architects to move out of their comfort zones to follow his model of socially responsible construction.

The evening seminar also in attendance Kudumbasree Executive Director Smt. K.B. Valsala Kumari, technocrat G. Vijayaraghavan, BJP leader C. Sivankutty, Poojapurra councilor Dr Vijayalakshmi and film critic Prof Madhu Eravankara.

HabFest-30: Virtual reality experience offers visitors preview of homes, look at future of realty

May 13: Among the many product demonstrations on offer at the ongoing HabFest-30 exhibition, perhaps the most immersive is a virtual reality experience that provides prospective homebuyers a 360-degree preview of the property on offer.

Virtual Reality Experience in the Fest.

Since the exhibition by Habitat Technology Group got underway at Poojappura ground on Thursday, the stall for a Technopark-based start-up has drawn curious visitors eager to don the VR headset and take a personalised tour of several virtual houses.

With a variety of customisation options — from porting across rooms, changing bedspread and tile textures, opening doors and windows and even adjusting light, wind and water effects, the experience seeks to provide a “truthful” representation of the property. Real-time price estimates are available at the click of a hand-held controller.

“This is a useful tool for both architects and customers. Once the blueprints or building models are fed into the software, we can map out fairly accurately how the property will look according to the specifications given,” said V. Gopikrishnan, who runs the start-up – an online procurement platform for brick, mortar, electrical and sanitary fittings and other construction needs.

Gopikrishnan, a gold medallist architect from IIT Kharagpur who feels that architecture had not made much progress in the IT age, “enjoys making things more efficient”. The start-up, incubated by Kerala Startup Mission, only became fully functional in the third quarter of 2016, but are already supplying to more than 250 projects in Kerala.

Their popularity owes much to simplicity. Buying building material online is a three-step process with creating an estimate, getting a quote in which the company finds the best available prices for the consumer and then placing and confirming the order.

“We have product images and detailed specifications. The advantage is that buyers can compare two products easily and we can give customers the guarantee on materials, cost advantage and the convenience of having the material shipped to their specified location,” said Gopikrishnan, whose customer base includes architects, contractors and end-users.

HabFest exhibition to conclude on Sunday

Year-long celebrations to mark Habitat Technology Group’s 30th anniversary follows

May 13: The four-day HabFest event conducted as part of Habitat Technology Group’s 30th anniversary celebrations to spread the message of low-cost, eco-friendly architecture methods and traditional building techniques will conclude tomorrow.

Thousands of visitors, including state ministers, policymakers and prominent experts from various fields, gathered at the exhibition to learn about sustainable and affordable building concepts and to see in action traditional building materials as also state of the art construction technologies.

Chief Minister Shri Pinarayi Vijayan will inaugurate the year-long celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of Habitat Technology Group at the exhibition’s closing ceremony in Poojappura Ground. The Chief Minister will also present the recently-declared National Habitat awards to individuals and organisations that have embraced sustainable building methods at the closing ceremony, which begins at 5.30 pm.

The valedictory function will see in attendance such notable personalities as Dr Shashi Tharoor M.P., who will deliver the presidential address, Shri O. Rajagopal MLA, celebrated poetess Smt.  Sugathakumari and cine actor Smt. Manju Warrier, among others.

Other than the 60 stalls exhibiting sustainable building materials and technologies, the HabFest event also saw well-received seminars discussing a number of relevant infrastructure- and capability-building measures. The fest also had free housing consultations, upcycling and recycling demos, street magic and cultural performances.

The fest’s main attraction was the model 300 sq ft home, which can be built within a budget of Rs 2.5 lakh in as little as three weeks. The concluding day, the construction of this demo house will be completed, barring the roof.

Following the closing ceremony, KPAC will stage a theatre production based on Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s story enteuppuppaakkoruaanaundarnu.

Over the next year, Habitat will undertake several national level construction projects of Central and State governments and institutions.

HabFest-30: Toys from waste inspire visitors to do more with less

In the midst of all the HabFest-30 exhibition stalls showcasing building material and innovative architecture practices is a low-key booth that attracts old and young alike.

KS Subid with one of his ‘ahimsa toy’​ at Habfest, Poojapura ground.

With plastic bottles converted into spinning flowers, musical pipes, origami birds and other handcrafted kinetic toys made from recycled material and paper, K.S. Subid’s Ahimsa Toys stall has proven a hit with visitors to the exhibition in Poojappura ground.

The stall seems a micro-version of the Habitat Technology Group’s building philosophy of keeping things low cost and sustainable. Subid is a civil engineer by training with an MTech in industrial design from IIT Delhi, but his Ahimsa Toys came from a desire to “unlearn science and continue learning from life”.

Toys made by KS Subid from waste materials

“This is an attempt to change our approach to waste management,” said Subid, whose political-social activism pushed him in this direction. “We are just becoming aware of the need for this, but tribals don’t waste anything; they always try to reuse everything. I feel that is the approach to take.”

Subid believes that kids do not need toys and that buying toys makes them lose their creativity, so the next best thing is to get them to try and make their own playthings. He is invited by various schools and organisations to hold workshops for children, particularly during the vacation months, across Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Class seven student Abhilash hangs around the stall, spinning a propeller made with an old ice cream container and ice cream sticks and a yoyo made with old CDs. “This is great fun,” Abhilash said. “I would like to try my hand at making these when I get home.”

Rainwater harvesting: State will seek all possibilities, minister Kadakampally

Kerala Tourism Minister Shri Kadakampally Surendran during his visit to one of the stalls exhibited at ‘Habfest -30’ at Poojapura Ground. Accompanying the minister is Habitat Group founder Padmashri G Shankar.

May 12: Incorporating rural technology, Kerala Government will explore all possibilities in rainwater harvesting, Minister for Cooperation and Tourism, Shri Kadakampally Surendran informed a seminar on rainwater harvesting organised by Habitat Technology Group as part of its ongoing 30th-anniversary celebrations.

The rainwater run-off in Kerala has grown into such a grave situation that it does not even collect a quarter of the rainwater stored in an arid state like Rajasthan, he told. Construction methods have been transformed to such an extent that even a drop of water is not allowed to infiltrate. The government would take all steps to promote green construction protecting the earth and water. It would support organisations like Habitat Technology in its effort to conserve the greenery through rural construction technology, the Minister said.

Fritz Porcheke, Director, Research and Development, WISY AG, a German organisation which has been a global provider and the leading manufacturer of high-quality rainwater harvesting systems, presented the theme paper in the seminar. Dr. WR Reddy, the Director, National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, T. Sivarajan, President, “Uravu”, Dhareshan Unnithan, Director, Energy Management Centre-Kerala, participated in the discussion

The exhibition on affordable ethnic construction and rural technology, organised by Habitat at Poojappura Ground is drawing huge crowds including eminent persons from various sectors. Water resources minister, Mathew T. Thomas was one among them yesterday. The exhibition will culminate on Sunday with a function attended by the Chief minister Shri Pinnarayi Vijayan.

Unique ‘green’ waste management system provides affordable alternative to industrial products, inefficient disposal processes

May 12: An innovative bio-waste management system wholly powered by earthworm activity provides an eco-friendly, low-cost alternative to both traditional landfill disposal and expensive waste treatment methods.

Habitat Group Senior Consultant TP Madhu along with the concrete ring-shaped waste management unit developed by Habitat Technology Group

What’s more, the system – designed by Habitat Technology Group and showcased at the ongoing HabFest-30 exhibition in Poojappura ground here – allows households to potentially recoup installation expenses within a year and, from then on, even turn a profit.

Housed in a concrete ring-shaped structure, the ground-level system features four hollow chambers separated from each other by partition walls. The base slopes toward a central chamber, which serves as the collection point for the liquid run-off from the degradation process as transferred through small culverts in the surrounding walls.

“Three of the chambers can be filled with all kinds of bio-degradable organic waste while the fourth is where the earth and worms are deposited. These will make their way to the waste in the adjoining chambers through holes in the dividers,” said T.P. Madhu, a senior consultant at Habitat, which offers the system as part of their green architecture portfolio.

Once they are finished breaking down the waste in one chamber, they move on to the next. The low energy input requirements allows the cycle to be repeated over and over – provided the pH, moisture and temperature levels stay within the worms’ tolerance range and the system is sufficiently aerated.

The worms need no added solution and there is no lingering smell. The broken down waste can be used as compost while the collected liquid can be piped out of the central chamber, diluted with water and used for irrigation,” Madhu said.

It can even be bottled and sold. About 100 ml of the liquid can fetch Rs 100 after it has been treated with water. In this manner, owners can recover the money spent on installing the system – typically Rs 1,300-1,400 – within a year,” he added.

While a light tarp protects the open structure from environmental variances while keeping it airy, the foundation is similar to the concrete slabs used for septic tanks. A circular channel surrounding the system is filled with water to protect it from insects. For increased capacity, an additional ring may be placed on top the base ring.

‘Master plans, growth corridors irrelevant in
Indian city planning today’: Kirtee Shah

Vigourous public debate on prospects for Thiruvananthapuram as a green, heritage city held as part of ongoing HabFest-30, commemorating Habitat Technology Group’s 30th anniversary

May 12: Observing that Indian urbanisation discourse was in need of a paradigm shift, eminent architect Kirtee Shah said age-old city planning tools like master plans should be discarded if contemporary challenges are to be properly addressed.

Every minute, 30 people are added to India’s urban population. That is the pace of growth in our cities. The concept of master plans and growth corridors is completely irrelevant in today’s scenario. They are terms that don’t belong in 2016-17 but in 1996,” said Shah, President of the influential India Habitat Forum (INHAF).

Master plans are essentially land use plans. For example, Ahmedabad has a 600-page master plan that talks about investment of billions of rupees and a single page devoted to resource mobilisation. We are at a stage where we have to look at cities in an entirely different way. The earlier you do it, the better for Trivandrum,” he added.

Shah was responding to a question posed by noted architect N. Mahesh at a vigorous public conversation in Poojappura ground on Thursday. The panel discussion, titled ‘Developing Trivandrum as a Green Heritage City’, was held as part of a three part national seminar series at HabFest-30, a celebration of the Habitat Technology Group’s 30th anniversary.

Moderating the debate, Mahesh said Trivandrum is the only capital city in the country without a master plan. He put this down to a lack of political will or bureaucratic impulse and insufficient public demand and apathy.

At present, we don’t even have a vision document – the basis for a master plan – that looks at the city for the next 35 years. As a result, there is no consensus on what the character of Trivandrum should be. In addition, the effective absence of an Urban Art Commission is responsible for the ugliness of Kerala’s cities,” he said, linking these problems to pressing issues of encroachment, unchecked building practices and loss of the city’s green cover.

Terming Trivandrum an “ideal ‘green city’ candidate”, Mahesh said, “At least 14 per cent of the area should be green per international norms. Presently, we have only four per cent green cover. The city’s green belts have given way to a concrete jungle.”

Other needs of the hour were a unified transport system, a growth corridor for industries and regulatory parameters for heritage preservation, he said. Warning that the lakshman rekha had already been crossed, Mahesh noted that only a viable master plan, not stop-gap measures, would tackle these concerns.

Shah noted that far more serious challenges loomed for urban planners. “What kind of urbanisation will help create reduce the widening gap between labour force and livelihood development? Similarly, we need to understand urbanisation in the context of rural development, the informal sector and sustainability,” he said.

The forum saw representation from prominent architects, builders, engineers and other planning consultants. MLA Shri O. Rajagopal had earlier set the stage for the debate by expressing hope that partisan politics would not hinder the city’s growth and development.

Architect Sharad Mahajan, of Pune-based NGO MASHAL (Maharashtra Social Housing and Action League), said the onus was on planning experts to take the initiative by presenting a master plan to the government. PRS Group chairman R. Murugan echoed this sentiment.

Noting that the master plan was a legal, not a technical, document, College of Architecture Trivandrum Principal Ar. J. Jayakumar said it had to be produced through legal processes. “Architects can only provide suggestions on heritage and social aspects of term planning efforts and help effect change from below,” Jayakumar said.

Architect B. Sudhir, from the Indian Institute of Architecture’s Kerala Chapter, concurred that master plans were complex documents which could only be produced by properly-functioning government machinery. He cited attitudinal problems and short-sighted political vision as problems facing city planning.

Habitat, a fitting response to Keralite’s luxurious housing concept: Speaker

May 11: Inaugurating ‘Habfest-30’, a four day event marking the beginning of the 30th anniversary celebrations of Habitat Technology Group, Kerala Legislative Assembly speaker Shri P Sreeramakrishnan said that Habitat group  has been pioneering in revolutionizing the housing sector by standing up for sustainable and green architecture and for being a influential response to Malayali’s fake vanity of luxurious houses.

Kerala Legislative Assembly speaker Shri P Sreeramakrishnan officialy inaugurating Habfest-30, a four day event marking the beginning of the 30th anniversary celebrations of Habitat Technology Group. (from left)PC George MLA, veteran architect Kirtee Shah, SNDP Yogam General Secretary Shri Vellapalli Nateshan, KTDC Chairman Shri M Vijayakumar are seen along.

“Kerala has become a graveyard of luxury houses, a mark of Malayali’s unnecessary sense of exhibitionism,” said the speaker. “On one hand we have hundreds living homeless, and on the contrary there are as many plush houses built , but unoccupied,” noted Shri Sreeramakrishnan. “Over the years Habitat Group  has been a guiding light for making us realize the concept of house is shelter and not a symbol of vanity,” he added.

Kerala Legislative Assembly speaker Shri P Sreeramakrishnan addressing the gathering at Habfest-30

Habitat with their unique concept of affordable and ecologically sustainable building ways and  also by utilizing our traditional architectural wisdom and local materials  has been leading a suitable alternative in shelter sector,” concluded Sreeramakrishnan.

AM Arif MLA presided over the function. Habitat Group founder Shri G Shankar welcomed the gathering. SNDP Yogam General Secretary Shri Vellapalli Nateshan, KTDC Chairman Shri M Vijayakumar, Shri PC George MLA, Shri.O Rajagopal  MLA, Shri VS Sivakumar MLA, Mayor Adv. VK Prasanth attended the inaugural function. Speaker Shri P Sreeramakrishnan presented national Habitat award to renowned architect Shri Kirtee Shah at the function.

A seminar on ‘Developing Trivandrum as a Green Heritage city’ by veteran architect N Mahesh followed the inaugural ceremony.

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