Welcome to the 21st year of the 21st century, where many businesses and individuals are focusing on operating buildings in an eco-friendly manner by using solar energy or reducing water usage through Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) systems. However, only a few are focused on following sustainable construction practices. According to reports, construction amounts to 30 per cent of air pollution in India.
But, an eight-month-old Chikmagalur-based Sunyata Hotel is a building that has both — sustainable construction while its residents also use eco-friendly practices.
Spread across 6,000 square feet, the hotel was built using eco-friendly bricks made from scratch with minimal cement and concrete. They have installed solar panels to provide electricity, RWH systems to supply water, and earth tunnels to keep their premises cool.
“Most of the construction materials were sourced locally. The bricks for the structure were made on the site using mud sourced on our property, and from other places within a 15-mile radius. We also ensured that not one drop of water used on the premises went to waste,” says Lokesh Gunjugnur (43), the owner of the hotel in an interview with The Better India.
Starting from scratch
Several years ago, Lokesh purchased an empty land in Chikmagalur, the town where he grew up, as an investment. Until 2017, he did not have a plan on what to do with it. But after learning about the town’s tourism booming, he decided to start a resort.
“I wanted my hotel to be unique and in favour of the environment — not only in terms of the way it operated but also in terms of construction. I wanted to use materials that were not harmful to the environment. In the future, even if the building is being demolished, I wanted to ensure that the materials would become one with the earth again,” says Lokesh, who is a software engineer based in Miami, USA.
To do this, he approached Design Kacheri, an architecture firm in Bengaluru and a young civil engineer named Punit Y, who was trained in Auroville. With their help, Lokesh was able to execute his dream project. The team designed the hotel and gave him suggestions on what would work on his site.
At first, the team began with making the bricks for the structure. This involved using the soil that was removed to level the ground, as well as gathering soil from locations within a 15-mile radius of his property.
“This was mixed along with less than 5 per cent each of limestone and cement, which was later baked into bricks. All the work was done on the property itself. To power the mixer and other equipment, we had solar panels installed to generate electricity. The work was done over the sunny months to ensure there was ample sunlight,” says Lokesh.
To avoid the use of steel that raises and supports the structure, the team used load-bearing structures. Lokesh says this was a technique that was popular among older buildings when steel was not prevalent.
He also opted for coconut shells and pot fillers for the ceiling, which acts as sturdy flooring for the next floor, adds aesthetic value to the rooms, and keeps the rooms cooler.
Being a hotel, another important aspect was ensuring the premises were suitable for his guests. As Chikmagalur got warm during the summers and the ambient temperature would be up to 30° Celsius, he had to ensure that the rooms were kept cool in a sustainable manner.
“Instead of air conditioning, we chose a natural cooling technique. In this system, a large PVC pipe is installed 10 feet under the building. This acts as a coolant pipe for outside air. It works by sucking in air from the environment, and as the air passes through the pipe it cools down, which is then expelled through various outlets into the 11 rooms in the premises,” says Lokesh.
The rooms also have a chimney on the ceilings, to expel warm air. This system ensures that the rooms stay at a temperature between 18° C and 25° C, no matter what the temperature is on the outside.
Saving every drop of water
The entire premise is supplied with rainwater, stored in a 50,000-litre tank, which is installed underground. This water is treated and supplied as drinking water to the guests and is used for cooking.
“The tank was placed underground to prevent the growth of bacteria or algae. We also conduct regular checks on the tank to maintain cleanliness. Guests are given an unlimited supply of water, and the same is served only in steel bottles,” says Lokesh.
A well was also constructed on the premises to store excess rainwater and to improve groundwater levels. The rainwater falling on common areas like the parking or courtyard is also directed to the water table with the help of special pavement bricks.
“These bricks, laid on the side of the pathways, are made with holes within them to allow water to seep through it,” says Lokesh.
Even the greywater generated from the bathrooms is not discarded. With the help of a Bengaluru-based startup named ECOSTP, the hotel installed a system to purify the greywater.
“This purified water is supplied to toilet flush tanks and is used to water the garden,” says Lokesh.
With 11 rooms, a quaint courtyard and a local cafe, Sunyata hotel was opened to guests in January 2021. They also have a small shop on their premises where guests can purchase handmade sustainable products by local artisans. Lokesh says he hopes to partner with more local businesses and artisans to help them promote their businesses.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)
First Published by The Better India in December 2021.