Studio NO is a decade long experiment into sustainable landscape design; in the tropics, amidst climate change. The process started out in 2011, by developing a dilapidated parcel of land in the heart of Kollam city, in the southern province of Kerala, India.
It was an urbanised site that had been used as an industrial dump yard. The site had an 80 year old building, which was almost in ruins, when the architects took up the project. The land had oil spills, due to storage of fuel from the adjoining gasoline retailer, construction waste piled up from previous alterations, and spill over from barrels of bitumen stored at the site for layingthe abutting national highway. The first step was the rehabilitation of the land, removing the toxic substances and mitigating the ecological damage. Simultaneously the building was restored to its original architecture, and converted into a design studio.
The remains of the existing building had undergone an intense restoration process to reinvent its original architecture. It was a careful intervention that removed haphazard developments from previous occupancies. Wooden purlins, roof tiles, windows, doors and ceiling planks were collected from demolition yards and carefully repurposed for the project.Terracotta floor tiles were used to provide breathability to the old structure.
The next step was to create an ever-evolving landscape which could survive the torrential rains and the harsh sunlight of the tropics. They started out by creating a tropical lush greenery, following the works of Geoffrey Bawa. ‘The new wave’ planting movement by Piet Oudolf, which is a combination of wispy grasses and herbaceous perennials, that defines the structure and form of the landscape beyond the use of colours, has been a great inspiration for the explorations. They have created a perennial tropical garden with different compositions of plants that explore the contrast of forms and textures.This experiment also extended to the diversity of colours in foliage,and the addition of occasional blooms.It is a new interpretation of tropical landscape design.
The site had two existing mango trees, which were conserved, while fast growing trees and flowering shrubs were added. They experimented with different combinations of groundcover to work on the marshy and sun lit areas of the land. Biodiversity was a core aspect of the landscape design, which made them think beyond the use of fail-safe species.To use native plants alone was also not feasible, in this era of climate change. They used combinations of remarkable and long-lasting plants that are potential landscape material, along with the native flora, which could thrive easily on the degraded land.It demanded years of research, with some spectacular failures in between, to reach somewhere near to the optimum planting that we see today.
ECOSYSTEMS AND HABITATS
The research was also into development ofdiverse eco systems that create a refuge for butterflies, birds and small mammals, in the middle of the city. Living water bodies with clear water, where the fish and other aquatic fauna live in their natural habitat, without complex systems of filtration is also part of this experiment.
The design also aims to create a liveable landscape as part of the design studio, that canbe used by the people, making it as relevant as the built spaces, from the user perspective. The outdoor dining area,the floating deck and carefully placed seaters along the connecting pathways adds functionality to the green spaces. Carefully curated earthenware and Land art adds human scale and a subliminal aesthetics to the landscape.
IMPACT OF THE FLOODS
A sequence of devastating floods since 2018, as a consequence of global warming and degradation of the Western Ghats has tested the resilience and adaptability of this plantscape. This landscape has even survived an oil spillage from the gasoline retail facility, during the floods, though it resulted in devastating consequences and a painstaking effort for its revival. This resilient landscape stands as a proof of the rejuvenating capacity of nature beyond the massive scale of human destruction.
Architects : NO Architects Designers and Social Artists.
Team: Harikrishnan Sasidharan, Neenu Elizabeth, Akhil Gopi, Sameer Ali, Rose Antony, Ankur Bardhan, Robin Joseph, Akhila Menon, Babin Babu, Rajeev.R, Mahalakshmi.S, Anto Joseph, Mayuresh Muley, Jasmin Khatun, Sonali Nath, Jude Antony, Aagam Mundhava, Dravid.D
Landscape Architects: Neenu Elizabeth, NO Architects Designers and Social Artists
Photography: Lal.T.D, Redz Photography/ Harikrishnan Sasidharan
Structural Consultant : Abhilash Rajan
MEP Engineering : Varun Baby, Educe Engineering Consultants.
Contractor : Suresh Palayan.
Location : Kerala, India
Building Area: 119 SqM/1280SqFt
Landscape Area: 1014 SqM/10909SqFt