Total Environment Building Systems is an architect-led real estate design and development firm that builds furnished and customised homes with a focus on functional design. Founded in 1996 by Kamal Sagar, principal architect and CEO, with his wife, Shibanee, Total Environment believes in building homes with a unique character that blends in with the environment. The inspiration to begin Total Environment came after the architect couple found it difficult to buy a one-bedroom flat that was built with good quality materials.

In an interaction with Deccan Herald, Kamal elaborates more about his design philosophy, the need for green homes and more. Excerpts:

What’s the story behind Total Environment?
At the heart of it, we wanted to create spaces that are inspiring and enjoyable. One of the problems that you face as an architect in India is the implementation of your design. It is always a challenge to get it built according to how you envision it. As in, you think of the design in a certain way and you would want every detail to come out that way. However, when it comes to getting the necessary materials, having the right contractors and other construction aspects, everything is a problem. As a result, you often end up with something that you are not happy with.

Another challenge we faced was quirky demands from clients in terms of shapes, influences of other architecture etc, for their homes. However, we wanted freedom to design the space in the way we envisioned it.

Another challenge, particularly in the multi-dwelling spaces, is that they are being influenced by commercial spaces. Buildings are being built to sell, unlike a temple or museum, which has a purpose. This is happening everywhere — not just in India.

The actual design of the home takes a backseat and selling becomes a priority. We wanted to have control over the construction quality and wanted to create something our way, keeping in mind the design needs. This is why we started Total Environment.

What is your design philosophy?
Our focus is all about embracing nature in all the homes we build. Hence, it plays a crucial role in our core design philosophy. We wanted to bring in the outdoors inside and blur the boundaries between the outside and inside. In order to do that, we need to ensure quality. Everything to do with green technology is as important as quality. Having a green home is neither the end nor the goal. The goal is to create a beautiful home without damaging the environment.

We have never focused on getting ‘green’ certificates and there are various agencies which will help you do that. There is some things that we believe will make a difference. For example, when you are washing your hand, you open the tap fully.

However, if you open it to 50% or even 33%, you can still wash your hands. There are many ways in which you can save water. For instance, by placing a small ceramic device in your tap, you can save a lot of water, even you open it fully. We placed this in many of our projects and found that around 300 litres of water are saved.

What is a green home for you?
In an ideal sense, a green home for me would be something that is completely off the grid. It doesn’t give anything or take anything. Additionally, it doesn’t contribute negatively too. That aside, the idea of having a really green home would be where you would be able to manage your waste, produce your own food requirements and also be able to generate your own power among others. A home where the carbon footprint is zero would also be ideal.

How would you define your architectural style?
What we try to do is to create spaces that you can enjoy. The concept of vaastu is something I feel has been muddled or distilled. People know about it only in the formula of north east trends, south west master bedrooms and south east kitchens. However, what it really is about is how one can keep in the positive energy and keep out the negative energy.

We want to create vibrant spaces that have positive energy through a lot of natural light and ventilation, simple clean lines, well-planned spaces, so that you can have privacy and the flow is maintained. There is a strong connection with nature in our spaces, so we try to use a lot of materials from the outside that will blend with the surroundings. We also like to have buildings that age beautifully and gracefully, have character on the outside and not just have a blank, dead surface.  

On the sense of aesthetics...
Aesthetics play a big role. Proposition and balance are key and these are different for different people. The building must be inviting. People need to get drawn to it and not be in awe of it. I do not like to create buildings that people are in awe of. As such, I believe buildings need to be inviting, nice and comfortable. Hence, for us, scale is a very important aspect. This is why we bring our buildings down in scale.

We make them look low and inviting rather than grand. The sense of aesthetics is about being dynamic; we don’t like to be static. Glass buildings, painted buildings are static; nothing much can be done to change them. Once they are done, they are done. On the other hand, natural materials give a dynamic character to the building and make it look like it is changing.

How does one get in a bit of green in an already constructed home?
The first thing that you need to do is to get hold of an architect and a structural engineer. This is not possible for you to do on your own. The architect can help you find ways you can put the green in your abode. The structural engineer can help you to determine the building’s ability to take the load and how much it can handle.

Additionally, they can also help you figure out what can be done to increase it such as adding a few extra columns. Together, they can find solutions to bring in green such as adding a terrace garden, or adding a skylight.

Your advice for aspiring architects...
Success for an architect is always about finding satisfaction in your work. It’s not about the money. Focusing on what satisfies you and finding your direction is key to everything else. This is primarily because architects often spend their initial years just focusing on what their material is going to be and what their language is. Tadao Ando, a famous Japanese architect, used a lot of concrete in his work. He is known to have spent his first few years as an architect trying to develop the right kind of concrete that he wanted. He also developed a special polish along with it to create the surface that he wanted. He spent the rest of his career using this and it became his language.

Like Tadao, it could be a material that you find for yourself or create and use that as your language. At the end of the day, it is about contributing something to the architecture world. If you haven’t left something behind, you haven’t really done anything.

Source: September 16, 2016, Deccan Herald