It's easy to just include the tree into the building rather than chop it down. Prince Frederick and Anusha Parthasarathy tell you how

From being axed to being in your sitting room, trees have come a long way indeed. Of course, not as far as we would like to see, but what a promising beginning! We went around the city and picked three places where people have chosen not to cut down the lovely trees on their land to make way for the brick and mortar, but have simply built around the trees.

The interiors at Kuttanad, a restaurant that serves classic Kerala thalis on M.G. Road in Besant Nagar, are minimalist. The only thing that clamours for attention is an old mango tree standing smack in the middle. “A love for trees and aesthetics keeps the tree standing where it does,” says the publicity-shy restaurateur who does not want to be named. “The owner of this space had given the ‘go ahead' for axing it but I couldn't bring myself to do it. It takes years to grow a tree to this size. ”

Crimson Chakra in Adyar is built around two old mango trees that defined the property for decades. One grows through the roof near the kitchen, and the other complements the aapam counter. “It doesn't provide just shade,” says owner Nikhil Moturi, “but also truckloads of mangoes. They go into our pickles.”

Sumitra Vasudevan and Anuradha Naresh Rao of APRObuild could not bear to lose their favourite plumeria, so when their office moved up a level, so did the tree. Lovingly uprooted and transplanted, the tree now grows tall from the first floor. “We wanted to make sure nothing happened to it. So we took it where we went,” smiles Sumitra.

Think green

Each of these projects posed unique challenges, forcing their authors to think out of the box, or rather out of the roof. At Kuttanad, the tree could not be contained within the low-roof restaurant. Two holes were drilled into the powder-coated aluminium roof, which now let the wide trunk and a large branch shoot out into the sky. This obviously left the roof wide open to rainwater and battalions of insects. These problems were plugged in a simple but effective manner. “In the rubber plantations of North Kerala, workers install shields over the indents in the trees to prevent rainwater from mixing with the oozing rubber sap. I borrowed the idea,” says the restaurateur. “The shields firmly shut the door on water seepages and creepy-crawlies. But ants have a way of breaking through barriers. To keep them at bay, the lower half of the tree, which is inside the restaurant, is cleaned regularly.” For a video on the tree in Kuttanad Restaurant, click here.

Nikhil was faced with the challenge of working on spaces clearly demarcated so as not to hamper the trees' growth. “I refuse to cut down any trees,” he says, and joins a growing number of city dwellers who are appalled at the loss of green cover and are looking for ways to get nature back. “Most restaurants plan their spaces in great detail but ours was designed around the trees so that they can continue to grow. They blend into our interiors and most of our customers don't even realise they're there.”

At APRObuild, it was a choice between more space and more greenery, and guess what they picked. “We have a mango tree and a couple of coconut palms that we've saved as well. When we constructed our office in 2008, we consciously chose to keep all the trees.” It took some doing. When the plumeria was transplanted, they had to ensure that the slabs were water-proof, that there were holes in the rings to allow drainage of excess water, that the building itself could handle the weight of the tree and allow it space to grow. “It had to be planned so that the tree would not affect the structure,” says Sumitra. The results are certainly worth the trouble. Together with the large windows, the trees blow in a steady breeze. “Our rooms don't need an air-conditioner even on the hottest days. The birdsong is a bonus,” says Anuradha.

To Nikhil, the mango trees in his restaurant lend life and colour to the interiors. “It's a lot cooler, there's more breeze and, since the trees are really big, they provide a lot of shade. The trees, on the whole, provide a calm ambience,” he says. Equally, the restaurateur at Kuttanad is glad he retained the mango tree. “People love to organise parties around the tree. Children like to sit on its arms.”

Three model buildings that convey an unmistakable message – there is nothing like a tree to spread cheer and a sense of community.


Prince FrederickMay 11, 2012