Two young city architects, Prasad and Praveen, show how sensitive they are to the environment.

When young Prasad Jonathan D.W. decided to design his parents' office-cum-residence in Ponmeni, he wanted to make a statement with his ‘recycling' ethos. “I wanted to show that with little bit of initiative and innovation, it is possible to do so much more,” says this Madurai lad born to Dutch father and German mother, who retired as professor from the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary.

After a labour spanning almost two years, Prasad indeed demonstrated how sustainable technology when understood and adopted with care unleashes creative freedom and leads to unique architectural expression. Much influenced by renowned British-born Indian architect Laurie Baker, who was a family friend, young Prasad impressed all at the housewarming function just this December when he unveiled his cost-effective home of high architectural value resting more on arches than on pillars.

Made entirely with exposed bricks, the signature elements of his design blended space and light in subtle forms. These included circular walls (than rectangular which need far more bricks), built-in chairs and tables that hug the curving walls and lot of jaali walls and metal windows, filler slab roofing by mixing scrap marbles and chipped tiles for good reflectivity and weathering conditions, timber salvaged from seconds market for doors, cupboards and railings, compost toilets that don't need water for flushing, a garage that stations only bicycles and rainwater harvesting system.

Call it by any name, ethnic living or eco-friendly building, Prasad also ensures that his humane architectural dream remains plastic-free. “I was brought up like that from childhood, to always respect nature. So I am very resource conscious and sensitive and all the time calculating how water and power can be saved,” he vows.

In Final year of his Under-Graduation at Thiagarajar College of Engineering five years ago, Prasad shared his sustainable eco-friendly ideas with many classmates. “I can play around with cement, mortar, bricks and sand but don't have a knack for dealing with people and was looking for an on-site partner for executing the project,” he recalls.

Convinced by his shift to post-modernism concept and architectural style, his classmate Praveen Samson Durai joined him. “I sensed that though off-beat we were going to create something powerful and functional,” he says. “Also beautiful and meaningful,” adds Prasad with a smile.

The only regret they have is that the house is located little inside the locality. “Had it been a main road property, it would have become an automatic USP because it stands apart,” say the 29 years old.

Trying to create this new, better and different product was not that easy, admit the duo. Every mason and stakeholder in the construction activity had to be convinced. “Using local materials and unconventional ideas, the local workforce was not aware of the possibility of erecting such a building and had too many doubts at every step,” says Praveen.

In this alternate building technology, Prasad, is most excited about the eco-sanitation part. “It is known as connecting-the-loop where we grow food, eat it and again use the byproduct for growing food. “ Human manure is a fantastic fertilizer and perfectly sterile and composting is like wine making,” he shares.

Built on a plot measuring less than three cents, Prasad and Praveen chose to go vertical for natural light and ventilation. “That helped in leaving quite a bit of gardening space around, where now a variety of plants are grown organically,” they chorus.

Though sustainable architecture is much talked about these days, the one-project old architects feel it is not so easy to convince people to look into their energy bills. “Everybody is after aesthetics and we want to show it is possible with such low-cost but high yield alternate architecture.” However, they add, “fundamental change of attitude is also needed among the people.”

“A re-visioning of values has to take place if we seriously want to protect environment. The need of the future is to avoid energy-intensive materials and minimise wastage,” they assert, hoping more projects will roll in for them.

Truly, as is said, architects love to experiment and do something different, Prasad and Praveen have set themselves on an innovative path.

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail to somabasu@thehindu.co.in to tell about someone you know who is making a difference)