An entrepreneur, an artist, and an architect with a green soul, Gauri Satam is the co-founder of unTAG Architecture & Interiors. Practising alongside her life and business partner, Tejesh Patil, the pair believes in architecture that is aligned with a place’s climate and context. The core of their Mumbai-based studio lies in what the world is in dire need of—sustainable and environment-conscious architecture.
We caught up with Satam in her biophilic studio, which is aesthetically trimmed by plants, refreshing us on a warm summer morning. Over a scintillating conversation, she took us through her work in making buildings more climate-responsive, using upcycled and recycled materials, reducing the carbon footprint of construction and much more.
Practising passive sustainability as a core element, Satam explains, “A way of practicing sustainability is understanding nature's elements—be it the sun, the rain or the wind.” She adds that homes should be built in a manner that makes the most out of the wind, allows maximum cross-ventilation, and lets the right amount of sun in your home while keeping out the heat.
“It reduces the heat load on your building and thus the amount of electricity consumption. Also, if you support your architecture with landscape and establish an indoor-outdoor connect, there's a microclimate that is created within your building. So in itself, it becomes an ecosystem,” Satam explains.
Satam believes transient spaces can do a lot for any place. Talking about one of their sustainable projects—a farmer’s home in the village of Dakivali about 70 kilometers from Mumbai—Satam reveals, “The story of the house revolves around a small courtyard. We created verandas where the farmer can connect with the villagers. These became the transient spaces of the house. While the courtyard with a beautiful champa tree inside became the sanctum sanctorum of the house, where the living room fades.”
“In terms of materiality, we used the fly ash blocks, which are made by taking industrial waste and upcycling it into these lightweight blocks which can be used for construction. These were sourced from a company which was just a few kilometers away from the plot,” Satam adds.
She points out that using local materials is very crucial and helps reduce your carbon footprint, while also creating economic sustainability for the native residents. “Using native materials leads to a low carbon footprint since you don't need heavy transportation to get these materials from a distance,” Satam explains.
Speaking of another project, called Vrindavan, a small retirement homestay at a farm in Konkan, Satam says, “For the home, we've used the local laterite stone, which kind of acts as an earthenware keeping the temperature of the interiors almost three to four degrees lesser than the outside.” She further adds, “We have also salvaged wood from a local temple, which was being brought down. So we took that wood with us and upcycled it to make our doors and windows.
Satam also strongly recommends softening the landscape in urban spaces with greenery, and even having indoor plants to connect better with nature, thus feeling more environment-conscious.
Having said that, while sustainability has become a fashionable term to drop for many, we asked if people really go out of their way into being more eco-conscious. She revealed that many of her clients are new to the idea and even those who want to go green, do not truly know how to do so. However, Satam and Patil ensure that they take their clients on a journey of discovery and realisation over the process of building their projects.
In fact, unTAG Architecture & Interiors has been extending its sustainability practice to social projects as well. They work on rebuilding old, dilapidated schools in tribal areas of Maharashtra such as Kelthan. “We are helping rebuild these schools as green schools by integrating local materials as a part of the new school,” Satam informs. These will also have more greenery to provide for a more soothing, and bucolic environment for the children.
“Sustainability is not just a big fat word. It is a way of life that you need to adapt to, in these changing times where climate change is becoming the biggest crisis in the world. So by using the mantra of reduce, recycle and reuse, you can practice sustainability,” Satam concludes.