As the large metal, automated gates swing open at McLaren Niwas, you get the immediate sense of being in the presence of an elevated living. The two and a half storied building in front of us presents itself as a live alternative to traditional housing. A fully functional and sustainable, smart house, along with the environmentally conscious home-owners who have made this possible; Sashi and Bruce McLaren.
When you step onto the hexagonal tiles that form the driveway, at a glance, you wouldn’t be able to tell that your sustainable tour has already begun. These tiles are made from porous material and work to recharge rainwater back into the ground. They prevent any flooding by simply absorbing all the water.
As you near the house you are bound to pause to admire the dark wood pillars that lead you to the front door. The door itself is a stunning finish of intricate carvings of personal symbols as well as an ode to Nepali culture. All of this woodwork has been sourced by local artisans.
The inside of the house much like the modern mindset of the owners, is like a breath of fresh air. The spacious design and wide double-glazed windows will have you thinking you are in some foreign housing. These windows as well as the large roof overhang are part of the passive solar design. Similarly, the walls are made of special insulative blocks with a cavity for better thermal performance. All these elements provide insulation to keep the house at a comfortably cool temperature. In the same vein, the flooring we step onto has a 50 mm foam within to keep the cold from seeping in.
Walking upstairs, the wooden handrails are simple and classy. You notice that the interiors like the cabinets, dressers, carpets, all carry a Nepali touch. All these elements remind you that while the design around you radiates contemporary, the pieces that make it, are still local.
During a downpour, the rainwater is collected in a large tank with a 40,000-liter capacity. The same water also flows through the kitchen where it is used in cooking and drinking by adding one additional water filter. You couldn’t be more in tune with nature on a rainy day, looking out into your garden and sipping on a glass of filtered rain water.
Up stairs the bathroom deceives you by looking like any comfortable, luxury hotel bathroom. But here, the water from the sinks and showers are all collected and filtered. This water or grey water, is then utilized in the toilets to prevent unnecessary water wastage. In fact, the water that flows not just in the taps here, but the entire house is all filtered rainwater.
Outside the balcony, you will notice that the roof overhangs seem to flaunt a temple-tier design. These overhangs not just add to the look but also catch rainwater and create a space to store solar panels. The tiles here are made from asphalt, which are not only low-maintenance but also block sunlight during summers to keep the house cool.
On this very roof are the highly efficient electric and hot water solar panels. When you notice the inverters, batteries, and sensors in their attic, it’s easy to immediately question if all this sustainability comes with inconvenience. But according to Sashi, you can simply look at the app in your phone to see how much electricity is being generated. This way, if she wants to run any appliance, she can check the app and decide whether to use the solar electricity or the grid.
Back in the garden, they have what looks like a ballooning camping tent but is in fact their home biogas production. Any food waste generated throughout the house can be put through here to give out manure and biogas. The manure is then cycled into the garden where they grow avocados, oranges, lemons, and many different flowers. The biogas itself can be pumped into the kitchen to replace the need for any LPG gas.
Even the leaves that scatter in the garden are composted in the backyard itself. The smaller shed collects additional rainwater that is utilized for gardening. Any raw sewage goes directly into the independent sewage treatment plant where anaerobic bacteria help digest organic matter and other remaining pollutants. This treated water meets the quality standards and is then discharged without any negative consequences to the environment. This house is full of ideas and elements on how many little things can make for a sustainable living.
“In Nepal, there is a big issue of waste management. So this way, I’m taking care of my own wastes. I like to say that ‘I’ll be dead but the plastic won’t’. So I try to cut down on the plastic usage too,” Sashi McLaren.
The success of this design is evident in the glowing reports by the homeowners. They have been living in this house for close to a year now and are happy to report that the rainwater system works flawlessly. Solar hot water ensures that there is always hot water ready to go and the solar electricity has reduced the load from the grid by over 50%. Not just this but their garden also produces fresh avocados and vegetables.
At the end of the day, what has made this sustainable housing possible is not just about the functional design but the conscious thinking that demanded such a design. Conceptualized and designed by architect Alex Shrestha, this house is a prime example of where green thinking meets actualization. As green energy becomes a more popular choice, these elements are bound to become the norm. But for the environmentally conscious, it is already so.
“I don’t think I’ve done such a big thing, you know? It’s a responsible action. Everybody should do it,” Sashi McLaren on her sustainable housing choice.
When it comes to housing, we have become accustomed to traditional elements. But McLaren Niwas proves that there exists a balance. As you turn away from this house, you are bound to leave with a little part of you wondering, “If it is possible, then maybe..”