Hathigaon (or elephant village) is an ongoing low-income housing project by RMA Architects designed to provide a suitable habitat for 100 working elephants and their keepers. The project is located on the foothills of the popular tourist destination of Amber Palace, near Jaipur, India, and sees land once devastated by sand quarrying once again reclaimed for use.
As the Hathigaon project is built upon an 88-acre (35-hectare) area of environmentally damaged land, RMA Architects was first required to re-landscape the area before any actual construction took place. Over the last few years, the wasteland has been slowly transformed with a series of water pools and an extensive tree plantation program.
Owing to budget constraints and the local conditions, there was no call for high-end technology in the homes of the elephants' caretakers. However, that didn't stop RMA Architects from innovating where possible. Local stone was sourced to create well-insulated walls, and the roofs were constructed from corrugated metal sheeting, allowing elephant feed to be stacked on top. This both saves space and offers insulation simultaneously. A series of water channels are also present to harvest the precious rainfall that the desert climate experiences in monsoon season.
The caretakers' homes each measure only 40 sq m (430 sq ft), but this lack of space is mitigated by shared spaces, such as courtyards and pavilions. The interiors of the homes were purposefully left very sparse in order to allow the caretakers and their families to put their own stamp on them.
Though the elephants are physically separated from the human living quarters for the sake of safety, the housing project is laid out in such a way that the animals can still visually connect with their human companions, helping to foster the all-important bond between keeper and elephant.
The most prominent feature of the project is a large man-made pool which encourages bonding between the elephants and their handlers, while also allowing the animals to undergo their regular and essential bathing routine.
The Hathigaon project is still ongoing and was recently awarded an international gold medal prize for sustainable architecture by the University of Ferrara, Italy.